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Contents ‡ A journey to discover food & heritage 8

saigon & south 12 HO CHI MINH CITY 16 MEKONG DELTA 40 PHU QUOC 62

from coast to countryside 80 MUI NE & PHAN THIET 84 DA LAT 106

salt water people 126 NHA TRANG 130 QUY NHON 150 HOI AN 168

princes & paupers 192 HUE 196 VINH 218 NINH BINH 236

the dragon & the turtle 256 HANOI 260 HA LONG BAY 284

mountain people 300 SAPA 304 BAC HA 324 MAI CHAU 340

‡ Basic recipes 356 ‡ Glossary 360 ‡ Index 363

Bac Ha


Mai Chau

Ha Long Bay

‡ Sapa

Ninh Binh

Gulf of Tonkin Vinh

Vietnam South China Sea


Hoi An

Hugged by the Gulf of Tonkin, Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, Vietnam is part of South-East Asia. Influences from its nearest neighbours, China, Laos and Cambodia, have enriched Vietnamese cuisine, contributing to great regional diversity.

Quy Nhon

Da Lat

Nha Trang

Phan Thiet & Mui Ne

Gulf of Thailand ‡

Ho Chi Minh City Phu Quoc


Mekong Delta

The Food of Vietnam

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‡ saigon & south



The Food of Vietnam

HO CHI MINH CITY Ho Chi Minh City, once known as Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest city. It lies along the Saigon River, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the South China Sea. With 9 million people and over 6 million motorbikes, this bustling, chaotic, cosmopolitan city always fills me with so much excitement and energy. I head directly to Ben Thanh Market, a must-see for any visitor. Built by the French in 1912, it is surely Saigon’s most colourful and vibrant market and has everything you need, from fabrics and cooking gear to souvenirs, dry goods and fake Gucci bags. But I’m here specifically for the street food and fresh produce, and to cook one of Saigon’s most loved dishes: ‘Canh chua ca’, a tamarind and pineapple soup with fish, okra, tomato, elephant ear stems and fresh herbs. I’m blown away by how fresh and cheap everything is. Pineapples, three for $1; tomatoes, 50 cents a kilo; herbs, a ridiculous 10 cents a bunch! With a spring in my step I move on to the seafood section, where most species are still kicking. Vietnamese love their produce super-fresh — alive where possible. My soup calls for mudfish, a fatty freshwater fish with great texture. The elderly lady selling them has no teeth and a great big smile, so I am drawn to her. She scales the big fish and chops it into thick cutlets, bone on. It costs $3 — a bargain! Finding the soup ingredients is easy, but the market is so busy it takes two hours to find a spot where we are not in anyone’s way. The soup-making takes five hours to film, with locals demanding I make enough for them to all have a taste (you’ll find a similar tamarind seafood soup on page 233).

saigon & south



BEEF TOSSED WITH WILD BETEL LEAF & LEMONGRASS It was so much fun cooking this dish on the streets of Saigon in District 1. Every time I walk past Hai Ba Trung Street, I always look out for Tuan, the street vendor who kindly let me borrow his cart to cook this dish. He is there every night without fail, and always with a great big smile on his face.

SERVES 4–6 as part of a shared meal



Add the oil and lemongrass to a smoking-hot frying pan or wok. Cook for 5–10 seconds, or until fragrant, then add the garlic and chilli.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 lemongrass stem, white part only, finely diced 2 garlic cloves, finely diced 2 chillies, finely diced, plus extra to garnish 300 g (10 1/2 oz) lean beef sirloin, thinly sliced 1 tablespoon fish sauce 1 tablespoon soy sauce 2 teaspoons sugar 15 betel leaves, roughly sliced coriander (cilantro) sprigs, to garnish

Now add the beef and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Season with the fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar, add the betel leaves and stir-fry for a further minute. Transfer to a plate and garnish with the coriander and extra chilli. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.


TIP When dicing lemongrass, always use a sharp heavy knife. Don’t discard the green tips of a lemongrass stem — steep them in hot water and enjoy as lemongrass tea.

The Food of Vietnam

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The Food of Vietnam

MEKONG DELTA The Mekong River is the twelvth largest river in the world and the seventh longest in Asia. It travels through five other countries, offering unique and diverse freshwater ecosystems specific to each region, before winding its way through Vietnam, where it spreads into hundreds of waterways that make up the Vietnamese Delta. Known as the ‘Vietnamese rice basket’, the Delta is now the world’s largest rice producer and exporter. The lower Mekong Basin is one of the most interesting regions of Vietnam, purely for its array of specialty dishes and produce. A four-hour drive from Saigon brings us to Can Tho city, and as we check into our hotel, I tell the crew to have an early night: we have to rise before the sun to catch the colourful floating markets. It is super early — not even the roosters are awake. We are ushered onto a long-tail boat, but no one says a word as we are all still half-asleep. After a twenty-minute silent boat ride we arrive at the floating market and everyone’s face suddenly lights up with surprise and excitement. We are now wide awake and our cameraman is already on his feet with camera on shoulder, eager to capture everything on film. We are surrounded by hundreds of boats, all specialising in one particular fruit or vegetable. The colours are just incredible; it’s like being in a candy store for photographers. Everywhere you turn, stunning and vibrant colours are popping out of the landscape!

saigon & south





Black sticky rice flour and dried basil seeds can be purchased at your local Thai or Vietnamese market. The glutinous textures of the dumplings may take some getting used to, but sticky sweets are much loved in Vietnam and throughout Asia.



1 rockmelon wedge 1 watermelon wedge

To make the dumplings, combine all the flours and salt in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour the oil and 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) warm water into the well. Mix all the ingredients together and knead until smooth and pliable, adding just a little more warm water if required.

DUMPLINGS 100 g (3 1/2 oz) glutinous rice flour 40 g (11/2 oz) black glutinous rice flour (if unavailable you can substitute with regular glutinous rice flour) 40 g (11/2 oz) rice flour 1 /4 teaspoon sea salt 5 drops vegetable oil 80 g (2 3/4 oz) dark cooking chocolate, chopped into 16 pieces

SWEET COCONUT MILK 150 ml (5 fl oz) coconut milk 3 teaspoons chopped palm sugar (jaggery) small pinch of sea salt 1 /4 teaspoon basil seeds

Divide the mixture into 16 even portions and roll into balls. Make a dimple in each ball with your little finger, then fill the dimple with a piece of the chocolate. Seal the ball and roll to ensure it is smooth and round. Combine all the sweet coconut milk ingredients, except the basil seeds, in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Stir in the basil seeds, transfer to a bowl, then cover and refrigerate. Fill a large saucepan with hot water and bring to a rapid boil. Gently slide the dumplings into the boiling water. Cook for 3–4 minutes, or until the dumplings float. Meanwhile, cut the rockmelon and watermelon into balls using a melon baller. To serve, spoon the warm dumplings into shallow bowls and surround them with the melon balls. Spoon the sweet coconut milk mixture into the bottom of the bowls and serve.

saigon & south



PORK RIB BROTH WITH SOFT RICE NOODLES My father’s younger brother, Hiep, fell into some trouble in Saigon about ten years ago. He had no choice but to move his entire family to Phan Thiet to start a new life. He and his wife decided to start a street-food stall in the wet markets, selling only one dish — this pork rib broth with soft rice noodles. Each bowl costs about 50 cents, and it is this dish that has kept a roof over their heads.

preparation Combine the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the pork rib pieces and toss well to coat. Cover and marinate for 2 hours, or overnight for a better result. Put the marinated pork ribs in a large stockpot. Add the peppercorns, spring onions, grilled baby squid and 5 litres (169 fl oz/20 cups) water.

SERVES 10 as part of a shared meal

ingredients 1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) pork ribs, chopped into 6 cm (2 1/2 inch) pieces (ask your butcher to do this) 2 tablespoons black peppercorns 8 spring onions (scallions), white parts only 8 dried baby squid, barbecued or chargrilled over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side, until crisp 1 tablespoon sea salt 2 tablespoons sugar 3 tablespoons fish sauce 2 kg (4 lb 6 oz) fresh rice noodles, at room temperature, separated into 200 g (7 oz) portions

MARINADE Bring to the boil, then skim off any impurities for 10 minutes, or until clear. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and cook for 2 hours. Now stir in the salt, sugar and fish sauce. Cook for a further 10 minutes, then remove from the heat. Bring another large saucepan of water to the boil. Separately blanch each portion of noodles for 5 seconds, then drain and place in ten separate bowls. Add some pork rib pieces to each bowl, then cover the noodles with the pork broth. Top each bowl with bean sprouts, coriander, garlic chives, mint, and a sprinkle of garlic chips and fried shallots. Finish with a pinch of pepper, some sliced chilli and a squeeze of lime.


The Food of Vietnam

1 tablespoon sea salt 2 tablespoons sugar 3 tablespoons fish sauce 8 red Asian shallots, roughly pounded using a mortar and pestle 1 tablespoon crushed garlic

TO SERVE 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) bean sprouts 1 bunch coriander (cilantro), leaves picked 1 bunch garlic chives, sliced into 4 cm (11/2 inch) lengths 1 bunch mint, leaves picked 2 tablespoons Fried garlic chips (see Basics, page 357) 2 tablespoons Fried red Asian shallots (see Basics, page 357) 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper 4 red chillies, sliced 2 limes, halved

Rice is such an important grain in Vietnam. From rice, locals make rice flour, rice noodles, rice vermicelli¼ and, of course, the ubiquitous rice paper.

The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen (ISBN 9781742706207)  
The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen (ISBN 9781742706207)  

Published October 2013. A stunning record of Luke Nguyen's culinary and cultural journey through the diverse regions of Vietnam.