Have you ever tried Vietnamese food? Vietnam is a country in Southeast Asia bordered by China, Cambodia, Laos, the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea. The geography of the country influences the cuisine as Vietnamese flavors blend with those of China, Thailand and Cambodia. There is also French influence from the colonization of missionaries from the 18th century until the mid-20th century. This can be seen in dishes like pho and the banh mi sandwich that is served on a French baguette.
Much of Vietnamese cuisine is based on rice and fish sauce. Rice is grown all over the country and is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rice is seen in rice noodles, pancakes, paper wrappers, and rice wine as well as dishes containing grains of rice. Fish sauce is the main source of umami, salty and savory taste. Luckily, it is easy to make a vegan version of fish sauce to achieve those flavors. See How to Make Vegan ‘Fish’ Sauce for the recipe.
The dishes of Vietnam are simple but complex in flavor. They contain lots of fresh herbs, spices and aromatics such as cilantro, mint, basil, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger and tamarind. Vietnamese dishes use a bounty of fruits in both ripe and unripe states, the latter being used for savory dishes and the former for desserts.
No matter what the dish, Vietnamese food has a balance of herbs, heat, cooling, sweetness, bitterness, sourness, umami, fresh and fermented. If you’ve never had Vietnamese food before, start with these 7 dairy- and meat-free versions of Vietnamese dishes.
1. Glutinous Rice Balls (That Are Gluten-Free!)
Banh Cam or Banh Ran, are a beloved dessert in Vietnam. Usually, they are speckled with sesame seeds, filled with a sweet mung bean paste, and fried to a crispy golden brown. These Glutinous Rice Balls have a savory filling instead, but you can fill them with whatever you like.
2. Vegan Vietnamese Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich
The bánh mì is probably the best known Vietnamese dish. This sandwich traditionally has meat or fish and pickled carrots and daikon served with chiles on a crusty baguette. This Vietnamese Tofu Banh Mi Sandwich uses a mushroom pate instead of liver and thinly sliced tofu instead of meat for a vegan version of the classic.
3. Crisp and Crunchy Vietnamese Vermicelli Veggie Salad
Bun or rice vermicelli is a staple in Vietnam that is found in many dishes including soup. This Crisp and Crunchy Vietnamese Vermicelli Veggie Salad is flavored with mint and basil. The dressing is a lovely flavor combination of red chili, lemongrass, lime and rice wine vinegar. This salad or “goi” is a perfect summer meal or side dish.
4. Fresh Veggie Summer Rolls with Spicy Garlic Peanut Sauce
Vietnamese spring rolls or “goi cuon” usually contains meat, shrimp, vegetables, rice vermicelli and other ingredients wrapped in rice paper. These Fresh Veggie Summer Rolls are filled with fresh herbs, vermicelli, greens and veggies. They are served with a spicy garlic peanut sauce.
5. Bánh Mì Chay Dog
This Banh Mi Chay Dog combines the classic Vietnamese sandwich with the all-American hot dog. Take your favorite vegan hot dog and put it on a Vietnamese baguette with cucumber, spicy mayo, cilantro and lime. Top it with đồ chua which is pickled carrot and daikon for a unique twist on a frank.
6. Banh Mi Salad With Pickled Vegetables and Vietnamese Croutons
A delicious Vietnamese sandwich now with more greens! This Banh Mi Salad with Pickled Vegetables has baked tempeh, Vietnamese croutons and a creamy, garlicky dressing. It has all the classic, dynamic flavors of the sandwich without all the carbs.
7. Slow Cooker Vietnamese Caramel Tofu and Carrots
This Slow Cooker Vietnamese Caramel Tofu and Carrots dish is a showstopper, and it couldn’t be easier to make. Both sweet and aromatic, tofu is ideal as it absorbs the flavors beautifully. Serving it with fresh coriander, pickled bean sprouts and rice balances the dish and prevents it from being too sweet (which it might be if eaten on its own).
Vietnamese food is packed with simple ingredients and complex balanced flavors. If you haven’t yet experienced this cuisine, these recipes will help transport you to Southeast Asia and its culinary delights.
Lead image source: Banh Mi Salad With Pickled Vegetables and Vietnamese Croutons