Bitter, salty, sweet: the three flavors of Vietnam

No 1, Vol.6, January – February 2016

Due to differences in climate, landscape and other elements, the North, Middle and South of Vietnam enjoy very distinct tastes and flavors in their foods and drinks. But they are all extremely attractive.

Paddy rat fried in coconut milk

Northern style does not focus on any single flavor. Most of the food has moderate, neutral taste.
The typical Northern food specialties include Hà Nội rice noodles, Hà Nội multi-flavor rice vermicelli, Hà Nội rice vermicelli with grilled pork, West lake prawn cake, rice vermicelli with snail, curdled meat, Vòng steamed green flake, spring rolls, glass vermicelli fried with crab, etc.

Huế rice vermicelli with beef

Northern food bears the signature of an age-old culture. As the capital of many dynasties, Hà Nội is the culmination of the culinary art. Northern food, from seasoning to presentation, is relatively simple, but actually it is deeply and uniquely refined.
The menu here is rich with all sorts of cakes, pickles, wrapped food, jams and preserved fruits…not to fill the stomach but just to offer more choices. The preparation processes defined by previous generations encompass carefully calculated harmony between ying and yang.

Hà Nội rice noodle

Mid-Vietnam is the land of sun, wind, persevering people and hot food.
Typically Huế food is considered as representing the region. From common dishes to royal delicacies, it all creates a taste that uniquely, unmistakably associates with this thin strip of land. The common dips include egg-plant sauce and sour pickled shrimp.

Rolls of steamed rice flour sheets from Thanh Trì

Typical Mid-Vietnamese dishes include Huế rice vermicelli with beef, bloating cake, rice sheet wrap, smashed girdled cake sandwich and rice vermicelli with fish, fried rolls with shrimp and pork.
Mid-Vietnam is also rich with cakes and wraps but the preparation is much more complicated than in the North, and the variations are more diverse. However the taste can be changed while eating, making it easy for these dishes to be spread into other territories.

Mỹ Tho rice noodle (hutieu)

The Midsection of Vietnam is not blessed with fertile land and resources. So the people value everything given by nature and turn it into wonderful pieces of art that bond the tastes with crystal-clear memories about the land that offered it.
Southern food is a mixture of many food cultures such as Chinese, Cambodian, Thai, etc.

Multi-flavor rice vermicelli

Hot pot with walking fish (Pseudapocryptes elongatus)
For example, there are many variations of Chinese rice noodle (hutieu).
Cambodian and Thai influence can be felt in the taste and flavor of sugar and coconut milk.
All Southern dishes bear the character of the Southern landscape and people, wild and generous. Just a few ingredients one can pick up anywhere in the nature are enough to create the tastes and styles pertaining to this part of the country. Multitudes of variations in seasoning, preparation and eating habits don’t affect this peculiarity.

Huế sour pickled shrimp

The popular meats and fishes are often pickled or salted and dried to preserve as materials waiting for use in future dishes. Wild animal meat can be made into delicious dishes such as paddy rats fried in coconut milk, large flying fox steamed with pickled soya curd, and monocle cobra in rice soup with green peas, coconut lava bathed in fish sauce, etc.n
Compiled by Vietnam Heritage

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