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I'm finally ready to try Vietnamese food. I love spicy Thai, Hunan and Szechuan and don't like the bland Asian foods; i.e. Japanese, Cantonese, etc.. How does Vietnamese compare; is it bland or spicy?

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  1. Probably "bland" is a poor choice of word. Most dishes do have some basic taste to them. I just happen to prefer well seasoned foods.

    1. The choice is really yours as they serve the hot sauces for the Pho at the table. I use a lot of the Sirracha to get my burn thrill. I haven't really tried much past Pho as I like it so much. I guess the time has come to be more adventurous and jump into the deep end of the pool.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Hughlipton

        AHA! They DO have hot sauce! Great. I'll be diving in with you.

      2. If spice is all you're after, in my experience, Vietnamese will be bland to you.

        1. It is neither bland nor spicy. (I'm Vietnamese and I think of Japanese as too subtle for me to understand.) Well-seasoned is not really a good word, either, describing more of a cook's personal use of seasonings rather than a general cuisine's standard of seasoning.

          Vietnamese food takes well to the addition of chilis, in the same way that most people would think Mexican food can be made spicy, but it doesn't necessarily have to be so. Vietnamese restaurants don't generally ask you how spicy you want something, unless you're ordering bun bo hue. But there's usually fresh jalepeno, sriracha, and sometimes other condiments you can add if you want.

          If think Vietnamese is kind of like the Mexican food of Asia...

          2 Replies
          1. re: jaykayen

            I think I understand; The basic dish is flavorful and, like Mexican food, I can add hot stuff to taste, right? As it is, I do keep a bottle of sriracha and garlic chili paste in the house and use them on lotsa things.

          2. What distinguishes Vietnamese food for me is the liberal addition of fresh, aromatic herbs (mint, basil, rau ram--AKA Vietnamese cilantro) to dishes. I wouldn't characterize Vietnamese food as spicy. Of course, you can dump as much chili oil or Sriracha sauce as you like into pho and mask all of the other flavors, but, to me, that kind of defeats the purpose. If spicy (i.e., hot) food is what you want, I suspect that you won't find Vietnamese food as enjoyable as some other Asian cuisines.

            7 Replies
            1. re: cheesemaestro

              Adding spice doesn't mean overpowering the basic taste of the main ingredient(s). I am somewhat of a purist in that area. I will not use ketchup, mustard, A-1 sauce, or anything similar that disguises rather than enhances.

              1. re: mucho gordo

                Notwithstanding the previous poster the spice does add something to the dish and need not mask the other flavors. I'm sorry but there is only so much "taste" to tripe. The garnishes are all served on the side and you can add as much as yuou desire to enhance the other subtle flavors. The Asians I see eating Pho at the place I go to in the valley add both sirracha and hoisin. I watched and i copied and I enjoyed.

                1. re: mucho gordo

                  By the way, you don't put mustard on your bratwursts?? Don't go to Wisconsin they'll throw you out of the state.

                  1. re: Hughlipton

                    I would put a little spicy brown (never yellow) mustard on the brats or even a little bbq sauce. Both have a tendency to disguise. I enjoy the actual taste of the brats. Why eat them otherwise?

                    1. re: mucho gordo

                      I agree with the spicy brown and I think it kicks up the flavor. Never tried it with BBQ sauce so I can't comment on that.

                  2. re: mucho gordo

                    Of course, personal tastes vary as to the desired level of heat and spices. I sometimes add some hot sauce or jalapenos to Vietnamese soups and other dishes. However, I don't think that many native Vietnamese would describe their cuisine as being exceptionally hot or spicy. They certainly don't like their food to be as hot as many Thais do.

                    1. re: cheesemaestro

                      Thanks CM. You've just answered my question: the basic cuisine is not as spicy as Thai.

                2. Did everyone forget about the sate dishes?

                  1. Vietnamese food differs from Chinese food in a major way. In most types of Chinese cooking, the food comes to the table as it should be eaten. Vietnamese food is almost always expected to be customized by the person eating the food. You can make the food as spicy as you want, but don't expect the dishes to come out of the kitchen to make it necessarily that way.

                    A bowl of pho tai (rare beef noodle soup) is typical. Pho is usually some thinly sliced beef, rice noodles, and broth. When you order it, you will typically get a plate of raw bean sprouts, lemon/lime, hot peppers, mint, and basil. At your table, you will probably have hoisin sauce as well as two or three types of chili pastes. You add whichever condiments and/or veggies based on how you would like it to taste.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: raytamsgv

                      Thanks. Your explanation really clears it up for me. I now know what to expect..

                    2. Also Vietnamese cuisine seeks to have the right balance of salty, sweet, sour, umami (savory), and bitter. Hence the liberal use of herbs and condiments to help create that balance. Also texture is very important.

                      Let's take a simple dish of egg rolls (Cha Gio). If you were to eat in a restaurant, they would come with a separate plate of lettuce or mustard greens, herbs, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber and dipping sauce (nuoc mam cham).

                      You would take the lettuce/ mustard leaf and add the egg roll then add whatever herbs and vegetable you wanted and dip into the nuoc mam cham sauce. The lettuce adds texture; herbs add aroma and bitterness; pickled vegetables add sour and texture; the crunchiness and savoriness from the egg roll, finished with the balance of sweet, sour, salty, umami from the dipping sauce. Therefore the perfect balanced customized bite.

                      People describe Vietnamese food as fresh, vibrant, and well balanced.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: septocaine_queen

                        Septo: plus the lettuce serves as a utensil for the roll! (technically are they called egg rolls? I've always called them Spring rolls - whatever, they are awesome)

                        MG: VN can be many things and has at least several distinct regions and styles (obviously no expert me). it may not always be spicy, but I always find it flavorful. again I'm no expert, but if you're a fan of Thai food, then I'd compare them by saying VN is Mannerist and Thai is Baroque. VN seems a bit more restrained but has similar elements used differently. and I find both extremely satisfying but for different reasons.

                        if you're cautious then for the first time I'd suggest the stuff every place serves: the rolls either fried or fresh, pho (pronounced fuh) esp. if it's a cold day. lemongrass chicken over rice or grilled pork over rice noodle. then next time dive into more exciting items.

                        VN can be simultaneously delicate and bold.