This month is Vietnamese Food Month. I get to focus on one of my favourite cuisines. Vietnamese food!!! Look out for more Vietnamese inspired recipes on FriFran this month. 🙂
Sadly, I have not been to Vietnam. (Yet!) I would love to go to Vietnam. It is on my (huge!) list of places to visit.
I first tried Vietnamese food many years ago (when I was vegan but before I was gluten-free). I went to a birthday dinner at a Vietnamese cafe in East London. I was instantly hooked. The flavours, textures, freshness (and value for money) drew me in. I was a regular visitor to that cafe for many years. Then I moved house..
So what’s all the fuss about Vietnamese food? Well, first things first…
It’s Really Good
It is hard to categorise Vietnamese food other than to say it is simple, fresh, cheap to make and unbelievably tasty. Vietnam is a large country and so there are huge variations in techniques, ingredients and personal taste. All food I have tried in Vietnamese restaurants has been amazing. Vietnamese food has become incredibly popular in recent years because it is quick (usually!), fresh, delicious and cheap.
Parts of the world with large Vietnamese communities will have a huge choice of cafes and restaurants. In east London there are hundreds of Vietnamese eateries. Most of them with fantastic reputations for great food.
Why is Vietnamese Food So Good?
The key to Vietnamese food is fresh ingredients and complex flavours. Ingredients include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soya sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables. Vietnamese cooking use a lot of fresh herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chili, lime, and Thai basil leaves. Vietnamese cooking is focused on fresh ingredients and uses minimal dairy and oil.
If you are vegan it’s often difficult to avoid fish sauce and shrimp paste which are used as seasoning or the basis for many dishes. Good restaurants will be able adapt dishes and some will have vegan dishes on the menu. Personally, as in many restaurants, I have had mixed responses to questions about whether a dish is vegan/ contains fish etc. Some fantastic and some mind-numbing. If you persevere you will be able to find a restaurant you enjoy and trust!!!
Vietnamese Dish of the Moment?
Probably the most popular Vietnamese dish is Phở (pronounced fuh, feh or similar!!) – a hugely popular Vietnamese dish. Phở is a rice noodle (bánh phở in Vietnamese) soup served with fresh herbs to add to your own taste. The herbs along with Vietnamese condiments (spicy chilli paste, vinegar, sriracha etc.) is part of the phở ceremony and adds a personal depth of flavour to phở.
Phở is usually served with meat and meat based stock. It is not unusual to find vegan phở but meat based is most common. Phở is incredibly popular street food in Vietnam.
The key ingredient in phở is the stock. There are a gazillion secret, family recipes with lots of subtle variations in flavours, spices, timings and maybe even a little superstition. Many stocks take up to a day to prepare. The balance of flavours in the soup, the ingredients and the toppings pull together to make something perfect and so good for you.
Every culture seems to have a soup that promises to make all well. Phở is the Vietnamese version of the make-it-all-better soup.
My Phở Recipe
I love all things Vietnamese and being gluten-free and vegan can sometimes make eating out a little challenging. So, I developed my own phở recipe. It is pretty quick to make, but if you have a little bit of time the soup will only get better with a bit more time lavished on it.
What Else Goes with Phở? If You Like Phở You’ll Like This
Phở is a pretty substantial dish all on its own but if you want to go all out with a banquet or you like phở and want to know what else you might like – I can highly recommend a few dishes to make a banquet complete:
Vietnamese Summer Rolls
Cucumber, Seaweed and Carrot Salad
Sesame Noodles with Shitake Mushrooms and Pak Choi
Healthy, Gluten Free, Vegan, Ginger Tofu
Basics – Perfect Plain Rice
If You Want Authentic Phở or Vietnamese Food
The obviously place to go for authentic phở is Vietnam. Whilst Vietnam is high on my list of places to visit you can get pretty good phở a bit closer to home. There are large Vietnamese communities with incredible restaurants and cafes across the world.
Ask!!! Ask for recommendations, read reviews in local papers and ask of forums.
Pho is a restaurant chain with branches across the UK. I have had mixed experiences with the allergy-awareness and been served food that contained gluten and sides of fish sauce after specifying my dietary requirements. However, Pho is the only Vietnamese chain I am aware of in the UK and I have had some great experiences in some of their restaurants. They have a gluten-free statement which gives a little more confidence than usual.
Keep your eye out for more Vietnamese and Asian inspired recipes this month. There are lots more to come…