FOOD IN VIETNAM: HEALTH, INGREDIENTS, PHILOSOPHY AND TYPICAL MEALS

FOOD IN VIETNAM

Most Vietnamese meals consist or rice or noodles (often made with rice) eaten with fish, chicken, pork, soup and/or vegetables flavored with lemon grass and served with nuoc cham (a condiment made with vinegar, hot peppers, shredded carrots, garlic, and sugar) and nuoc mam (a salty fish sauce). Herbs, cilantro, basil, dill, mint, borage and chives are often served in heaps like salads.

Most meat dishes are made with chicken, pork or fish. Beef is often water buffalo. Other essential ingredients in Vietnamese dishes include tofu, Chinese cabbage, bamboo shoots, snow peas, water chestnuts, dried mushroom, curry, potatoes, asparagus, watercress, artichokes, avocados, corn, tomato, shallots, scallions, lime leaves, galangal (similar to ginger), garlic, sugar, hot peppers, lime, carrots, papaya, tree ear fungus, onions, sour Chinese cabbage, ground peanuts, Chinese water spinach, coconut milk and white radish.

The average Vietnamese adult consumes 2,463 calories a day, compared to 3,603 calories per adult in the United States and 1,991 calories in Kenya. Household expenditure on food: 55 percent (compared to 50 percent in Ethiopia and 13 percent in the U.S.A.).

In 1984 United Nations (UN) nutrition specialist calculated the daily average food consumption among Vietnamese to be only 1,850 calories per day, nearly 20 percent less than the generally accepted minimum daily standard of 2,300 calories. In 1985, the Vietnam Institute of Nutrition reported average daily intake at 1,940 calories. The institute also estimated that roughly 25 percent of the children suffered from malnutrition.

Food is a very important part of Vietnamese culture. The Vietnamese not only enjoy eating but believe eating good food can bring harmony and closeness to the family and relationships. The types of foods are chosen to bring luck and these vary from province to province. Shopping daily for fresh food is essential for all Vietnamese cooking. In general, Vietnamese people are not as concerned about nutrition as Western people. They are more concerned with the food’s texture, flavor, color and aroma. [Source: Vietnamese Cultural Profile, Diversicare, March 2009]

In her paper "Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture, " Janet Tu wrote: "The traditional Vietnamese diet is healthy. Meals emphasize rice, vegetables and fish, and cooking methods often involve steaming or stir-frying. Rice is the staple of the diet, consumed in some form in almost every meal. For Vietnamese adults, all three meals of the day may consist of steamed rice with side dishes of vegetables or fish or meat. Variations on steamed rice include congee - rice gruel; rice vermicelli topped with ground pork, bean sprouts, mint or basil; and pho - rice noodle soup made with beef or chicken broth and slices of meat, garnished with bean sprouts and basil. [Source: "Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture" Janet Tu, March 28, 2001]

Health, Culture and Food in Vietnam

In her paper "Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture, " Janet Tu wrote: "Many Vietnamese lack calcium since sources such as milk, dairy products and soy products are not part of the diet. (Vietnamese of Chinese descent, however, may eat tofu and other soy products.) Further, many Vietnamese adults are lactose intolerant. Most Vietnamese children growing up in the U.S., however, drink milk. The Vietnamese diet can be high in sodium, with its reliance on fish sauce and MSG as common condiments, and low in fiber (with its lack of whole grains).[Source: "Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture" Janet Tu, March 28, 2001 <*>]

Vietnamese in America may be susceptible to weight gain, high cholesterol and diabetes. Vietnamese desserts often include coconut milk and coconut oil - high in saturated fat. Vietnamese with diabetes may not realize that an excess of sweets can make their illness difficult to control. Vietnamese in the U.S. also tend to increase their meat consumption. Pork and chicken is cheaper here than in Vietnam. Many think of meat as more nutritious than other foods, and don't regard fish and vegetables as particularly nutritious. Further, if a Vietnamese patient already has diabetes, it may be difficult to change their diet, since rice - which converts to sugar and elevates blood sugar - is such a staple of the diet. <*>

Food can more than just food. Salt is used as the connection between the worlds of the living and the the dead. Bánh phu thê is used to remind new couples of perfection and harmony at their weddings. Food is often placed at the ancestral altar as an offering to the dead. Cooking and eating play an extremely important role in Vietnamese culture. The word "an" (eat) is included in a great number of proverbs and has a large range of semantic extensions.

At mealtime, Emperor Tu Duc, ruler of Vietnam from 1848 to 1883, had 50 chefs preparing 50 dishes brought to him by 50 servants. To prepare his tea: every night, the tea leaves would be placed in lotus blossoms and collected the next morning infused with the delicate lotus scent. They would be brewed with the overnight dew on the lotus leaves.

Beliefs About Health and Food in Vietnam

In her paper "Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture, " Janet Tu wrote: "Vietnamese also believe that specific foods have medicinal value. They believe that mung beans, when ground with water into a paste, can neutralize food. They also believe that mung beans and green beans interfere with Western and Eastern medication. Vietnamese also believe that bitter melon is helpful for controlling high blood pressure. [Source: "Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture" Janet Tu, March 28, 2001 <*>]

Pregnant Vietnamese women typically eat a healthy diet, although health care workers should make sure they are getting enough calcium. Vietnamese women tend to not breast feed their babies, or breast feed them for less than six months, believing that formula is more nutritious for their infants. Some Vietnamese may bottle feed infants for longer than six months. Many Vietnamese women believe that breast-feeding will cause their breasts to sag. Providers may want to educate patients on the benefits of breast feeding. Infants are typically introduced to solid foods around the sixth month, when they are given thin rice gruel. Minced meat or vegetables are gradually introduced into the thin congee around the ninth month. More solid food - vegetables, fruits, small pieces of tender meat - are given typically after the baby turns 1. <*>

In Vietnamese culture, chubby children are considered healthy and a sign of prosperity. Vietnamese parents may also want to spoil their children by taking them to fast-food restaurants - sometimes daily. They may not realize that fast food may contribute to weight gain. Vietnamese children and teenagers in the U.S. tend to eat a more Americanized diet: cereal for breakfast; pizzas and hamburgers. The elderly - especially those who have trouble chewing or have digestive difficulties - typically stick to a diet emphasizing congee and soup. <*>

Fasting is most often used in Vietnamese culture when people are sick. When they're sick, many Vietnamese believe it's best to drink only hot water and eat thin rice gruel (rice and water with a little salt), in order to give their digestive systems a rest. Health care providers may want to make sure that sick patients are getting enough nutrition. The only other time fasting is used in Vietnamese culture is for religious reasons. Vietnamese Buddhists - depending on how strict they are - may adhere to restrictions such as abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, or even follow vegetarian diets. Strict Vietnamese Catholics will adhere to Catholic dietary rituals, such as those during Lent. Fasting among Vietnamese in America, however, is not common. <*>

Hot and Cold Foods and Traditional Vietnamese Medicine

In her paper "Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture, " Janet Tu wrote: "Many Vietnamese - especially of the older generation - believe in the Chinese yin/yang categorization of food, in which foods are considered either yang - "hot," or yin - "cold." In this system, "hot" foods such as mango, beef and garlic, may lead to an excess of heat in the body, causing ailments such as pimples, nosebleeds and rashes. Overconsumption of "cold" foods such as melons, greens or pork, may lead to chilliness, abdominal pain or diarrhea. They believe that sickness arises when the body's yin/yang balance is off, and will try to remedy the imbalance by eating the appropriate hot or cold food. According to the yin/yang system, in the first month after a Vietnamese woman has a baby, she shouldn't have any cold foods. [Source: "Nutrition and Fasting in Vietnamese Culture" Janet Tu, March 28, 2001 <*>]

In his paper “Traditional Vietnamese Medicine: Historical Perspective and Current Usage,” Hue Chan Thai wrote: “Vietnamese commonly refer to food property as hot or cold, which does not necessarily refer to temperature or spiciness. Instead, they refer to the effects that the food has on the body. For example, eating a plate of French fries can cause a person to feel very thirsty. Due to this effect on the body, fried foods are considered a hot food. Dried, deep fried or very rich foods (high sugar/fat content foods) are considered hot food. [Source: Hue Chan Thai, ND, MSA, University of Washington, August 1, 2003. Last Reviewed: September 20, 2011 \=\]

On the other hand, melon and root vegetables are considered cool foods. Symptoms of cold or cool effects on the body may include: frequent urination and loose stool. Fresh food, steamed or boiled vegetables are considered cool. Food preparation is just as important as the kind of food in determining whether it is hot or cool. For example, French fries are very hot compared to boiled potatoes. Food choices are often made based on their energetic qualities. Vietnamese regularly consumes squash in the summer for its cooling effects and more ginger in the winter for its warming effects. \=\

The interpretation above also applies when Vietnamese people refer to medicine, particularly to the side effects of medicines. Medication that cause skin rash, itchiness, and thirst are considered hot, while medicines that cause loose stool would be considered cool. It is uncommon to find a Vietnamese patient taking less medication than prescribed dose because of the side effects perceived as being too hot or too cold. Unless this matter is approached with sensitivity, many would not tell their physicians about it; they believe that they are in the best position to judge their health needs or they just do not want to appear as disobeying authorities. \=\

Symptoms of hot and cold: 1) Signs and symptoms of excessive heat: Thirst for cold drinks, fever, red face, red eyes, canker sores, irritibility, insomnia, constipation, yellow urine, and yellow or green discharge. 2) Signs and Symptoms of excessive cold: Cold, pain, cramps, diarrhea. Cooling food: 1) Fruits: watermelon apple, pears, persimmon, cantalope, citrus; 2) Vegetables: cucumber, asparagus, squash, cabbages, rooty-vegetables lettuce; 3) Grains and Legumes: mung beans, sprouts, tofu, barley, millet, (Rice-neutral); 4) Others: yogurt, peppermint, dandelion, cilantro. \=\

Vietnam Aims to Make Vietnamese Taller by Improving Nutrition

Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: "During long years of war and severe poverty in Vietnam, milk and meat were true luxuries only the rich could afford. Many children went blind from lack of vitamin A. Countless others experienced stunted growth that has kept the whole population short and thin. But after 30 years of peace, the communist country has overcome many of these problems and is now boasting unprecedented economic growth that it hopes will translate into building a taller, stronger people. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, November 07, 2004 <<<]

"An ambitious plan submitted for government approval last month aims to increase the average height of men and women by about 2½ inches over the next 25 years with milk as the main ingredient powering that spurt. "The Vietnamese people on average are shorter than many people in the world as well as compared with people in the region, and they're also weaker physically," said Duong Nghiep Chi, director of Vietnam's Sport Science Institute in charge of the strategic plan. He noted that the Japanese went through a similar growth spurt after World War II. <<<

"Since the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the average height of men has shot up from 5-feet-2 to 5-feet-4 and in women from 4-feet-9 to 5 feet. Weights have also increased an average of 18 pounds for men and about 6 1/2 pounds for women over the past 30 years, with food becoming more widely available only in the past decade. In comparison, adults in the United States, who were bigger to begin with, gained about an inch over the past 40 years, with men now an average height of 5-feet-9 1/2 and women about 5-feet-4. <<<

"But studies in Vietnam have found that despite the recent leap in size and fast-growing milk sales over the past decade, many children still aren't drinking enough milk or getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, such as calcium and zinc. It's partly because of limited resources, with poverty concentrated in the countryside where most of Vietnam's people live. Perhaps an even bigger challenge will be promoting knowledge and awareness. Nutrition experts say many adults think milk and cheese are just for young children, who often stop eating dairy products after age 2. Some new mothers also don't believe they produce enough breast milk, leading them to substitute their own milk with formula. <<<

"Chi's plan hopes to overcome those misconceptions by providing nutritional guidelines about what children should eat and how much. A pilot project, if approved by the prime minister, also would select 10,000 children ages 6-18 throughout the country and supply them with free milk for two years to see how much they grow compared to those not drinking milk. "If this program is approved, we will launch awareness campaigns among parents on how to give children a better diet," Chi said. "We will hold more campaigns to help create habits for the Vietnamese people to drink more milk. In the past, they did not understand the importance of this and they also did not believe that milk was an important factor for their growth." <<<

"But as Vietnamese wealth continues to rise — mainly in the capital of Hanoi and southern Ho Chi Minh City — some parents who may themselves have gone hungry during the war or in the years of isolation that followed, are determined to see their children grow bigger. Mothers are often spotted stuffing spoonfuls of food into their children's mouths. And last year before Vietnam hosted a major sporting event, many local newspapers wrote articles questioning whether a famous Vietnamese pop singer should perform because she was too short and thin to represent the country. <<<

At the same time, some experts fear that Vietnamese children could follow the fat trend seen in other southeast Asian countries, such as Singapore and Thailand, which are now struggling to keep youngsters' weight in check. "It's often rich families with very good economic conditions — they have a very good house, air conditioners and microwaves," said Nguyen Thi Lam, deputy director of Vietnam's National Institute of Nutrition charged with tackling the overweight and obesity issue. "They have very sweet food available like Coca-Cola and other sweet drinks, and chocolate is more available than in the normal group." Chi says it's vital that Vietnam not leap from undernourished to overweight but that its people instead work toward a healthy in-between with a balanced diet that now includes more rice and meat. In addition, he said the national plan will also provide guidelines to ensure that children are getting enough exercise and maintaining active lifestyles. "Many rich people in Vietnam, they don't know what should be the best way to feed their children even though they have money to spend," he said. "If we do not have a proper approach as the country is getting more prosperous economically, the people will not be as strong built as their parents or older generations." <<<

Philosophy, Culture and Color of Vietnamese Food

Known for its balance of five elements, many Vietnamese dishes include five fundamental taste senses (ngu vi): 1) spicy (metal), 2) sour (wood), 3) bitter (fire), 4) salty (water) and 5) sweet (Earth), corresponding to: five organs (ngu tang): gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, stomach, and urinary bladder. Vietnamese dishes also include five types of nutrients (ngu chat): 1) powder, 2) water or liquid, 3) mineral elements, 4) protein and 5) fat. Vietnamese cooks try to have five colors (ngu sac): 1) white (metal), 2) green (wood), yellow (Earth), red (fire) and black (water) in their dishes. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Dishes in Vietnam appeal to gastronomes via five senses (nam giác quan): food arrangement attracts eyes, sounds come from crisp ingredients, five spices are detected on the tongue, aromatic ingredients coming mainly from herbs stimulate the nose, and some meals, especially finger food, can be perceived by touching. +

Five elements as they correspondence to spices (ngu vi), organs (ngu tang), colors (ngu sac), senses (nam giác quan) and nutrients (ngu chat): 1) Wood: our, gall bladder, green, visual, powder; 2) Fire: bitter, small intestine, red, taste, fat; 3) Earth: sweet, stomach, yellow, touch protein; 4) Metal: spicy, large intestine, black,, smell, minerals; 5) Water: salty, urinary bladder, white, sound, water. +

The principle of yin and yang is applied in composing a meal in a way that provides a balance that is beneficial for the body. While contrasting texture and flavors are important, the principal primarily concerns the "heating" and "cooling" properties of ingredients. Certain dishes are served in their respective seasons to provide contrasts in temperature and spiciness of the food and environment. Some examples are: 1) Duck meat, considered "cool", is served during the hot summer with ginger fish sauce, which is "warm". Conversely, chicken, which is "warm", and pork, which is "hot", are eaten in the winter. 2) Seafoods ranging from "cool" to "cold" are suitable to use with ginger ("warm"). 3) Spicy food ("hot") are typically balanced with sourness, which is considered "cool". 4) Balut (hot vit lon), meaning "upside-down egg" ("cold"), must be combined with Vietnamese mint (rau ram) ("hot"). +

The color of Vietnamese food comes from natural ingredients: 1) Red, usually from beetroot or by frying annatto seed to make oil (da`u ?ieu); 2) Orange, for sticky rice, comes from gac: 3) Yellow, from turmeric; 4) Green, from pandan leaf or katuk; 5) Purple , from magenta plant (lá cam); 6) Black, in gai cake, from ramie leaf (lá gai); 7) dark brown, - for stew dishes, uses nuo'c màu or nuo'c hàng, which is made by heating sugar to the temperature above that of caramel (170̊C). Colorings can be absorbed by mixing ground colorings or coloring liquid or wrapping before boiling to get the extracts. When coloring dishes, the tastes and smells of colorings must also be considered. +

Vietnamese Eating Habits

The national dish of Vietnam is pho (soup made from chicken, beef or pork stock with noodles, coriander, scallions, meat or fish balls, hot peppers and nuoc nam). Vietnamese sometimes eat pho three meals a day. Without pho, it is said, the Vietnamese would have trouble existing. One reason soups are so popular in Vietnam is that they provide liquid in the hot climate and they are less likely to contain harmful germs than drinking water because the water in the soup has been boiled. The secret to good pho is in the broth.

Breakfast is generally eaten between 6:30am and 7:30am and often consists of pho with rice or sticky rice and often meat or fish along with tea or coffee (often sweetened with condensed milk). It the cities, particularly Hanoi, you can find croissants and baguettes. Lunch is generally eaten between 11:00am and 12:000. Many people eat out, grabbing a quick meal or snack such as a bowl of pho or some meat and rice. During the mid-afternoon, Vietnamese people like to buy snacks from street vendors or food merchants walking from house to house. Dinner is generally eaten between 7:00pm and 8:00pm in the cities; earlier in the countryside. It is generally an informal meal with meat or fish, rice and is similar to lunch except often more dishes are served.

Preparation for a big family dinner begins early in the morning with the soaking if vegetables and cleaning up. There traditionally hasn’t been much refrigeration in Vietnam so people generally shop for meat and vegetables on the day they plan to eat them.

Vietnamese Eating Customs

Unlike Western meals which are divided into separate courses like appetizer, main entrée and dessert, Vietnamese meals are typically served all at once and shared. Most Vietnamese families would typically sit on the floor on mats, and each family member had his or her own rice bowl and utensils. For soup dishes, they would use soup spoons; for stir-fried dishes and rice, they would use chopsticks. Spring rolls, and other similar items that are considered finger foods (eaten by hand).

Vietnamese eat from bowls and use chopsticks and spoons. When not being used chopsticks should be placed on a bone plate or side dish. Don't place idle chopsticks in a bowl. Chopsticks sticking up from a bowl symbolizes death. Chopsticks set on the bowl signifies you have finished eating. In some parts of Vietnam, and with some dishes, people eat with their hands All dishes except individual bowls of rice are communal and are to be shared in the middle of the table. It is also customary for the younger to ask/wait for the elders to eat first and the women sit right next to the rice pot to serve rice for other people. They also pick up food for each other as an action of care.

When eating, Vietnamese eat on the floor around a low table or around a Western-style table with chairs. Dishes are often set out on a table and people help themselves. Food is placed on rice in a bowl, Chinese-style, or on a side plate with a serving spoon. If there isn't a serving spoon, turn your chopsticks around to serve yourself, so that the parts of the chopsticks that have gone in your mouth don’t touch the food that everybody eats.

When eating with Vietnamese: 1) Wait to be shown where to sit. 2) The oldest person should sit and be served first. 3) Pass dishes with both hands. 4) Chopsticks should be placed on the table or a chopstick rest after every few mouthfuls or when breaking to drink or speak. 5) People often hold bowls close to their faces when eating. 6) Hold the spoon in your left hand while eating soup. 7) Cover your mouth when using a toothpick.

Leaving some food and eating all your rice is considered polite. Making loud slurps indicates you like the food. Soup is often served last to wash down meal. Many men use a toothpick when they finish eating and cup their hand while using it. It is considered repulsively rude to blow you nose at the dinner table.

When dining with a Vietnamese family wait for head of the family or the eldest to start eating first before you do. Vietnamese often serve you food into your rice bowl. This is an act of hospitality. Meals often begin with an offering made to the family Buddhist altar. Afterward the food is carried on different trays by the woman the house. Young men often eat with their mother and children and women usually eat together. Guests are often expected to make a little speech to thank their host.

When inviting a friend on an outing, the person who offers the invitation usually offers to pay to the bill. Going dutch with a Vietnamese is not appreciated. If you run into someone at a restaurant and you join his table, let him pay the whole bill or pay it all yourself. The senior person usually pays. Refusing an offer for a meal is considered polite.

Vietnamese Meals and Feasts

A typical meal for the average Vietnamese family could include individual bowls of rice; boiled, grilled steamed, stir fried or stewed meat, fish or other seafood; a stir-fried, raw or steamed vegetable dish; soup and fish sauce or soy sauce for dipping. Typical home-cooked foods include roasted peanuts, stir-fried chicken, deep-cried bean curd, spring rolls, rice and soup. [Source: Vietnamese Cultural Profile, Diversicare, March 2009 \^/]

Breakfast is preferably rice or noodles with milk, and some older people enjoy a bread roll prepared from rice flour. For a rural family breakfast often consists of left over pork, eggs, vegetables and rice from the dinner the night before. Lunch might consist of pork, chicken or fish with noodles or rice. ( Vietnamese people do not eat lamb .) Soup for lunch is desirable but preferably separate containers for the soup and rice . \^/

Dinner is the main meal and should be rice, a meat dish and vegetables and should not be a sandwich Vietnamese food is not related in any way to the Chinese ‘yin’ or ‘yang’ Older people usually avoid eating yellow cheese and scrambled eggs because they contain fat and milk. Check with the residents as to their preferences as some Vietnamese people do not eat lamb or veal. \^/

According to Wikipedia: A typical meal for the average Vietnamese family would include: 1) Large bowl/pot/cooker of steamed white rice; 2) Individual bowls of rice; 3) Fish/seafood, meat, tofu (grilled, boiled, steamed, stewed or stir-fried with vegetables); 4) A stir-fry dish; 5) Raw, pickled, steamed, or fresh vegetables; 5) Canh (a clear broth with vegetables and often meat or seafood) or other soup; 6) Prepared fish sauce for dipping, to which garlic, pepper, chili, ginger, or lime juice are sometimes added according to taste; 7) Dipping sauces and condiments depending on the main dishes, such as pure fish sauce, ginger fish sauce, tamarind fish sauce, soy sauce, muoi tiêu chanh (salt and pepper with lime juice) or muoi o't (chili and salt); 8) Small dish of relishes, such as salted eggplant, pickled white cabbage, pickled papaya, pickled garlic or pickled bean sprouts; 9) Fresh fruits or desserts, such as chè. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Feasts (Vietnamese: co tiec) are significant events for families or villages, with usually up to 12 people for each table. A feast is prepared for weddings, funerals, and festivals, including the wish-for-longevity ceremony. In a feast, ordinary foods are not served, but boiled rice is still used. The well-known feast is the feast of 49 quan ho. villages with co nam ta`ng. Attendants are arranged into several groups according to their social status, gender, age, degree of acquaintance, and eating habits and preferences. Customarily, female guests will bring some food and help the hosts to prepare the feast. +

A Vietnamese feast has two courses: main course (món man - salty dish) and dessert (món ngot - sweet dish). All dishes, except for individual bowls of rice, are enjoyed collectively. All main course dishes are served simultaneously rather than one after another. The major dish of the main course is placed in the centers of the tables, usually big pots of soup or hot pot. A basic feast (co mot tang) consists of 10 dishes: five in bowls (nam bát): bóng, mien (cellophane noodles), mang (bamboo shoot), moc (meatball), chim or gà ta`n (bird or chicken stew dishes) and five in plates (nam dia): giò (Vietnamese sausage), cha, gà or vit luoc (boiled chicken or duck), nom (Vietnamese salad) and xào (stir-fried dishes). This kind of feast is original and is organized only in the northern Vietnam. Other variations are found in central and southern Vietnam. +

Tet Food and Drink

Traditional Tet foods include bahn chung (rice and pork fat boiled in a banana leaf), mang (an aromatic dish made with boiled bamboo shoots, and fried pork marinated in fish sauce), cakes and sweetbreads made with dried fruit, chicken and other meat dishes, pickles, rice and vermicelli soup. Rice wine is the traditional Tet drink. In urban areas, may people these days drink whisky, beer and cognac.

Four dishes indispensable in the feast of Tet are giò, nem (spring roll), ninh (stew dishes) and moc. At this time, the feast for offering ancestors includes sticky rice, boiled chicken, Vietnamese rice wine, and other preferred foods by ancestors in the past. Gifts are given before guests leave the feast.

Even though traditional Tet dishes are sold already prepared at stores but people still like to take the time to make the stuff at home. One is not supposed throw out any leftovers until the fourth day of Tet. It would also be highly inauspicious to sweep the rubbish from the house as all the good luck you have been working hard at will disappear with it.

See Tet, for recipes of Tet dishes

Vietnamese Food Ingredients

Fish Sauce is the essence of Vietnamese food, a source of flavor 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. Anchovy sauce (mam nem) is widely used in central and southern Vietnamese food. It is 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. 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. [Source: SBS.com sbs.com.au/food/cuisine ^^^ ]

Rice is known as 'pearl of the gods' is the staple food. Jasmine Rice is the most widely used type. When Vietnamese rice was introduced to Japan during a rice shortage there the Japanese complained it had dirt, little stones or other impurities in it. Noodles are available in various widths. Glass or Bean thread noodles are also popular and used for frying.

Rice paper sheets are used to make cold summer roll packed with shrimp and vegetables and dipped in sweet sauce. 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. In the south, it is possible to see entire villages making rice paper, thin wrappers made from rice flour and water then sun-dried on bamboo trays. This rice paper is made by hand. Fine rice flour is mixed with salt and water and smeared on thin sheets, steamed for a few seconds, then left on bambo mats to dry. Tofu paper and noodles are made from huge pancake-like sheets that are fed through a shredder.

Young coconut juice is a common ingredient in many Vietnamese dishes. It is the clear water from the coconut, not the richer white cream or milk. Hoi Sin or barbecue sauce is a sweet salty bean 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. ^^^

Vietnamese hot chili peppers are added to most foods, especially in central and southern Vietnam. Coriander and green onion leaves can be found in most Vietnamese dishes. In central Vietnam, the mixture of ground lemongrass and chili pepper is frequently used in dishes with beef. In southern Vietnam, coconut water is used in most stew dishes. [Source: Wikipedia]

Herbs and Spices Used in Vietnam

Herbs (rau) are essential to Vietnamese cuisine, used not only for flavor 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. A basic technique of stir-frying vegetable is frying garlic or shallot with oil before putting the vegetable into the pan. The pair culantro (ngò gai) and rice paddy herb (ngò om or ngo) is indispensable in all kinds of sour soups in the southern Vietnam. [Source: Wikipedia, SBS.com]

1) 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. 2) 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 flavor. Increases the flavor of sour fish soup and crab soup. Fabulous for salads and garnishing. 3) 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 flavor of fresh bamboo shoots and it can be added to soups and salads. 4) 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. In northern Vietnam, all dishes with fish must be garnished with dill. [Source: SBS.com sbs.com.au/food/cuisine ^^^ ]

5) Fish herb (Diep Ca & Cang Cua) is considered by some as an acquired taste as it has a definite fishy smell and flavor. Often used in soups. 6) Garlic Chives (He) are dark green flat chives with a garlic flavor and aroma. 7) Both spearmint (hung lui) and peppermint (baa ha) are used in salads and served with Pho. It is known to aid digestion. Spearmint is often used with strongly fishy dishes. 8) Vietnamese mint (rau ram) is long and narrow with pointed leaves that are green and crimsony brown in color. It has a hot and spicy flavor, which combines well in salads and some shellfish dishes. Also called laksa leaf. Is said to help lower cholesterol and also aid the libido. 9) 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. Perilla is usually used with crab dishes. ^^^

10) 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. 11) Fresh Chilli (or ot comes in three colors; 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. 12) Sesame seeds (me) are a day to day ingredient in Vietnam. Toasted and crushed sesame seeds are used to flavor dipping sauces and marinades or to coat sweets and other foods. After toasting they lose flavor rapidly, so be sure to toast them as close to serving time as possible. 13) Star Anise (hoi) is as beautiful as it is fragrant. This six to eight pointed star spice imparts a flavor resembling cinnamon and cloves. Used to flavor soups and stews, as well as marinades. One of the vital ingredients in the famous Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho. ^^^

Tao of Spice Flavors Vietnamese Cooking

Huu Ngoc wrote in the Viet Nam News, "While in Viet Nam, savour spices the way the Vietnamese do, as both indispensable condiments and effective medicines. First, arm yourself with some fundamentals of an ancient gastronomic philosophy that provides that the culinary art, like all other things, must achieve a balance between yin and yang, the two cosmic elements that regulate the working of the universe. Foods, in the concept of khi (vital energy), have either ascendant or descendant emanations and therefore are either stimulating or sedative in character. Again, from the viewpoint of vi (savour), they are grouped in five categories: cold, hot, moderate, warm and fresh. The protein-rich meat from big wild and domestic animals is considered hot, while aquatic produce and water buffalo meat are classed as cold. Chicken is medium. [Source: Huu Ngoc, Viet Nam News, July 15, 2007 >>>]

"To ensure the yin-yang balance, spices are called into play: chilli (yang) for marine produce (yin), salt (yang) for pumpkin (yin), or garlic (yang) for mong toi, a kind of vegetable described as cold. Onion soup (yang) is an effective febrifuge medicine. Chilli is most widely used, especially in the central and southern parts of the country. You may wonder why. A practitioner of traditional medicine will say that when the inside of your body is hot (yang), your organizm will react by secreting cold fluids (yin) to maintain the internal equilibrium. A cold drink in summer provides a temporary cooling effect but will create a hot feeling afterwards. Likewise, the temporary hot sensation produced by chilli (yang) will soon be replaced by a lasting feeling of freshness (yin), which comes as a natural reaction of the body. In this way, ginger is used to season fish, beef or chicken stew; galingale to neutralise the strong smell of fish and to make rich meat more digestible; saffron to treat fish, eel, snail and frog. The list is infinite. >>>

"Aromatic herbs, raw and seasoned with nuoc mam (fish sauce), make Vietnamese cuisine even more special. The famous hung lang (peppermint) from a suburb of Hanoi imparts an unforgettable flavor to dishes of duck, dog and pork; hanh hoa (spring onion) enhances the taste of any preparations; rau mui (coriander) is also used for a purifying bath on the eve of Tet because of its light fragrance; la he (scallion) accompanies noodles and minced shrimp; cai cuc (chrysanthemum coronarium) is a must for fish in rice soup; guava and sycamore leaves act as antidotes in the consumption of raw fish or fermented pork. >>>

"Last but not least is nuoc mam, a distinctive feature of the Vietnamese cuisine. Prepared variously with garlic, lemon, vinegar, pepper, chilli and sugar, it offers a whole gamut of delicious sauces to go with any dishes on a lavish table. Spices also lace the national language. Ginger and salt refer to conjugal fidelity. "Here’s a plate of ginger and salt," says a folksong. "Ginger is hot, salt is salty; we’ve tasted them all, so let’s not part." Chilli implies disillusionment or jealousy. Saffron evokes cowardice: "Bullies are flushed in the face when they are strong. Beaten, they become yellow like saffron." >>>

Phu Quoc: Vietnamese Fermented Fish Sauce

AFP reported: "Fermented fish sauce sloshed on everything from freshly grilled shrimp to french fries may not be to everyone's taste, but it's all the rage on this island off southwestern Vietnam. Phu Quoc Island, some 45 kilometers (30 miles) off Vietnam's coast in the Gulf of Thailand, is famed for making the best fish sauce — or nuoc mam as it known in Vietnamese — in the world, and its 80,000 inhabitants are justifiably proud of their reputation. Although fermented fish sauce can be found elsewhere in Southeast Asia — in Thailand it is known as nam pla -- Phu Quoc producers use only long-jawed anchovies, eschewing their competitors' mix of a variety of types of fish. In recognition of its quality and unique manufacturing process, the island's nuoc man was given a certified label guaranteeing its origin in June 2001 by the Vietnamese government. [Source: Agence France Pressem September 15, 2004 >=<]

Phu Quoc now yields roughly 8 million-10 million litres of fish sauce a year out of an estimated total national production of 190 million litres."Our climate and geographical location enable Phu Quoc to produce nuoc mam with a smell, flavor and nutrition value better than anywhere else," says Nguyen Thi Tinh, chairwoman of the Phu Quoc Fish Sauce Association. "We have been making nuoc mam for over 200 years and the secrets of making it have been passed down from generation to generation. It is a very important tradition for our island," she said. >=<

Its success, however, has also spawned counterfeiters trying to cash in on the island's fame by linking their own brand of the pungent sauce -- a staple ingredient of most Vietnamese cooking -- to the Phu Quoc name. Nuoc mam is one of the mainstays of the island's economy with 100, mainly family-owned, establishments producing 10 million litres a year, accounting for five percent of Vietnam's total production. Around 10 percent of the tropical island's nuoc mam output is exported to Europe, the United States, Japan and South Korea, with the rest sold domestically. >=<

The sauce is made from a mix of anchovies and salt, with the resulting mush left to distill for between 12 and 15 months in three-metre high wooden vats that are made from trees indigenous to Phu Quoc and which lend their own flavor to the brew. Bamboo netting at the bottom of each vat separates the fish bones from the liquid, and when the fermentation process is considered to have been completed, a sample is taken and sent for testing at the Pasteur Institute in Vietnam's southern business capital of Ho Chi Minh City. As popular as it may be in Vietnam, some foreigners find the smell nauseating and the taste too tangy for their palates. Most Vietnamese, however, cannot envisage a meal without it. >=<

Unilever’s Effort to Break Into Vietnam’s Fermented Fish Sauce Market

In 2002, Margot Cohen wrote in the Far Eastern Economic Review, "Unilever sniffs money to be made in marketing traditional Vietnamese fish sauce. But first it must allay fears that it will monopolize a national treasure. After building its reputation on fragrant shampoos, facial creams and detergents, Unilever is turning to a more pungent product. Main ingredients: decomposed anchovies and lots of salt. That might not appeal to everyone, but for culinary fans of the Vietnamese fish sauce known as nuoc mam the taste is unbeatable. [Source: Margot Cohen, Far Eastern Economic Review, September 26, 2002 ***]

"To triumph over other brands, the Anglo-Dutch giant didn't just reach for any old fish sauce. It extended its mighty hand to the southern island of Phu Quoc where generations of small producers have fermented Vietnam's most famous nuoc mam. In February, Unilever struck a deal with some of these traditional artisans to bottle and label their special sauce under its Knorr brand. After opening a new bottling factory on the island in late October, Unilever will launch TV ads that urge consumers to "Experience the Legend." ***

"But like most legends, Phu Quoc fish sauce has engendered its own share of battles. While Unilever has teamed up with some local producers and negotiated carefully with government officials, some proud veterans of the trade fear that this foreign firm will end up monopolizing what they view as a national treasure-- or alter their traditional product to suit Western tastes. Such fears have prompted some feisty opposition in the local press and angry letters to Hanoi officials. Yet Unilever and its local supporters maintain that the venture will enhance islanders' prosperity, with the firm using its proven skills in marketing and distribution to make Phu Quoc fish sauce more popular than ever. ***

"The very novelty of the Unilever venture helps to explain some of the friction. It's a test of whether a foreign firm can successfully market another nation's product that is already certified with an appellation of origin--the status assigned to a product that comes from a specific geographical area and is manufactured in a unique way. (Think France's champagne wines and Italy's Parma ham.) In June last year, the Phu Quoc producers obtained this coveted status from the French issuing authority, the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, and local authorities. In theory, this could help ward off counterfeiters. The Phu Quoc producers use anchovies exclusively fished in the waters surrounding the island, then soak the fish for more than a year in a particular kind of wooden barrel. They keep careful watch over the color, the flavor and the protein content of their sauce. The concoction is then transported in jerrycans to be bottled on the mainland. Over the years, however, island producers have grown alarmed at the numerous bottles popping up with fishy labels and even more dubious contents. Mindful of the island's fame, shady manufacturers from other Vietnamese regions and other countries have been flogging other varieties of fish sauce under the Phu Quoc name. ***

"In practice, however, Hanoi has found it tough to crack down on fakes. That's one reason why Unilever has stepped in, through its subsidiary Bestfoods. Having quashed counterfeit goods in other markets through its commercial clout and legal minions, the Unilever team brims with confidence. "The people of Phu Quoc want to make sure that the consumer can trust whatever they are buying. We believe we can help deliver that promise to the consumer," says Mick Van Ettinger, general manager for Bestfoods in Vietnam. ***

"Building trust among the island's 80 fish-sauce producers was the first step. The Unilever team began scoping out the territory more than two years ago, meeting repeatedly with the island's grizzled tastemakers and trying to overcome local suspicions that meddlesome outsiders were bent on stealing secrets. Finally, they struck a deal with a newly-formed company called Quoc Duong, comprising 17 local producers. Under the agreement, Unilever pledged an advance payment of 12.7 billion dong ($833,000) to Quoc Duong for investment in a bottling plant built on the island and run according to international hygiene standards. "If we bottle our product in Phu Quoc, we can guarantee the quality as well as the flavor." explains Nguyen Thi Tinh, who is Quoc Duong's director and chairwoman of the Phu Quoc fish-sauce producers' association. Quoc Duong will supply the ingredients to the plant and supervise bottling. Meanwhile, Unilever--armed with the country's largest advertising budget and an elaborate distribution network penetrating remote villages through motorcycle and houseboat delivery--will handle advertising, marketing and distribution. Unilever Vietnam posted revenues of $250 million last year from its portfolio of detergent, cosmetic and food items. ***

"Labelling required another round of negotiation with government officials. Vietnam's National Office of Industrial Property made it clear that it would not approve any label that featured the name Phu Quoc on the same line as Knorr, the brand backed by Bestfoods. "You cannot treat the brand as if the brand is the appellation of origin," explains French embassy commercial counsellor Christian Saillard, who has been coaching local fish-sauce producers since 1999. "If you say that, it means that if you want Phu Quoc Nuoc Mam, it has to be Knorr. And that is not allowed." ***

"So Unilever will emblazon its label with the name Phu Quoc Fish Sauce, printing the Knorr brand in modest letters below. "Knorr is so small you probably need binoculars to see it on the label," says Unilever Vietnam chairman Michel Dallemagne. Still, the idea of linking a foreign brand to a beloved local product continues to disturb some Phu Quoc veterans. The same passion that drove them to obtain the appellation of origin is now compelling them to remain wary of the partnership. "We have built the name of our product for many years," says Dang Van Thoi, owner of Hung Thanh fish sauce. "They cannot come and stick the name of Phu Quoc to Knorr. I am very sad about this. Because they have dollars, they think they can do whatever they want." ***

"To soften such criticism, Unilever has thrown in a few sweeteners. The company plans to help islanders build a museum dedicated to Phu Quoc and its fish sauce. It also plans to bring in environmental scientists to study the life cycle of anchovies, to help ensure sustainable development of fish-sauce production. And it has sought to allay fears that it would alter Phu Quoc fish sauce to suit Western tastes. Dallemagne says that domestic shoppers are the primary target, though the large overseas Vietnamese communities in the United States, France and Australia could eventually provide a base for a lucrative export market. "We will not change anything about this product," insists Van Ettinger. ***

"Although Unilever has promised not to purchase all of the island's available fish sauce, the new bottling factory can process 20 million litres annually. Producers remain free to sell to their usual wholesalers, at a market price equivalent to what Unilever will pay. But the real question is whether the Knorr bottles will eventually corner the market with a special sticker indicating that the European Commission recognizes the sauce was processed under controlled conditions. ***

"None of the producers has reached this stage yet. First, they must prove to European authorities that they have set up a strict control system that monitors the amount and the origin of the anchovies, documents processing techniques and ingredients, oversees bottling and includes regular auditing. For most of these mom-and- pop producers, who are used to operating independently, and somewhat haphazardly, the task is enormous. Most observers agree that it will be easier to set up a control system on the island, rather than the mainland. And so far, Quoc Duong is the only company with a bottling factory on Phu Quoc, thanks to Unilever. The special stickers would allow Unilever to charge a higher premium for its Knorr fish sauce, and pass on some of the additional earnings to its suppliers in Quoc Duong-- and also help in fighting counterfeits. Despite the difficulties, Unilever remains optimistic. "Out of 50 launches and re-launches in this country, we have only failed once or twice," says Dallemagne. With the nuoc mam heading for shelves in November, market analysts will be watching to see whether sales measure up to the legend. ***

Vietnamese Vegetables

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. [Source: SBS.com sbs.com.au/food/cuisine ^^^ ]

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. ^^^

Fruits of Vietnam

Rambutan (chom chom) has a fiery red ,spiky skin and fruit inside that has a tender, translucent, white flesh with a cool sweet flavor. A rambutan tree has broad foliage and many branches. In the southern provinces, the tree yields fruit at the beginning of the rainy season . The chom chom fruit season lasts until the end of the rainy season (from May to October). The skin of this fruit is tough, thick and hairy. The best rambutan fruit is grown in Binh Hoa Phuoc village in Long Ho district in Vinh Long province, about 50 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City. During the rambutan season one can notice the typical bright red color of rambutan fruit stands located in the markets, along road and at intersections throughout the southern provinces. [Source: Sawadee.com +++]

Star Apple is known in Vietnamese as "vu sua," milk from the breast." The shape of the star apple matches the name attached to it, as does its juice which is fragrantly sweet and milky white like breast milk. The most popular way to enjoy the fruit is to eat the whole fruit. People tend to drill a small hole at the top of the fruit, lift it to their mouths, lean their heads backward, and drink the flow of the fragrant juice as a baby sucks milk from its mother's breast. One thing you should remember before taking in the juice is that you must squeeze the tough fruit until it becomes tender so that the juice mixes with the meat of the fruit to become a sweet and fragrant muddy substance that looks like breast milk. A novice will certainly peel the fruit with a sharp knife, which may cause the precious juice inside to be wasted. When using a knife to cut the fruit, it is advisable to cut the fruit into two parts before using a spoon to scoop out the pulp, bit by bit, until nothing is left. The most famous star apple orchard is located in Can Tho Province in the Mekong River Delta. The round smooth fruit are all of equal size. +++

Longan (Nhan) are small brown skinned fruits that grow in the Mekong Delta and in the North. The inside is a juicy cream colored fruit with seed. The most famous Longan comes from former Hung Yen province. In the old days, Hung Yen Longans were among the food items reserved as tributes to the Kings. The fruit is as small as the tip of a thumb. Inside the thin and light brown skin is the transparent white pulp which covers a small glossy black seed. The thicker the pulp, the juicier, more fragrant, and crisp the pulp. Longan is a protein rich fruit. It is usually used as a main ingredient, along with lotus seeds, to make sweet soup, which is considered a very good summer refreshment. The seedless longan, when dried, is also a very fine choice for connoisseurs. +++

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. Thieu Litchi (Vai Thieu) is the name dedicated to a special kind of litchi grown in Hai Duong Province. The Thieu Litchi is a bit bigger than the longan. Unlike the skin of the longan, which is rather smooth, the dark red skin of the litchi is rough and rippled.The meat of the litchi is also transparent white, but it is thicker and juicier than that of a longan. The litchi seed is also smaller than the longan seed. +++

Sapodilla (Hong Xiem) fruit is shaped like an egg and weighs from 10 to 200 grams. Its peel is brown with tiny cracks near the stalk. The pulp, which is brown and yellow, is very juicy and smells very sweet. When it is not ripe, it is not edible because it contains a lot of sticky resin. There are two popular species of sapodilla grown in Vietnam: orange pulp and white-yellow pulp sapodilla. The orange pulp sapodilla is planted in the north on the highlands. The pulp of the white-yellow sapodilla is light yellow or yellow and the peel is green or yellow. The peel is thin; the pulp is soft and has taste of peach, banana, and apple. Sapodilla flower consecutively bloom in bunches so that it has fruits to offer throughout the year. In the last couple of decades sapodilla has been widely planted in the north, including Xuan Dinh, Tu Liem district, Hanoi. +++

Custard apple (Mang Cau - Na) comes in two varieties in Vietnam: firm and soft. Both varieties can have various shapes, for example they can be round or oval. When a custard apples is ripe, it is easy to peel. The peel is thick, green, and covered with white or green pollen. The pulp is white or light yellow and contains many black seeds. In the south, custard apples ripen in July, but not all at the same time. Firm custard apples are densely grown in the south, mainly in Ninh Thuan and Vung Tau. Xiem custard apples are oval or heart shaped. Their peel is green with thorns, which turn black when the fruit is ripe. The fruits are generally big and can reach 1.5 kilograms. The pulp is white, hard, and a bit sour. Custard apple trees deliver fruit after three or four years of growth. A tree produces on average from 50 to 100 fruits per year. The fruits ripens on the tree and then cracks, especially during the rainy season. +++

Carambola or Star fruit (Khe) come in the colors 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.

Jackfruit, Mangosteens and Dragonfruit

Jackfruit (Mit) is a large, green fruit with a tough, knobbly skin which reveals a yellow segmented flesh when opened. With a taste described a cross between a pineapple and an overripe melon, it It contains a lot of sugar and calories and has a taste that is naturally sweet. In Vietnam, the young jackfruit is used like a vegetable in cooking or in salad. Vietnamese like to dip jackfruit into a mixture of salt, sugar and chopped chilies.

Jackfruit grow on every part of the tree: the trunk, branches, and even on the roots. Jackfruit trees bear approximately 150 to 200 fruits per year. When the fruit are ripe, their pulp is yellow and sweet, containing a lot or little juice depending on the species. Jackfruits without seeds are planted densely in the Mekong Delta region. To nu jackfruits are small and come from a short tree. The flesh of ripe fruit is firmly stuck to the core; when eating a jackfruit, simply hold the core and pull it out. In the south, the to nu jackfruit harvest season starts from March to June. There are several other species of jackfruits divided into two main groups: hard jackfruits with hard and crunchy flesh, and soft jackfruits with soft flesh and a lot of juice. [Source: Sawadee.com +++]

Mangosteen (mang cut) have a thick purple skin and creamy white segments on the inside. Discard the skin and enjoy the delicious unique flavor of the flesh. The name and the shape of this fruit does not look attractive to those who first see it. The fruit is a bit smaller than a tennis ball and has a dark violet rough skin. When you peel off the upper part of the fruit with a small sharp knife, you can see the transparent white pulp inside arranged in equal segments. While lifting each segment of the transparent white meat to your mouth you can imagine the light and pure refreshment that leaves a little sour taste lingering in your mouth. +++

Dragonfruit (Thanh long tuoi) is so named because it grows on a tree-climbing vine that resembles a cactus. It is size and shape of pineapple, with a smooth skin and white seed-laced meat with a gentle taste similar to kiwi fruit. There are two varieties of dragon fruit: one with bright red flesh and the other white. Both have tiny black seeds. Although it can be bland in flavor it makes a striking addition to a fruit platter.

Green dragon (Thanh Long) is the name of a newly cultivated fruit. It is rather big, weighs from 200 to 500 grams, and has pink or dark-red color. The ripe fruit looks like the kohlrabi cabbage and has an oval shape. When ripe, the fruit peels as easily as a banana. Its pulp is white and gelatinous. The pulp contains many seeds that cannot be extracted. The seeds taste like cactus, giving the fruit a sweet and sour taste. Before 1945, green dragon fruits were not sold in southern markets. It is said that Americans brought green dragon fruits to the south. From Phan Thiet to Nha Trang or from Ninh Hoa to Buon Ma Thuot, bushes of green dragon fruits can be seen climbing to tree trunks in gardens and even on doors. The fruit is available in markets in October, November, April, and May. It is more expensive in October and April, since there are smaller quantities available then. +++

Durians

Durian (Sau rieng) has a very strong, some say foul, odour but the taste lush and tropical. Thought by many to have aphrodisiac qualities, it is an expensive fruit who name in Vietnamese means "one's own sorrows." You may wonder why it is called his. The answer lies in a famous Romeo-and-Juliet-like love story. Long ago, there was a young couple that lived in a region where the druit was grown. Because of social prejudices that could not be overcome, the couple sought their own deaths in order to be faithful to each other. Their own sorrows received the population's sympathies, and the story of their tragedy has been handed down from generation to generation. To commemorate the couple, the locals have named one of their most valuable fruits sau rieng. [Source: Sawadee.com]

One durian is five to six times larger than a mango. Its skin is thick, rough, and covered with sharp thorns. With a gentle cut between the edges of the outer shell, you can easily open the fruit to expose the layers of bright yellow segments of meat that make the pulp look like it is covered with a thin layer of butter.

The Vietnamese writer Mai Van Tao once wrote: "The dense fragrance which spreads near and far, lingers a long time before disappearing. The strong smell can go straight to your nostrils, even though you are still several meters away from the fruit. The fragrance of Durian is a mixture of smells which come from a ripening jackfruit and that of a shaddock. It can also be compared to the strong smell of foreign-made cheese and is rich as a hen's egg. Others describe the fruit as sweet as well-kept honey. All things considered, Durian has a special tempting smell.Those who have not enjoyed the fruit before may find it hard to eat. But once they have tried it, they are likely to seek it again."

See Southeast Asia

Mangos, Papayas, Pineapples, Pomelos and Bananas

Mangoes (xoai in Vietnamese) are grown in most southern provinces. The most reputed mangoes come from Cao Lanh District in Dong Thap Province. Mangoes are divided into several kinds, known locally as xoai cat, xoai tuong, xoai xiem and xoai ngua to cite just a few. The finest mangoes are xoai cat. This type of fruit has a bright yellow peel, a round shape, and weighs as much 0.5 kilograms. The meat is considered sweeter and more fragrant than that of other varieties. [Source: Sawadee.com +++]

Pineapples are widely grown in Vietnam. The peak ripening time for this tropical fruit coincides with summer when the hours of sunshine are longer. People in southern Vietnam usually call this tropical fruit trai thom (fragrant fruit), based in part on the belief the sweet smell of the pineapples lingers longer than that of some other fruits, and is thus hard to forget. Pineapples are processed into different products such as canned pineapple, pineapple liquor, sweet preserved pineapple liquor, and sweet preserved pineapple. There is also a special juicy drink that exists only in pineapple growing areas. Growers press the fruit into a juice which is then mixed with the yoke of a hen's egg before being thoroughly stirred together to become a muddy drink. The drink is said to be very sweet, creamy, and nutritious.

The Phuc Trach polemo (Buoi Duong Phuc Trach) has been widely famous in Vietnam since it was awarded a medal at a national fruit fair organized in 1938. Phuc Trach polemos are also exported to Hong Kong. The Far East Economic Review remarked: "In Vietnam's central coast there is a particularly delicious polemo. Kept after a while, the juice in the polemo segments becomes muddy, as if some sort of sugar in itself. " When the polemo is eaten, its slightly sweet taste lingers in the mouth and at the same time helps connoisseurs feel energetic. Famous polemo growing areas include buoi Doan Hung, buoi Phuc Trach, buoi Bien Hoa, and buoi Thuan Hai, to cite just a few. The train between Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City stops at Phuc Trach Station in Huong Pho District on the central coast. One of the few food specialties offered to passengers by local vendors are the polemo, commonly called buoi Phuc Trach. The strong fragrance the fruit boasts will likely ensure that you never forget the name of the fruit.

Bananas (Chuoi) are not only a delicious fruit when ripe. In Vietnam green bananas are also part of some dishes. Banana flower is mixed in delicious salads. Banana tree trunks, when young, can be eaten as a vegetable, and banana tree roots can be cooked with fish, or mixed in salads. Several banana varieties grow all over the country. Tieu bananas are the most popular kind; they are small and smell sweet when ripe. Ngu and Cau bananas are small with a thin peel. Tay bananas are short, big, and straight, and can be fried or cooked in meals. Tra Bot bananas are widely planted in the south; their peel is yellow or brown when ripe with a white pulp. When Tra Bot bananas are not ripe, they taste sour. In the Southeast, there are a lot of Bom bananas. They look like Cau bananas, but their peel is thicker and their pulp is not as sweet.

Papayas (du du) are sold all year round, especially in the south. Not very expensive, they have a sweet smell and are rich in various minerals and vitamins A and C. In the south, one of the popular varieties of papaya is red with a thick, fragrant pulp but not much sugar. This species is grown in the Mekong Delta region close to the Cambodian border. Another species of papaya available in the south has a yellow or orange peel. Papayas are not as abundant in the north. Because of the colder climate, fruits take a longer time to ripen.

Vietnam has many kinds of persimmon (hong) such as my with yellow fruit and cado with small fruit. Persimmon is famous for providing a lot of sugar and vitamin A. Persimmon fruits contain as much vitamin C as oranges and tangerines, and their pulp does not have a sour taste. Persimmon can be either round or in the shape of a heart. Persimmon fruits are divided into two kinds: bitter and sweet. Bitter persimmon fruits are edible when they are green and hard, but is very sweet when the fruit is ripe. The fruit of sweet persimmon are always sweet, even when green and hard. In the north, persimmon is grown widely; the most popular varieties include Lang persimmon in Lang Son and Hac persimmon in Hac Tri. In the south, persimmon can only be planted in the highlands of Dalat. In Oriental medicine, persimmons are considered effective in reducing high blood pressure and relieving abdominal pain. Persimmon trees can be trimmed into ornamental trees. When their leaves fall down, fruits still hang onto the branches.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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