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Much of Vietnamese cuisine, especially street food, seems to be thrown together in the moment, but there’s actually a great deal of thought that goes into each dish. One of the most important concepts is the balance of flavours, which borrows principles from Mahābhūta, the Indian philosophy of five elements. Many traditional Vietnamese dishes boast a balance of five colours, five flavours and five nutrients, all of which corresponds with five body organs.
Historically, Vietnam is known for its noodle soups, but there is, in fact, a wide variety of options. Stir-fried noodles, spring rolls, fresh ‘summer’ rolls and sticky rice dishes are all very popular and come with an array of accompaniments. Recipes usually centre around beef, pork, chicken or fish, and rice or noodles. But even this isn’t as simple as it sounds, with so many types of noodles on offer – rice vermicelli, rice sticks, glass noodles, egg noodles, tapioca noodles and instant noodles, to name a few.
However, the salad and seasoning is often what brings any Vietnamese dish to life, and most meals are served with a bowl of exotic herbs and aromatic condiments. Many dishes have a spattering of garlic, lime and chilli, and some use lemongrass, ginger, Thai basil and Vietnamese mint. Sauces usually include a generous dash of fish sauce or soy sauce, and the level of spice drastically varies across the country.
One of the most appealing parts of the culinary scene here is how incredibly fresh the ingredients are. Vegetables are often dished up raw or very lightly fried or boiled, and even the meat is usually only cooked rather briefly. And this is likely why Vietnamese cuisine is renounced as one of the healthiest in the world.