Vietnamese Green Mango Salad
Before arriving in Vietnam, I had very basic knowledge of Vietnamese Cuisine. Which included the “usual suspects,” Pho (Noodle Soup), Bánh mì (Vietnamese Sandwich), Bánh xèo (Vietnamese Savory Pancake) and Cá Kho Tộ (Braised Fish in a Claypot). But now, a little over two months, I now know there is SO much more to Vietnamese Cuisine than these four “signature” dishes.
Two months is a short-time to really get to know a culture and cuisine of a country. But, traveling to Vietnam for the sole purpose of learning about the cuisine has enabled me to focus on learning about it more in-depth. I now have a much broader vocabulary of Vietnamese Cuisine, the foundation to cook an array of Vietnamese regional specialties and the knowledge to incorporate Vietnamese ingredients in my own recipes.
There have been a bountiful of learnings throughout my trip. One was trying to learn the whole of the cuisine in a major city proved challenging. The cuisine gets lost, as I couldn’t identify the place of origin of the given dish within the country. Like all major cities, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi is a melting pot of people from all over Vietnam, bringing their hometown specialties with them.
I learned more about the cuisine once I left these two major cities and delved deeper into the three regions. The first region is the South and Mekong Delta. Which is tropical, hot, humid and surrounded by Palm, Coconut, Tamarind and Banana Trees.
As such the cuisine is heavily influenced by these ingredients. The food is sweeter from the coconut and much more sour from the tamarind. For example in the Mekong Delta a version of “Xôi Ngọt (sweet sticky rice) is sold everywhere, which included rice infused with coconut milk, topped with toasted coconut and then wrapped in a coconut “crêpe.”
However, I rarely saw this version of sticky rice outside of the Mekong Delta. Yes, I saw “Xôi Ngọt (sweet sticky rice) sold in other regions, but not prepared with the coconut “crêpe.”
I also had many “Bánh bao‘s” (steamed pork buns) in the Mekong Delta region, which had coconut milk in the dough of the bun. However, in the North and South these same steamed pork buns were absent of coconut milk and water was substituted. The result was a less sweet, less fragrant and denser “Bánh bao.”
The second region is Northern Vietnam where the food is not as sweet and relies heavily on rich broths made from pork and beef, as it is colder in the winter. Which is where you will find the best bowl of “Pho.”
The third region is Central Vietnam which takes Vietnamese Cuisine up a notch and incorporates both the Southern/Mekong Delta and Northern ingredients in their recipes. What the South and North lack in spiciness and presentation, the Central region makes up for it.
The Central region is where “Imperial Cuisine” is from, the “Nguyen Emperors’ banquets” included sweet and spicy flavors and an abundance of fresh produce and seafood.
The Central Highlands, Da Lat and the surrounding villages supply most of the country with fresh vegetables, coffee and one fruit in particular, Dragon Fruit. And the Mekong Delta grows the vast majority of the fruits and supplies the rest of the country.
Although I think it is important to visit each region to become familiar with the regional specialties and to have a broader sense of the cuisine, visiting only one of the three regions is sufficient, but not ONLY one of the two larger cities.
So, If you are planning a trip to Vietnam for a short time, purely for the food aspect, I suggest the Central region cities, Hue and Hoi An or Ho Chi Minh and a couple of Mekong Delta cities. As you would be happily content eating your way through these cities.
After visiting the three regions my Culinary Trip led me back to Ho Chi Minh City, where my trip really came full circle. On my final night in Vietnam, I had the opportunity to play “food tour guide” to a few ladies from my guesthouse.
I invited them to join me to say farewell to the wonderful lady who graciously taught me how to make “Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce”. When I first visited Dong Le’s restaurant, two months prior, I couldn’t read ANYTHING on the menu.
However, on the night we arrived at the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised to find I could read about seventy percent of the Vietnamese menu (it’s a small menu, ha) to the ladies (my pronunciation is still terrible, there are so many “tones” in Vietnamese ). I would say that was my final “test,” which resulted in a C, which I am happily content with after only two months in Vietnam.
I would like to express my gratitude to ALL the people I encountered during the course of my Vietnam Culinary Journey. The ones who opened their homes, restaurant, street stalls, tours, contributed their recipes and above all shared their love of their cuisine and culture with me. If it hadn’t been for each of you my trip to Vietnam would not have been so Amazing. I can’t thank you enough.
I have since left Vietnam for more “Culinary Adventures” and have now “relocated” to Penang, Malaysia. So stay tune if you like Malaysian food or would like to know a little more about it. I will post a few Malaysian recipes during my brief, but voracious travels in this very diverse country.
Now, I leave you with “Vietnamese Green Mango Salad with Sweet & Sour Dressing.” This is a very easy recipe and is very light and refreshing. And I don’t know about you, but Mango is my favorite fruit, which makes this one of my favorite salads to date. Also, in the note section of the recipe there are some recommendations and substitutions. Enjoy.
- Sweet and Sour Dressing
- 2½ tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 3½ tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ½ thai chili or serrano chili, deseed and mince
- 1 unripe mango, julienned
- ½ carrot, julienned
- ½ red bell pepper, julienned
- 1 bunch of watercress or greens of choice
- 1 bunch of baby spinach
- ¼ cup thai basil
- 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, halved
- 2 tablespoons shallots, finely cut
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- Sweet and Sour Dressing
- Mix all ingredients together, set aside for 10 minutes.
- Marinate the shallots in rice vinegar for 10 minutes.
- Combine the dressing with the salad and top with peanuts.
1. Dressing can be made a day in advance.
2. Substitute unripe papaya for mango.
3. Substitute roasted macadamia nuts for peanuts.