One of the ways Vietnamese cuisine stands out is through its use of herbs. The successful preparation of delicious Vietnamese food relies on fresh herbs – omit the herbs or use them incorrectly and you completely change the nature of the dish. When you eat good Vietnamese food you’ll notice how fragrant and tasty the dishes are, which is all down to the clever use of these interesting herbs.
Coriander – fresh, of course – is used extensively in Vietnamese cooking. It is mainly added as a garnish, or to provide the finishing touch to a dish. Coriander is an intensely flavoursome herb and a little goes a long way. You can easily find fresh coriander in the supermarket.
- Ngo Gai or Mexican Coriander
This is a stronger version of the regular coriander and is used to flavour beef pho broth. The herb is from Central America but if you cannot find it you can substitute the regular fresh coriander herb.
- Vietnamese Coriander
Also known as hot mint or laksa leaf, this is a spicy herb with a touch of coriander-style flavour. This herb is sold in specialist Asian stores and you can even grow it yourself. If you can’t find it, regular coriander is permissible but it really doesn’t have the same flavour, according to vieteat.co.uk.
Mint is easily found in the supermarket and is a staple of many Vietnamese dishes. Many people will use mint in the pho soup instead of purple basil. You can find mints that are spicier, and those that have a milder flavour.
- Thai Basil
Also known as purple basil, this is a staple in traditional Vietnamese food like the dishes from vieteat.co.uk. It has a spicy, earthy taste and is different from the basil you use to flavour Italian dishes. You can often find Thai basil fresh in the stores and it is commonly found dried.
- Vietnamese Mint
This lemony-flavoured herb is unique in its flavour and is a great accompaniment to cooked meats and is also served raw. While it is not as widely available as other herbs, it is sold in Asian supermarkets and you can grow it from seed.
- Tia To or Purple Perilla
An unusual herb, this is a classic Vietnamese flavouring that adds a touch of bold taste to dishes like fried prawn fritters.
- Ba Om
A rather citrusy herb with a flavour that is akin to cumin, this is a traditional herb for Vietnamese fish soup. If you do not have this herb you can use some ground cumin to substitute.
- Fish Mint
This herb has an unusual, slightly fishy flavour, hence the name. It is a good addition to the strong flavours of grilled or barbequed meat.
A popular and highly fragrant herb, lemongrass is increasingly popular in the supermarkets. You can’t cook many dishes from Vietnam without this herb, so it is an essential in your store cupboard if you love Vietnamese food.
Image courtesy of SOMMAI/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net