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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Key ingredients

Pantry essentials

Fish Sauce

Fish Sauce (Nouc mam) is the essence of Vietnamese food. '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. 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, sugar,vinegar, water, garlic and chilli.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce or Chinese barbecue sauce is a sweet salty bean sauce, popular condiment for pho or can be used as a side dip for gio cuon.

Rice Vermicelli noodles

Rice Vermicelli noodles (bun) is available in various widths. Rice Vermicelli noodles is commonly used for soup and with salads.

Rice Paper

Rice Paper (Banh trang). 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. Commonly for wrapping fresh spring rolls (Gio cuon) or can be fried for fried spring rolls.


Jasmine Rice is the most widely used.

Bean Curd

Bean curd (tofu). It is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds through a muslin cloth into blocks. Tofu can be made into silken or firm tofu. To get the maximum life out of your tofu, refresh the water it is stored in daily and keep refrigerated.

Chilli sauce

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.

Dried shrimp

Dried shrimp (Tom kho) are used quite frequently for their sweet and unique flavor that is very different from fresh shrimp. They are used in many Asian cuisines, imparting a unique umami taste. Commonly used soups, salads and to make condiments.

Shrimp sauce

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.

Dried shrimp paste

It is made from fermented ground shrimp, sun dried and then cut into fist-sized rectangular blocks. It is an essential ingredient in many curries and sauces. Shrimp paste can be found in most Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. It is often an ingredient in dipping sauce for fish or vegetables

Sesame Seeds

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

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.


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.

Herbs and Vegetable


Basil (Rau Que). Basil is commonly used fresh, popular in Pho. It is generally added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavour.


Coriander (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.


Shallots (Hanh) or spring onions is very common and versatile herb. I upper green stem can be use for salad and garnishing. The lower white stem have a more interest flavour which can use for stir-fries and marinades.

Jigsaw or Saw Leaf

Jigsaw or Saw Leaf (rau ngo gai) is a long dark green leaf with serrated edges with a fragrance similar to coriander, but stronger. Commonly used in soups and salads.


Mint (hung lui), commonly eaten fresh in salads, and in fresh rice paper rolls (gio cuon).

Vietnamese Mint

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.

Perilla leaves

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.

Fresh Chilli

Fresh Chilli (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.


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

Fish herb (Diep Ca) is considered by some as an acquired taste as it has a definite fishy smell and flavour. Often used in soups and salads.

Betel leaf

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.

Garlic Chives

Garlic Chives (He) are dark green flat chives with a garlic flavour and aroma. Can be used fresh in salads or cooked in soup or stir-fried.

Water Spinach/Morning Glory

Water Spinach/Morning Glory (Rau Muong). It is frequently stir-fried with oyster sauce or yellow soybean paste, and garlic and chillies

Bean sprouts

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.

Mustard Leaves

Mustard Leaves (cai xanh). Eaten raw as a salad or cooked in soup or stir-fried.

Elephant Ear Stem / Stalk

Elephant Ear Stem (Bac Ha). Stems add texture and absorb the flavours of soups and stir-fries. Popular in Vietnamese tamarind soup (canh chua).

Bitter Melon

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


Green Papaya

Green papaya (Du Du Song) is simply the un-ripened papaya fruit. When choosing green papaya, make sure it is green, firm and the flesh white with no traces of orange. Peel then shred the papaya finely to make fresh, light and textural salads - combine with prawns, crab, pork or beef and lots of fresh mint with a fish sauce and lime dressing

Green mango

Green mango (Xoai Song). Tart, crisp and refreshing with underlying mango flavour . Used in salads and eaten with salt & pounded chilli as a snack.

Dragon fruit

There are 2 varieties of Dragon 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.


Vietnamese dipping sauce (Nuoc cham)

Vietnamese dipping sauce (Nuoc Cham) is a common name for a variety of Vietnamese sweeten "dipping sauces" that are served quite frequently as condiments.


2 tbsp sugar
2.5 tbsp hot water
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 chilli finely chopped


1. Dissolve sugar in hot water, followed by the fish sauce and white vinegar. Taste for balance, add a little more fish sauce or vinegar to you liking.
2. Add the garlic and chilli and stir and set aside until needed.

Pickled carrots and diakon

Pickled carrots and daikon (Do Chua). Made with carrots and daikon and pickled in a vinegar solution made from combination of sugar, salt and vinegar. Used in many 'Bun' dishes, salads and as condiments.


500g carrots
500g daikons
2 cup sugar
2.5 cup of white vinegar
1 tsp salt


1. Add sugar, salt and vinegar into a saucepan on medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolve and set aside to cool.
2. Cut carrots and daikons into small strips, and put in a large sterilised jar.
3. Pour the cooled sugar and vinegar solution into the jar. close lid and refridgerate for couple days.

Crispy eshallots

Crispy eshallots (Hanh Phi). Commonly used as a condiment like cruotons, can be served with so many of the dishes. Stir-fries, congee, soups, and salads. It adds texture and a certain depth to the dishes. Can be purchased in any Asian grocery, it's a must have in every pantry.

Roasted peanuts

Roasted peanuts (Dau Phong Phi). Made by simply pan roasting peanuts until it browns lightly, set aside to cool and remove outer membrane. Usually crushed and add to salads and 'Bun' for another dimension of flavour and texture.

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