Question about Vietnamese food
- Christina D Jun 7, 2005 09:16 AM
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.
As others have said, Epicurious may not be the best source for Viet recipes. While sweet is def. a common flavor in Viet food, as others said, it's usually balanced by acid, salt (from fish sauce), and some spice and heat. Viet food is generally not as heavily spiced or hot like Thai or Indian can be. Americanized recipes tend to downplay the fish sauce since this can be an acquired taste (and smell), but it's necessary to offset other flavors.
Linked below is a website that I like w/ Viet recipes that look to be fairly true to what I know of Viet food. Scroll down the left margin to "Vietnam". Many recipes that represent regional home cooking. Unfortunately, there's no comprehensive search function, but you can use the CTRL-F word search much like you do on Chowhound.