Fish Sauce is the essence of Vietnamese food, a source of flavour as well as protein. 'nuoc mam nhi' is the first press, the equivalent of extra virgin olive oil. Use this clear clean sauce which costs more than the others on the shelves, for dipping sauces and salads. The second pressing is less expensive and is used for cooking. The famous sauce made with nuoc mam is called nuoc cham - a mix of fish sauce, vinegar, garlic and chilli.
Hoi Sin or barbecue sauce is a sweet salty bean sauce.
Rice Vermicelli is available in various widths. Glass or Bean thread noodles are also popular and used for frying.
Before using quickly dip each sheet in a bowl of warm water to rehydrate. The rougher patterned side is the inside of the roll as it helps to hold the filling ingredients.
Rice is known as 'pearl of the gods'. Jasmine Rice is the most widely used.
Young coconut juice is the clear water from the coconut, not the richer white cream or milk.
Also known as mam nem. Widely used in Central and Southern Vietnamese food a mixture of fermented salted anchovies, sold in a bottle as a condiment. It is very strong in taste and smell and is normally diluted when used to make the sauce of the same name.
Chilli sauce (Tuong ot) is made of fresh pimentos, ground garlic, salt, sugar and vinegar. It is used as a table condiment and for seasoning in soups, green papaya salad or anything else you may fancy.
Shrimp sauce (mam ruoc) is widely used as a dipping sauce in Northern Cuisine. It is a mash of marinated shrimps. It can be conserved for a long time in bottles. The smell is very strong. This mash is an excellent marinade for fish and meat. Many people like to use it as a separate sauce.
Herbs (rau) are essential to Vietnamese cuisine, used not only for flavour and aroma, but also for their medicinal qualities. When purchasing herbs, choose the freshest bunch you can find, handle delicately and wash only when you are ready to use them.
Betel leaf (La Lot) are glossy, dark green heart shaped leaves have a slightly bitter taste and are mostly used as a wrapper for a filling of cooked meats.
Corriandah (Ngo) is a very popular and widely known herb used in many Asian countries. The leaves, stems and roots of the plant are all used. The dried seed has quite a different flavour. Increases the flavour of sour fish soup and crab soup. Fabulous for salads and garnishing.
Jigsaw or Saw Leaf (rau ngo gai or mui tau) is a long dark green leaf with serrated edges with a fragrance similar to coriander, but stronger. It enhances the flavour of fresh bamboo shoots and it can be added to soups and salads.
Dill (thi la) is used mostly in Northern Vietnamese cuisine due to the French influences, these very fine leaves are often used in fish soups or with shellfish. Dill can also be mixed with shrimp paste or fried fish.
Fish herb (Diep Ca & Cang Cua) is considered by some as an acquired taste as it has a definite fishy smell and flavour. Often used in soups.
Garlic Chives (He) are dark green flat chives with a garlic flavour and aroma.
Both spearmint (hung lui) and peppermint (baa ha) are used in salads and served with Pho. It is known to aid digestion.
Vietnamese mint (rau ram) is long and narrow with pointed leaves that are green and crimsony brown in colour. It has a hot and spicy flavour, which combines well in salads and some shellfish dishes. Also called laksa leaf. Is said to help lower cholesterol and also aid the libido.
Perilla leaves (Rau Tia To) are large leaves, purple on one side and dark green on the other. The leaves are shredded and used in eggplant dishes and in rice paper rolls. Also called shiso leaf in Japanese cookery.
Cassia (Que thanh) comes in a powdered form or as bark. It is used as an aromatic spice and can be used in some marinades for roasted chicken, roasted duck or beef braises.
Fresh Chilli (or ot comes in three colours; red, green and yellow. The strongest is the yellow. The Vietnamese don't use a lot of chillies for cooking, but it is often served ground in sauces.
Sesame Seeds (me) are a day to day ingredient in Vietnam. Toasted and crushed sesame seeds are used to flavour dipping sauces and marinades or to coat sweets and other foods. After toasting they lose flavour rapidly, so be sure to toast them as close to serving time as possible.
Star Anise (hoi) is as beautiful as it is fragrant. This six to eight pointed star spice imparts a flavour resembling cinnamon and cloves. Used to flavour soups and stews, as well as marinades. One of the vital ingredients in the famous Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho.
There are two varieties of Bamboo shoot (Mang). The fresh bamboo shoot is yellow and has a strong smell. It contains a toxic acid and cannot be eaten raw. Before using it cook in boiling water. The canned version is more readily available. They add an unmistakable crunch to many dishes. The dry bamboo shoot is brown and should be soaked in tepid water for 2 days before cutting and cooking. Very good in pork or duck soups.
Bean sprouts (Gia) are the fresh sprouts of the mung bean. They are used in stir-fries, noodle soup dishes and spring rolls. They are added at the end to keep them crunchy. They must be stored in iced water and kept in the refrigerator where they will last for a few days. Changed the water daily.
Bitter melon (kho qua) is a hard gourd thought to have health benefits. It looks like a fat, knotty cucumber. Green and firm, it has a very crisp texture and strong bitter taste. It is often pickled. Before cooking, the seeds and inner membrane are removed and the external shell is sliced into small, crescent shaped pieces and braised or added to soups. It can also be hollowed out, stuffed with minced pork and steamed.
Carambola or Star fruit (Khe) come in the colours yellow, orange or green. Cut into cross sections to reveal its star shape. Eaten raw and finely sliced, the young star fruit has an acidic taste and is often served on a Vietnamese vegetable platter along with unripe, sliced banana.
There are 2 varieites ofDragon fruit (Thanh long tuoi). One with bright red flesh and the other white, both have tiny black seeds. Although it can be bland in flavour it makes a striking addition to a fruit platter.
Durian (Sau rieng) has a very strong odour but the taste is lush and tropical. Thought by many to have aphrodisiac qualities.
Jackfruit (Mit) is a large, green fruit with a tough, knobbly skin which reveals a yellow segmented flesh when opened. It has a taste that is naturally sweet. In Vietnam, the young jackfruit is used like a vegetable in cooking or in salad.
Longan (Nhan) are small brown skinned fruits that grow in the Mekong Delta and in the North. The inside is a juicy cream coloured fruit with seed.
Lychee (Vai) is cultivated in the humid tropical regions for its fruit and wood. Lychees are exquisite fruits encased in brown skin which is peeled to reveal white tropical, juicy fruit.
Mangosteen (Mang) have a thick purple skin and creamy white segments on the inside. Discard the skin and enjoy the delicious unique flavour of the flesh.
The fiery red spiky skins give the Rambutan (chom chom) a look of tiny suns. They have tender white flesh with a cool sweet flavour.