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Jun 7, 2005 09:16 AM

Question about Vietnamese food

  • c

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.


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  1. 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.

    1. 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.

      2 Replies
      1. re: twinmommy

        Also "Authentic Vietnamese Cooking" by Corinne Trang and her book "Essentials of Asian Cuisine" are great resources. Epicurious (Gournmet and Bon Appetite) tend to dumb up a lot of ethnic cooking hoping to appeal to a broader range of tastes, doing a lot of us a disservice.

        1. re: twinmommy
          Das Ubergeek

          Mai Pham's recipes are easy to follow, but they don't have really much bite at all. The other posters are right -- not so much chile pepper goes into Vietnamese food, it's served on the side and you can put as much of it on as you like.

        2. 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.

          1. 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.

            1. I agree with below posters about not trusting 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. I’ve 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.