Vietnamese Cuisine

Fish Sauce, Nuoc Mam and Sea Ghost  Fingers
The National Dish Is a Soup — Even at Breakfast

“Only the French imposed their own cuisine upon their Asiatic possessions.” — David Dodge [1]

“He was not yet Ho Chi Minh. It was 1917 and he was Nguyen Ai Quoc and he was a pastry cook under the great Escoffier.” — Robert Olen Butler [2]

Cooking with Vietnamese Nuoc Mam Fish Sauce

Three Crabs Brand Fish Sauce

Vietnamese cooking is light and delicate, healthy, and remarkably varied. Its famous dishes can be very unusual and even have poetic names, like one for Crab Claws called Sea Ghost Fingers.

Other unusually named dishes include Shaking Beef and Sound Crepes.

The national dish is considered to be Pho, which is a soup, which can appear at any timne of day, even breakfast.

Goddess Uma

Vietnamese cooking has Fusion aspects, from the presence of Baguettes and French Coffee with Chicory to major Chinese and Indian inputs in many of the dishes.

Cafe Filtre

Traditional Vietnamese cooking shows a strong Chinese influence in the use of Soy Sauce, Bean Curd and Noodles as well as the techniques of stir-frying and deep-frying in a wok.

The Mongol invasions are still reflected in the prominence of Beef dishes such as Pho, a Beef and Noodle soup, Beef Brochettes and others like Vietnamese Beef Fondue..

Curried dishes show the influence of India.In the 16th century contact with the West changed Vietnamese cuisine. New World ingredients were put to use —

  • Maize (Indian Corn)
  • Potatoes.

Snow Peas came from the Netherlands; Asparagus, from France.

France ruled Vietnam directly from 1859 to 1954 and French cooking left a lasting mark. For example, the passion of Vietnamese for Cafe au Lait and milk products including yogurt, butter, ice cream and custard tarts. And of course, Baguette Bread.

And the French technique of sautéing in a skillet replaced stir-frying in a wok as the method of choice.

Vietnamese added their own touches to French concepts: They made French Coffee with condensed milk and serve it in glasses, not cups. They add Tomato to Egg Drop soup. They serve fried Potato patties with Nuoc Mam, the Vietnamese Fish Sauce.

Vietnamese made soups with canned White Asparagus with Crab and Chicken Soup with Creamed Corn.

Since the 1960s, when large numbers of Vietnamese people began migrating to France, Vietnamese cuisine has influenced French cuisine.  Many of the tenets of nouvelle cuisine have their roots in Asian techniques, especially from Vietnam,

Ingredients: Rice, both ordinary and glutinous, is the main staple.  There are a number of noodle and pasta dishes, and a category of dishes prepared in rice paper wrappers. Baguette Bread early became acclimated to Vietnam; it was later combined with local ingredients to create a whole category of Vietnamese Sandwiches, called Banh Mi.

Cooks in Vietnam also use a variety of vegetables, fruits and local seafoods and shell fish, including the famous Swai Fish. And also with meats and poultry such as Beef, Pork, Duck and Chicken. [3]









“Beans and peas and carrots, tomatoes and salad greens. At that elevation you could grow all kinds of things that normally wouldn’t take the tropical heat.” — Michael Wolfe [3]

Vegetables include — Artichokes, Asparagus, Bamboo Shoots, Carrots.  Also —

  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Shallots
  • Yams
Whole Jackfruit


There are a wide range of fruits, including Guava, Ambarella or Otaheite Apple, Jackfruit, Mango, Papaya

Papaya in Vietnamese cuisine

Papaya Plant

, Pineapple and Pomelo.  Sugarcane is a popular snack and features in a number of dishes.



Ambarella — Otaheite Apple

Mango Smoothie

Papaya in Vietnamese cuisine



Seasonings & Aromatics: Some of the major ones are Fish Sauce, Soy Sauce, Hoisin Sauce and Shrimp Sauce.

Fish Sauce

Also —

  • Black Pepper


  • Coriander
  • Coconut Milk and Fresh Coconut
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Garlic
  • Ginger — which appears in a number of guises sic as Ginger Soda
  • Lime Leaves
  • Lemongrass

  • Chili Peppers, which also appear in things like Roasted Chili Paste.
  • Nuoc Mam Fish Sauce
  • Nuoc Cham, a flavored version of Nuoc Mam that appears as a table sauce at almost all meals.

Cooking Techniques: Some major techniques —

  • Boiling
  • Steaming
  • Simmering
  • Slow-cooking
  • Braising
  • Frying
  • Stir-frying
  • Deep-frying
  • Dry-frying —  frying without oil
  • Grilling, including skewering and grilling over charcoal
  • Sautéing

Clay-pot cooking is another whole style, as in Pork Clay Pot and Prawns Clay Pot. or also Clay Pot Fish.

Clay Pots

Vietnamese cuisine includes a category of dishes wrapped in rice paper.

Regional Styles: Although there are common elements throughout the country, there are also at least three main regional styles:

“In blue shell with gold breastplate,
Borne like a palanquin by scuttling legs,
To learn the virtues of Boil and Bake.” — Ho Xuan Huong, “The Crab” [5]

  • Northern — More use of Black Pepper as opposed to Chili Peppers. Emphasis on Crab.  Balanced flavors.  Pho soup originated here.
  • Central — More spicy food; Chili Pepper and Shrimp Sauces. Cooking reflects cuisine of the former royal court.
  • Southern — Emphasis on sweetness, from Coconut Milk and Sugar. Wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood.  Foreign influences — Chinese, French, Indian, Thai and Cambodian — Saigon was a Cambodian city until the beginning of the 18th century.

Important Dishes:The hearty soup called Pho, which originated in the North and became popular nation-wide, has been called he national dish.  It can appear on tables any time including breakfast. Pho comes in many forms, including Cicken. 

Instant Pho Noodles

Instant Pho Noodles

These days Pho can even be seen in instant noodle package formats.

Beef Pho

Some other notable dishes include Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac), Sound Pancakes, Banh Mi — Vietnamese Sandwiches based on Baguettes.  And of course some Beef and Seafood specialties.

Shrimp cooked with Basil and a mild version of Beef Curry are other specialties.

Vietnamese Beef Soup, a national specialty

Vietnamese Beef Soup

Some other favorites —

Vietnamese Basil Shrimp

Vietnamese Style Basil Shrimp

For Further Information:

[1] David Dodge, The Poor Man’s Guide to the Orient (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1965) —
[2] Robert Olen Butler, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain (New York: Penguin, 1992) —
[3] Vietnamese cuisine,” article, Wikipedia —
[4] Michael Wolfe, Man on a String (New York: Mentor Books, 1975) —
[5] Ho Xuan Huong, Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong, translated by John Balaban (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 2000)  —
[6] Bach Ngo and Gloria Zimmerman, The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam (Barron’s)
Nicole Routhier, The Foods of Vietnam (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 1989)
Pauline Nguyen, Secrets of the Red Lantern (Andrews McMeel) —
Diana My Tranh, The Vietnamese Cookbook (Capitol Books, 2000)
Charles Phan, Vietnamese Home Cooking —
Mai Pham, Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table (HarperCollins, 2001)
Mai Pham, The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking (Prima, 1996)
Susan Hermann Loomis, Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin.  Explains how foods from the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia have now become mainstream French fare.
Online Recipe Sources:Food.|24219|vietnamese%20cooking%20recipes||S|e|10949768688com Vietnamese recipes —

Serpent King,

Saigon 1966 - Central Market

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