Picking the right condiment does not have to be experimental, we have prepared a simple guide of Vietnamese sauces you have to know. (it's important!)
Vietnamese food is often regarded as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world because of the abundant fresh herbs and vegetables they use in their dishes. Complement to these herbs are the vast number of dipping sauces that brings out the five elements of tastes - sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Amongst, sauce and side are playing a critical role that an authentic Vietnamese meal will not be complete without them.
Different types of dipping sauces
1/ Fish Sauce (nước mắm)
Fish sauce is probably the most popular sauce that can be found on a Vietnamese dining table. It nearly matches everything from dishes like fried spring rolls, rice rolls, bun cha to grilled seafood. The taste of nước mắm is rich, sweet, tart with a hint of mild spiciness. However, it has a distinctive aromatic fishy scent, which some people may find hard to cope with.
2/ Peanut Dipping Sauce (tương chấm gỏi cuốn)
Peanut dipping sauce is a great substitution of nước mắm. The creamy, nutty, sweet sauce is simply comforting and escalates the light-flavored rice paper rolls and meat skewers with additional texture. Some edit will add roasted peanut or a drizzle of sriracha sauce for extra texture, crunchiness and a tinge of pungent scent. Go nuts!
3/ Fermented Shrimp Sauce (mắm tôm)
Fermented shrimp sauce has a unique 'stinky' smell that is purple-ish in color. You might get a little bit intimidated by its intense scent. Shrimp paste can be different depending on the region, darker and more concentrated in the south and lighter in the north, often used in broth, base for stir-frying food, or as a dipping sauce. It gives a strong umami funk to dishes, especially seafood.
4/ Fermented Anchovy Dipping Sauce (mắm nêm)
Fermented anchovy dipping sauce is known to be an alternative to nước mắm, as both of the sauce bases are fermented anchovies. However, mắm nêm is relatively more powerful, pungent and thicker in consistency. Usually, fresh pineapple will be added to balance the saltiness, adding a fruity sweetness it goes well anything, especially beef.
All-time favorite side dishes
1/ Carrot and Daikon Pickles
Carrot and radish pickles are the unsung heroes in grilled and fried dishes, its acidity cuts through the greasiness. It's an indispensable ingredient in banh mi sandwich. The crunchiness and appetizing sweet-and-sour taste build ups the layers of flavors. BEP's versions are hand-shaved and freshly made every day. Make sure you try out all our different flavors that are so loaded with nutrients.
2/ Herbs Platter
Vietnam's tropical weather gives the land lots of sun and rain, that explains why the abundant variety of herbs and greens thrive. Vietnamese love fresh food and they turn the readily available herbs platter on the dining table is a daily routine. The common herbs include bean sprouts, Thai basil, culantro, lime wedges and chilies. Adding all these goodies into noodle soup, not only adds flavor to the broth but also provides extra fibres.
3/ Chinese Donut Sticks (Quẩy)
Chinese donut sticks (also called youtiao) is a deep-fried bread snacks common across Asia. It has a stunning golden-brown appearance and chewy texture that is very similar to Churros. You could simply enjoy it along with pho, congee or any kind of dipping sauce. Once you have tried Quẩy for your pho, you will be impressed and addicted to it.
Sauces and side dishes are just like supporting roles in a movie, it's never the same without their presence. We truly hope this simple introduction could help you with a better understanding of Vietnamese food and culture, and the next time you sample our authentic Vietnamese cuisines, you will feel more fulfilled and joyful.
Image of fish sauce dipping sauce courtesy of Wok and Kin, Images of peanut dipping sauce, fermented shrimp sauce & fermented anchovy dipping sauce courtesy of Vicky Pham, image of carrot and daikon pickles courtesy of itourvn.com, image of herbs platter courtesy of Cooking with Lane, image of Chinese donut sticks courtesy of tasteatlas.