Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

About Vietnamese cuisine

Although Vietnamese cuisine is unique, it has evolved over many centuries from Chinese, Indian and French Colonial influences. Vietnam is also distinctly regional, from the cooler northern region, the rich cultural Hue region in the center, and the tropical southern region, each with its own indigenous vegetables, seafood and wildlife, each with its own style and spice. Northern cuisine is lighter and less pungent, the cuisine of the central Hue region, once the site of the ancient capital, is flavorful and elaborate, while the southern region falls under the influence of Chinese cuisine, with more pungent spices and stir-fry techniques. The southern region is also the melting pot of French and Indian influences characterized by curries and European ingredients such as bread, potatoes, asparagus, shallots, and fine herbs.

The quality of Vietnamese cuisine relies mainly on fresh ingredients lightly prepared and beautifully presented. Many classic dishes are simple variations on a couple dozen basic ingredients, including bean sauce, chicken stock, coconut milk, fish sauce known as nuoc mam, 5-spice powder, ginger, ground chili paste, hoisin sauce, jasmine rice, kafir lime leaves, lemongrass, mung bean sprouts, mushrooms, oyster sauce, rice noodles, rice paper and tamarind.

The preparation of Vietnamese cuisine requires remarkably few utensils. Most any Vietnamese meal can be made using only a mortar and pestle, a rice cooker, a wok, a small charcoal stove, a basic set of chef?s knives and a large pair of chopsticks. The most common cooking methods are braising, stir-frying, deep frying, steaming and grilling.