Vietnamese usually use raw vegetables as condiments for their dishes. It named rau sống (literally: raw vegetable) or rau ghém (literally: sliced vegetable). It combines properly with each main dish in flavour. For some dishes, rau sống could come into almost all the flavours: sour, bitter, spicy,...Dishes in which rau sống is indispensable are bánh xèo and hot pot. The vegetables principally are herbs and wild edible vegetables gathered from forests and family gardens. Leaves and buds are the most common parts of vegetables used. Most of the vegetables have medicinal value.
Rau sống includes:
- Raw bean sprout (giá sống)
- Shreded banana flower (bắp chuối bào)
- Green banana (chuối xanh)
- Split water spinach (rau muống chẻ)
- Chicken dishes are combined with lime leaves.
- Crab and seashell dishes are combined with fishy smell herb and perilla.
- Mắm tôm (shrimp paste)
- Nước mắm (fish extract) The fish sauce can be used as it is or mixed with lemon juice, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and chili. This mixture is called Nước mắm pha
- Tương Made from fermented soybeans
- Soya sauce, mostly used in marinades and sauces.
- Hot chili sauce
The colour of Vietnamese food comes from natural ingredients.
- Red: usually from Joseph's coat or by frying annatto seed to make oil (dầu điều)
- Yellow: for sticky rice, comes from Gac or turmeric
- Green: from pandan leaf or katuk
- Purple: from magenta plant (lá cẩm)
- Black: of gai cake is from ramie leaf (lá gai)
- Dark brown: for stew dishes, using nước màu or nước hàng, which is made by heating sugar to the temperature above that of caramel (170 °C).
Colourings can be absorbed by mixing ground colourings or colouring liquid or wraping before boiling to get the extracts. When colouring dishes, the tastes and smells of colourings must also be considered.
Herbs and spices
- Coriander leaves/Cilantro and green onion leaf can be used in almost all dishes.
- A basic technique of stir-frying vegetable is frying garlic or shallot with oil before put vegetable into the pan.
- In Northern Vietnam, all dishes with fish must be garnished with dill.
- In Central Vietnam, the mixture of ground lemon grass and chilli are frequently used in dishes with beef.
- In Southern Vietnam, coconut water is used in most stew dishes.
- The pair culantro (ngò gai) and rice paddy herb (ngò om or ngổ) is indispensable in all kinds of sour soups in the Southern Vietnam.
- Spearmint is often used with strongly fishy fishes.
- Perilla is usually used with crab dishes.