“What is the best Vietnamese food in your opinion and where can we get it?” – One of the most common queries people who are enchanted by Vietnamese cuisine ask me when I’m abroad.
To answer the first part of the question: “The best Vietnamese food is made at home by moms”. Or in this particular case, my one and only beloved mother. Not that I want to brag about it but, because she used to own the most popular restaurant in our old neighborhood when I was little. And guess what was in the menu? Not the fancy lobster dishes, but home dishes made professionally and succulently. Basically, a Vietnamese full course looks like this:
Let’s scroll through this scrumptious setting counterclockwise, shall we? From bottom right is steamed pork, shrimp fish sauce, neatly cut fried tofu, steamed morning glory peaks, pot-herbs soup with crabs, stewed fish in chilly and fish sauce with a dash of caramel, Vietnamese signature spring rolls (love that!) and succulent fried tiny shrimps decorated with slices of star fruit. In the middle is the equalizer of all these bold components combined together, a fine pot of moist cooked rice. Bear in mind this is a mere simple home meal, I haven’t even disclosed to you a luxurious home-cooked meal for special occasions yet. You may stop drooling now.
To break it down to a basic formula with specific examples below, a Vietnamese full course usually consists of:
1. One bowl of hot soup
A meal is not complete without a bowl of hot soup. We usually finish our last serving with our bowl filled with soup.
2. Steamed/stirred veggie dish(es)
Since we have a substantial diversity of flora, our choices of veggies seem endless. If soup is missing in a meal, a vegetable dish is a must for fiber necessity purpose. Morning glory is super popular in Vietnam, especially in the summer. Despite its simplicity and cheapness, it enchants instantly tourists who have never tried it before and excites kids who loath green fiber dishes. What is more is that morning glory is packed with Vitamin A, B, C, phosphorus, iron, selenium and calcium.
3. One meat dish
Protein is usually the star of the meal tray. It’s usually the one that receives the most attention from all family members with our chopsticks fighting for every piece and needs the most dedication from our mothers as they understand how important protein is.
A day without rice is a sad unfulfilling day.
5. Fish sauce.
My grandfather always says: “A meal without fish sauce is a tasteless one”. To us, fish sauce is a necessity in most Vietnamese recipes. A dash or a few spoons will always do the magic.
Undoubtedly, no one does it better than dedicated mothers in the kitchen which is actually culturally proven. In Vietnam, women are given lessons of culinary skills at a young age, from how to pick at a veggie bunch to choose the best part to cook to how to season any kind of meat, as we believe a decent meal is the secret to keep the family gathering together every day.
So there you have it, the answer to what the best Vietnamese culinary delicacy is. To answer the second half of the question of where to get it, I would suggest:
1. Either get a Vietnamese girlfriend/boyfriend and love them with all your heart that they will bring you home to their family for a decent intimate home meal. Or
2. Get Vietnamese friends and treat them well enough that they will eventually show you off with their parents at their family dinner.
Because we Vietnamese people are that warm-hearted to welcome people into our homes of hot scrumptious home-cooked meals like such.
By Nguyen Thanh Huong, ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam