The Vietnamese kitchen produces light foods, often flavoured with fresh herbs. Rice is the staple food, and often the rice pot remains simmering for the entire day. Care is taken to make food attractive as well as tasty, and Vietnamese consider the exact placement of bowls, chopsticks and other utensils to be important.

Meals usually consist of many dishes, particularly soup, fish, fowl and perhaps beef. At lunch and supper, Vietnamese eat rice with vegetables and small amounts of fish and meat. Cha giò, spicy rolls of ground pork or shrimp and vegetables, are dipped in fish sauce. The national dish is soup made of rice noodles, bits of beef, chicken or pork and seasonings such as onion, coriander, anise, pepper and ginger. Soup is also popular for breakfast, but it may be eaten any time of the day. Common varieties are pho, a thick noodle soup, or bún bò húê, a peppery beef soup with noodles.

Nuóc mám is an ingredient in soups and almost every other Vietnamese dish. Extracted from raw fish fermented in salt, nuóc mám has the appearance of tea and a surprisingly mild taste when properly prepared. Nuóc châm sauce is made by blending nuóc mám with sugar, lime juice, vinegar, chopped shallots, garlic and carrots.

Vietnamese are fond of hot peppers, which are used as a condiment at most meals. Other popular spices include coriander, lemon grass, mint and black pepper.

Markets sell a variety of fruits such as oranges, jackfruit, guavas, coconuts, fried bananas and strong-smelling durians. Peanuts and watermelon seeds, often dyed red, are common snacks. Tea is the favourite drink during the day, with or without food. Lotus tea, with its unique flavour, is a Vietnamese specialty.

  Xôi Nuóc Duà
  (Sweet Rice with Coconut)

For rice:
840 ml coconut milk (thin variety for rice cooking)
360 ml short-grain white rice
15 ml salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
several young banana leaves or aluminum foil
vegetable oil for brushing

For sauce:
180 ml brown sugar or palm sugar
180 ml water
360 ml thick coconut milk


Rinse rice several times in cold water and drain. Place in heavy saucepan with salt and coconut milk. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer until rice is cooked to a thick paste. Cool to lukewarm. Quickly stir in beaten eggs.

Dip banana leaves in boiling water to clean and soften, then cut away thick central rib. Place a piece of leaf or aluminum foil in the bottom of a baking pan and brush lightly with oil. Spread the rice thickly on top. Cover with another oiled leaf or piece of foil, with the oil side down. Place dish on a steamer rack and steam until firm. Chill.

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and gently simmer until sugar has dissolved. Cool. Remove leaf/foil from rice cake and cut rice into triangular- or diamond-shaped pieces. Place on a dessert dish and pour a portion of the sugar mixture and the coconut milk onto each piece.