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World's Healthiest Cuisines - Vietnam
Vietnamese cuisine is heavily linked to the lifestyle of the region. Vietnam has gone through many hardships and cultural changes. This is a major reason for the simple elegance of the food that is prepared in this area. Although many of the ingredients are inexpensive, the meticulous and balanced preparation and taste of these meals shows the work that has gone into them for many years.

Because Vietnam went through long periods of war and political conflict, it became a tradition to use fresh local ingredients in order to save money, and not waste a thing. If an animal was purchased, every part was used in some way. Vietnamese cuisine is not known for its high quality cuts of meat and expensive organic fruits and vegetables, but for the way that simple staple ingredients can be used to created dishes with extraordinary flavors.

Yin and Yang

One of the most interesting parts of Vietnamese cuisine is their concept of opposites and balance, or yin and yang.  Vietnamese cuisine observes five basic elements: wood, fire, earth, water and metal. These elements in turn correspond with five flavor elements: sour, bitter, spicy, sweet and salty. Each meal contains each of these different flavors, which are in turn balanced by each other.

When we think of opposites in a culinary sense, we typically think of colors, textures and temperature. When it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, individual types of food in the same category (for example different types of meat) can be considered either hot or cold. In a meal, a food is considered hot, cold, warm or cool. For every food that is considered "hot", there must be a balancing food that is "cool" or "cold".

Food Preparation

Many Americans who are not familiar with traditional Vietnamese cuisine are sometimes surprised that it is not all rice and stir fries, although these do exist in weekly meal routines. There are some basic guidelines that all Vietnamese cuisine follows. Food that is used is always extremely fresh. Meats are cooked only briefly, and vegetables are typically not cooked at all. If vegetables are cooked, they are steamed or boiled (no butter or oil is used to cook them). Vietnamese meals are typically very low in carbohydrates because noodles and bread are not staples. But vegetables are used, and sometimes cut into thin slices to become the base of the meal and give it texture. Unlike in Americanized Vietnamese food, traditional dishes do not contain heavy sauces or deep fried meats.  

Herbs and spices are used very heavily in Vietnamese dishes, including cilantro, mint, basil, Vietnamese coriander, lemongrass, ginger, bird's eye chiles and Saigon cinnamon. These herbs and spices are very important in Vietnamese cooking because they give traditionally simple foods a new and exciting flavor. Our Vietnamese Pork Rub contains many of the afforementioned herbs and spices and is a fantastic addition to any pork dish needing a Vietnamese kick - we used it to make this delicious Banh Mi sandwich.

Food Staples

First, let's talk about rice in Vietnamese cuisine. Rice is a very large part of a majority of dishes in this region. Rice can be paired with almost anything - in a soup, with vegetables and meat or with an assortment of fruits. It is very versatile, and there are also a couple different varieties of rice that are used including steamed rice (which we are most familiar with), sticky rice, rice noodles, rice pancakes and porridge.

Another meal staple in Vietnamese cuisine is a fish sauce, or nu?c m?m. This sauce is extracted from fermented fish with sea salt. Salt is then added to the sauce, and occasionally herbs and spices are added. Fish sauce can be added to almost every Vietnamese dish, because it is used as a broth and a condiment in almost every Vietnamese home. This sauce is even more prevalent in Vietnam than ketchup is in the United States.

Popular Dishes

There are many popular Vietnamese cuisine dishes, more than I have time to name right now, but that doesn't mean that they aren't all delicious. Because some of us (probably most of us) don't speak the native language of this healthy food, it can sometimes be difficult to decipher the names of individual ingredients in a dish versus the actual name of the dish.

Ph? - Soup and broth based dishes are very popular in Vietnamese cuisine. They are typically made with an abundance of rice, vegetables, herbs and meat. One popular soup is called Ph? which is a rice noodle soup that includes pieces of beef. Pho is a soup with clear, thin broth and is typically eaten as either breakfast or lunch on the weekend. It is a typical street food in Vietnam and can also be found at Vietnamese restaurants around the world.

Spring Rolls - Spring rolls are a type of food (similar to the concept of a burrito) where ingredients are wrapped together in moistened rice paper. Typically, the ingredients used to make spring rolls include cooked pork, shrimp or chicken, fresh herbs, vegetables and rice. Spring rolls can also be made in a vegetarian fashion. In Vietnam, they are either made at home or bought at grocery stores or in restaurants. Springs rolls are served at room temperature and are usually accompanied by a dipping sauce, such as peanut sauce.

Now that you know the basics of true Vietnamese cuisine, you are on your way to creating healthy and delicious meals. Also, next time you are eating at a Vietnamese restaurant, you'll have all of the information you need to thoroughly impress family and friends.

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