Question about Vietnamese food
- Christina D
I've recently made two recipes from Epicurious, claiming to be Vietnamese (grilled pork from 6/05 Gourmet and summer steak salad from 6/05 Bon Appetit). Both were very sweet (cloyingly so), with little to no heat whatsoever.
Is this indicative of Vietnamese food or does Epicurious just have it wrong? I had thought that Vietnamese food had much more heat and life to it. These recipes remind me of a combination of mild Thai food and bad Chinese.
I get loads of bone-in pork chops (cheapest variety) marinated in gallon bags from a Vietnamese friend periodically. They always have cracked red pepper flakes and though they aren't necessarily "hot," they do have a little bite. I also know fresh lemon grass and fish sauce (Three Crabs--it is the preferred brand among the Vietnamese I know) goes into the marinate, in addition to other stuff.
I would give recipes from a Vietnamese cookbook a try before giving up based on epicurious recipes. Based on my visit to Vietnam and my mother's cooking, I don't find Vietnamese food to be really hot, but they're not cloyingly sweet either. That's generally speaking of course. Here's a cookbook that has received positive reviews here: Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mai Pham.
While some VN dishes are chile-spicy, it's far from an inherently "hot" cuisine, if that's what you mean. Chile condiments, among others, are added to individual taste, but the overall taste for chile-heat is nothing at all compared to, say, Thai or some regional Indian tastes.
FWIW, when I get VN barbecued pork chips in (thoroughly "authentic") restaurants, they are never "spicy" at all, and the glaze is a on the sweet side, though it shouldn't be cloying. It's a simple straightforward dish - if you want added complexity in a meal, serve them with other dishes as the Vietnamese would do.
There is certainly a noticeable use of sugar in vietnamese cooking but its usually either balanced with tart, savory and salty flavors (as in the fish-sauce based dipping sauce,which includes significant hits f lime juice and garlic ) or caramelized (as with grilled meats), which radically reduces the sugariness of the sugar used and adds a bitter component. You should try some recipes from other more authentic sources - the overall result should be savory and refreshing, lively - never cloying.
I agree with below posters about not trusting epicurious.com completely when trying out their recipes. Look for other online recipes, I believe carblover posted a website on Vietnamese recipes that she found useful several weeks back.
Also, Vietnam as a country does have regional flavor. Ive heard it broken up into Northern, Southern and Hue a city in the middle of Vietnam. My Vietnamese friends say that Southern Vietnamese cooking tends to be sweeter (especially the nouc cham) and spicier.