• Welcome to Cuisine Corner: Vietnamese (SBS Food)Source: SBS Food
From rich, flavourful pho and tangy salads with bite, to sweet-sticky pork belly braised to caramelised heights, Vietnamese cuisine hits all the right notes. Here we uncover essential ingredients, pick up handy tips, and find out why this country’s recipes are really, really good.
Siobhan Hegarty

17 Jul 2018 - 11:52 AM  UPDATED 19 Mar 2021 - 5:40 PM

The legacy of French colonialism in Vietnam is perhaps most pronounced in the country’s cuisine. It can be found in the humble banh mi – a baguette filled with pork, pâté, pickles and fresh herbs; or suspected in a bowl of pho – a rich beef and noodle soup rumoured to be inspired by France’s pot-au-feu. It's also thanks to the French that unlike other South East Asians, the Vietnamese are big coffee drinkers. In the humid climate, caffeinated beverages are enjoyed with ice and condensed milk.

Gallic influences aside, Vietnamese cuisine is punctuated by freshness. Whether you’re enjoying textural bun cha (pork and spring roll noodle salad), crispy prawn pancake or steamed mussels, you’re almost guaranteed to receive a garnish of herbs, chilli and bean sprouts. Rice and rice noodles are the staple carbohydrates, while various forms of protein – seafood, tofu, pork, poultry or beef – are eaten to varying extents in each region.

Caramel sauce is a hallmark of home-style cooking, found most notably in sweet and sticky pork, along with caramel-galangal fish and coconut crème caramel (kem flan). Lemongrass, too, is an oft-used ingredient, flavouring chicken (as in this salad), pork ribs, stir-fried beef and spit-roast lamb.


Pantry essentials

In the sauces department, you’ll need: hoisin, chilli sauce and fish sauce (anchovy and shrimp sauces are handy, too). Star anise and cassia or cinnamon will make pho fantastic, while coconut juice, lemongrassrice paper and vermicelli noodles are great to keep on hand. As for fresh herbs, grab some coriander, Asian basil and Vietnamese mint.


Fast five

1. Just chillin': Prolong shelf life by placing ingredients in the freezer. It works for galangal, lemongrass, pandan leaves, coconut juice, chillies, stocks and even lime/lemon juice.

2. Top cuts: Make heavy-duty kitchen scissors your new BFF. They’ll swiftly joint chicken, slice herbs (no bruising), and chop ingredients straight into the pot.

3. Liquid gold: Essential for poaching and braising meat and poultry, master stocks should be topped up with water and seasoning regularly. (Luke Nguyen’s recipe here.)

4. Time saver: Use a mandolin to thinly slice or finely grate ingredients quickly and consistently. Great for Vietnamese salads and pickles.  

5. Hey, clay: Inexpensive and available from Asian grocers, clay pots distribute heat evenly and impart dishes (like these) with an earthy, smoky flavour. Before first time use, submerge in cold water for 24 hrs. This will safeguard the pot against cracking.


View our Vietnamese recipe collection here. For more Vietnamese tips and tricks at home, check out restaurant Dandelion's guide here.

Have we got your attention and your tastebuds? The Chefs' Line airs weeknights at 6pm starting August 6. Check out the program page for episode guides, cuisine lowdowns, recipes and more! 

Get cooking: Vietnamese
Vietnamese baguette with fried fish cakes (banh mi cha ca)

"The French introduced baguettes to Vietnam, however the Vietnamese created a large variety of delicious and creative fillings to go inside them. This fish cake baguette is one of my favourites as there are great contrasts of textures – from the crisp baguette to the bouncy fish cakes." Luke Nguyen, Luke Nguyen's Street Food Asia

Crispy skin chicken with red rice (com ga chien don)

"We serve this popular street food dish at my Red Lantern restaurant in Sydney. We poach the chicken in a master stock, then baste it with a honey and maltose mixture before hanging it until the skin becomes completely dry. To then achieve a very crispy skin, we ladle very hot oil over the skin again and again until it blisters and becomes crispy. I have kept my master stock alive now for 15 years, and it develops more flavour every time I use it." Luke Nguyen, Luke Nguyen's Street Food Asia

Coffee ice-cream (kem cà phê)

This ice-cream masters the characteristic sweetness of syrupy iced coffees served in Vietnam.

Caramel-galangal salmon (ca kho to)

Cooking in a sauce based on caramelised sugar is a hallmark of home-style Vietnamese cuisine – the (nearly burnt) sugar adds incredible depth of flavour to chicken, tofu, egg and fish. Caramelising sugar is incredibly hot so do take care not to splash any on you.

Beef and rice noodle soup (pho bo)

When my parents had a pho restaurant in Cabramatta I would eat a bowl of pho every day! My father still to this day works on his cooking technique and tweaks the spices to further improve his heavenly broth.