Travel & Culture
Embrace the salad flavours of Vietnam
I stumbled across some of the best food I've ever tasted during my time in Vietnam, where I spent 3 months teaching english, dining on nothing but street food and tasting everything the country had to offer. Vietnam is a place that takes flavour combinations seriously, and you will find an almost perfect balance of 'sweet and salty', and 'tart and spicy' elements in every dish.
The flavours that stood out to me were not the exotic and weird ingredients that some might expect to come from Vietnam, but the common ingredients that can now be easily sourced in the supermarket. Additions like lime, fresh herbs, fish sauce, chilies, ginger and garlic; selected not just for their taste, but also for the unique aromas and sense of balance they bring to the meal. Fresh aromas could be found in abundance around every corner, from the essence of fish sauce coming through my bedroom window each morning to the bowls of fresh limes, chilies and herbs on the street food tables.
When I came back home I craved these fresh flavours in almost every meal I ate, so I found a simple solution. I began adding some classic Vietnamese elements to my salads.
Inspired by the salad that I used to eat for lunch everyday, this simple-yet-flavoursome salad has become a staple on my menu. Served as an accompaniment to my favourite pork stir-fry, it contained a mix of shredded cabbage, cucumber, leafy greens and some “back-garden-herbs” such as mint, coriander and Vietnamese perilla (if you ever get a chance to try this herb you’re in for a treat).
As for the dressing, it was a do-it-yourself method as all the elements for the perfect dressing could be found on the table. My ultimate combination was a dash of fish sauce, some vinegar and a squeeze of lime. As I learnt from the men sitting next to me, if you want spice with your salad, “just eat the chilies whole”! Here's a link to my simple "Garden salad with a Vietnamese twist."
To start experimenting with Vietnamese flavours, here are some ideas:
Use fresh herbs: Add fresh herbs such as basil and coriander into your regular salad leaf mix – just break up the herbs with your hands and toss through.
Try something new: For the more adventurous salad lover, head to your local Asian grocer and pick up some herbs you’ve never tried before, to add an exotic edge to your salads. Thai basil and Vietnamese mint are great to start with.
The perfect dressing: To get the balance right in your dressings it’s all about trial and error. As a general guide, the sweetness of sugar works well against the salty taste of fish sauce. Add lime to give the salad a burst of freshness, or chili if you want to give your salad a real knockout effect!