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Freshness is one of the fundamental features of Vietnamese food. Linh Nguyen runs Indiechine blog, a fantastic food and living blog that encompasses Linh’s infectious love for cooking delicious and hearty Vietnamese meals. We asked Linh for her favourite culinary tradition from Vietnam, and this is what she said…
I love that Vietnamese cuisine places strong emphasis on fresh ingredients like fresh vegetables straight from the garden or seafood fresh off the fishing boat. My grandparents, my parents and many Vietnamese families I know go grocery shopping at farmer’s market once a day, sometimes even twice a day to make sure they have the freshest ingredients. When I was in New York, I rarely made fish dishes simply because I couldn’t find fresh fish to cook. Fresh for me and many Vietnamese is often a fish that is still swimming in the seller’s display when you first see it. Now that’s fresh!
I also love that most Vietnamese dishes use herbs for an incredible boost in flavour and to balance the hot and cold values (yin and yang) of ingredients. Vietnamese herbs are also very fresh, usually picked that morning and bundled into bunches using twisted dried grass. The seller’s visual effect is unique for each herb, some sold in big bundles with the roots still on and others bunched flat in a frame of sticks and grass, to better show the perfection of the leaves to the prospective buyers.
Vietnamese herbs vary in flavour from region to region in Vietnam. For example, we grew mustard plant in our backyard here in Hoi An and it was incredibly spicy from the unique nutrients provided by our sandy soil. Different herbs are also sometimes specific to different regions, and it can be difficult to find a favourite herb from home when you move from one side of the country to the other.
Linh gave us this delicious recipe for sweet & sour shrimp soup – please see her version for more information.
Vietnamese sweet & sour shrimp soup (canh chua)
- 400g king prawns, peeled (If you’re vegetarian, simply leave out the seafood, or replace it with tofu or mushrooms)
- 200g pineapples, sliced into bite-sized pieces
- 200g tomatoes, sliced into thin wedges
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp chopped spring onions
- 2 tbsp chopped rice paddy herb or coriander
- 2 tbsp tamarind paste (optional), mixed with 1/4 cup of warm water (make sure to strain the seeds, if any)*Increase the pineapple amount to 400 grams if you don’t use tamarind paste.
- 800 ml water
- Okra, thinly sliced
- Taro shoot, peeled and thinly sliced (could be replaced with celery)
- Butter or oil (olive or vegetable)
*We’ll be cooking over medium heat from beginning to end.
- Heat a saucepan for 1 minute. Add butter or oil. When butter melts, add garlic and stir until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes)
- Add pineapples and tomatoes, stir and add salt to taste.
- Add water and tamarind.
- Cover the lid and bring to a boil.
- Uncover, add the prawns, okra, beansprouts, and taro shoot.
- Cover the lid and bring to the boil again.
- Turn off heat, add spring onions and herbs, and serve immediately.
The soup is delicious on its own, but it can also be served with jasmine rice or rice vermicelli.