The art of the subtle balance

"Balance" may be the single word that is commonly used to describe Viet Nam's gastronomy. In essence, Vietnamese cuisines usually reach the balance of ingredients and recipe: neither putting too much salt and fat, nor using fattening cooking methods such as frying that may lead to diseases.

Fresh ingredients are crucial for making Vietnamese dishes. Busy as they are, housewives always manage to have enough time to go shopping for fresh foods every day. A true Vietnamese cook usually know how to avoid misusing spices to preserve the freshness of meat as well as the taste of fresh seafoods. The main course and side dishes always well complement each other, both in terms of nutrition and flavor. For example, the spring roll - a favorite Vietnamese dish to foreigners - is often served with fresh vegetables, pickles and garlicky peppery fish sauce which help provide more vitamins as well as fiber to the meal and improve the digestion.


Vietnamese spices being added to a dish are always balanced out so well, just enough to make a dish really delicious. For example, the true northern-style Pho is often served with Lang basils, tofu with Vietnamese balm and baluts with ginger and laksa leaves. That is why a Vietnamese proverb says "a pot full of meat becomes tasteless without onion".

An indispensable ingredient in every Vietnamese kitchen is fish sauce. Fish sauce is manufactured in many localities in Viet Nam. However, the most well-known Vietnamese fish sauce is Phu Quoc (name of an island in Kien Giang province). Phu Quoc's inhabitants have manufactured fish sauce for nearly 200 years. Although several varieties of fishes can be used to make good fish sauce, only anchovies are used by the Phu Quoc people to make the sauce. The anchovies are brined shortly after capture so the product is very rich in nitrogen, which is often known of as a "panacea" to keep a diver warm after plunging into cold water without wearing professional diving gear. What about the taste? Only with a cup of Phu Quoc fish sauce with some chopped chilies, one can eat up an entire pot of rice.

In many Asian countries, chopsticks are important tools for eating. Vietnamese chopsticks have their distinctive features: they are made from natural materials such as bamboo or wood, and especially old coconut wood.  They are longer than the shiny stainless steel Korean chopsticks, not so oblong or painted like Japanese chopsticks. The Vietnamese chopsticks are simple and perfectly designed.

Although sharing a lot of similarities, the dishes in different localities of the country which stretches over 1,600 km with various type of climate have their own distinctive and unique characteristics. In the North, with 4 clear-cut seasons, the taste is "moderate": not too salty, too sweet or too hot. Seasonal foods which are always available in the kitchen are meat, fish and vegetables. People in the Central and the South prefer the taste of hot and salty food. Food in these places contains somewhat more sugary flavor.

The charm of various Vietnamese dishes is one of the reasons that attract Vietnamese expatriates and foreigners to make nostalgic visits to Viet Nam.

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