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Vietnamese Basil?

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Yesterday, I was at a Vietnamese restaurant - only the 2nd in my life - the 1st being back in the 70's and it was owned by a man that I worked with. The point is, I'm not familiar in any fashion with that genre of food - I know that many of you on this board are.

The story is, we had a dish of "condiments" placed on the table which contained bean sprouts, some peppers, a few other items and a small mound of greens - including stems - on top. Tasting the "greens", the flavor was vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place it. I asked and was told it was basil.

Hmmm...... I'm growing both sweet and spicy basil in my back yard and this basil resembled neither in taste or appearance. The leaf width was more narrow that sweet basil, but wider than the spicy. The stem was a purpleish-green color. The taste was that of mild licorice. It was not what I know to be anise and it assuredly was not fennel.

Is there a Vietnamese variety of basil? or do we Americans have it named by some other name?

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  1. I have always called that variety Thai basil, but I have also seen it called "Holy basil" in a few asian markets. It is growing in my garden right next to the sweet basil.

    1. I believe this to be a variety of the sesame plant.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perilla

      Vietnamese Tia To
      http://www.evergreenseeds.com/vipeitt...

      If you scroll down it explains what the Vietnamese strand is called. After growing the Korean strand all summer and picking off leaves and eating them I knew instantly that it was not basil but indeed sesame/perilla/shiso or Tia To.

      If that is not it here is a list of Basil cultivars
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_...

      Perhaps purple ruffles basil?
      http://www.growquest.com/herb_basil_p...

      1. Looking at the evergreenseeds link, not it, as those leaves are much too rounded and distinctly serrated and what I had was not purple on the bottom of the leaf, but on the stem. But if I ever come across it, I'll know what it is. However, looking at wikipe for Thai basil, Bingo! that's definitely it based on the small picture, but more so, the first paragraph.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thai_basil

        Here's a pretty good picture.
        http://media.photobucket.com/image/th...

        The vague familiarity is probably from my occasional Thai meal.

        Thanks so much for clearing that up. When I come across a new flavor, I like to know specifically what it is.

        Just some humor to go with the story. The cashier told me the Vietnamese name was (in my pitiful dialect) "supamakee". My friend went back to work and "said" it to a Vietnamese man that she works with and he just laughed - had no idea what she was saying. She showed him one of the leafs and his comment: Basil.

        3 Replies
        1. re: CocoaNut

          I guess I was confused when you said you grew spicy basil. I personally have two "Thai/Queen of Siam" basils. One is the one you had at the restaurant and the other which has the same flavors and smaller leaves "Australian" basil. The Australian requires less deadheading the actual plant than the typical Thai basil. Both of them have the same anise and spicy flavor.

          I like Jindo have had a mixture here in Dallas. Sometimes them more authentic places throw in Fish Mint (Diep Ca), Pennywort (Rau Ma), and Rice Patty Herb (Ngo Om). The first two are not my favorites at all. I love the Rice Patty Herb though.

          Here is probably a better website for the Vietnamese places for the herbs.
          http://vietherbs.com/

          Before I leave the restaurant I always eat all of the herbs on my plate. I think it is important to do so. They are appearantly put there for flavor but also as a cheap medicine. I eat them for the latter reason.

          1. re: LewisvilleHounder

            LH: wow I didn't think anyone thought this way but but me. yes, the herbs are their to make the guest happy, but also to make them healthy. Eat your herbs. God bless you.

            1. re: LewisvilleHounder

              LH, thanks for the clarification.

              Yes, I am growing "spicy" basil, per the label that came with it: "Spicy Globe basil - Ocimum Basilicum". The leaves and stems are a much lighter green and more delicate than the Sweet. It has a similar flavor and smell, though milder. I'm not sure why it's called "spicy" as it's anything but. I use it when I don't want the full on flavor of Sweet basil - great on salads.

          2. Queen of Siam is the basil that resembles what is served at Vietnamese restaurants on the West Coast. Whereas the Queen of Siam type of basil was always provided with the pho on the West Coast, it's kind of 50/50 here. I've been to pho places with no basil, rather the Shiso type leaf and some bean sprouts.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jindomommy

              Jindo, don't forget the obligatory jalapenos.