Herbs is indispensable in the creation of aromatic broth of Vietnamese pho. Similar to Kimchi for Korean - herbs is a mandatory element to every Vietnamese family's dining table.
Herbs in Vietnam culinary journey are irreplaceable components yet nearly the most identifiable. A herbs platter with plentiful greens will be served whenever you order a classic beef pho or fried spring rolls, you can simply personalize your meal with these herbs and nuoc mam. Let us share with you a simple glossary about the most common herbs that you need to know before you hop into another Vietnamese restaurant for a hearty Vietnamese meal.
1/ Thai Basil (hung que)
Thai basil differs from the basil leaves that are commonly used by Western cuisine as a source base or collocate with tomatoes. It has a purplish tinge to its leaves and stems and a more anisey flavour profile than sweet basil.
Thai basil is commonplace on the herbs platter, especially the Southern Vietnamese edition.
2/ Bird's-eyes Chili (hiem)
Bird's-eyes Chili is tiny in shape with a pointy end. It turns fiercely red when mature, and sometimes orange depending on maturity.
Sliced into pieces, bird's-eyes Chili is an unbeatable condiment to add extra spiciness into the pho broth. It is much spicier and more fragrant than jalapenos, remember to add piece by piece before it goes beyond your limit.
3/ Cilantro (rau mui)
Cilantro is also called coriander. It is a popular herb that you could see not only in Vietnamese food but also in Mexican and Malaysian cuisine, etc.
They are usually being sprinkled on top of the food and serves raw to keep its unique citrus, bitter flavours and to add extra aroma and colour. You either hate it or love it.
4/ Mint (hung lui)
Mint are diversified in Vietnam. It has spearmint - sweet and mild mint flavor with darker and rounded leaves; peppermint - strong, spicy, mint flavor with pointy serrated leaves; and water mint - intensely minty with thicker and slight hair leaves.
Mint is a common ingredient you could see in various dishes like rice paper roll (goi cuon) and salad.
5/ Culantro (ngo gai)
Culantro has a similar taste and name to cilantro, also known as the sawtooth herb. The leaves are longer, tougher and with a serrated shape, it comes to a stronger taste and is more durable in hot broth.
Culantro is a rare herb that you hardly find in other countries but it is commonly used in Saigon. The distinct taste makes it popular in hotter climates in Vietnam. At BEP, we have already source this unique and relatively rare goodies for your enjoyment.
Reference source: Lucky Peach, The Pho Issue, Summer 2016