Southern Vietnamese Cuisine

Momma Dang is from the Northern highlands near Sapa but traveled to the warm South, like so many others, after the French left Vietnam in 1954.  

Almost 1 million people left during this mass exodus and migration to seek refuge from the threat of war and communist division between the North and South.

Food Evolution

Momma Dang talks often about many political, economical, and social struggles that came from this time period, but also shares an understanding of differences these cultural changes brought to their food and cuisine.  As a child growing up in the poor country side, flavors came from an uncomplicated yet balanced base of available meats, broth, rice, fish sauce, with simple spices like black pepper and salt.  Lucky for the South, the migration of people also meant they were bringing their recipes and style of Vietnamese cuisine to mold into the fresh, lite-flavors that were native to the lower half of the country.  The stews and noodle dishes of the North are now paired with an abundance of lettuce, fresh and lightly pickled vegetables creating an incredible hybrid version of itself.  

Southern Vietnam has the perfect climate to harvest tropical fruits, vegetables, and herbs; and their cuisine reflects that.  Southerners tend to like more flavor, big heat, lots of herbs and "bells and whistles" as Chef Thai says.    

Rambutan - A beautiful gem of tropical fruit is beneath the armored magenta shell.  Kinda tastes like lychee.

Rambutan - A beautiful gem of tropical fruit is beneath the armored magenta shell.  Kinda tastes like lychee.

Fishing is a way of life throughout Vietnam.  The South has some of the finest fish served countless ways.  Snails, prawns, squid, shrimp, crabs, clams, and mussels are grilled, fried, steamed, and stewed to perfection.  

Steamed Periwinkle Snails - A popular snack eaten throughout the day.

Steamed Periwinkle Snails - A popular snack eaten throughout the day.

These little appetite stimulators will be found on the menu titled : món ăn choi (snacks for fun)

Razor Clams pulled from the China Sea (although the people of Vietnam call it the East Sea), toasted peanuts and scallion confit.

Razor Clams pulled from the China Sea (although the people of Vietnam call it the East Sea), toasted peanuts and scallion confit.

Northern Vietnamese Cuisine

The dishes and flavors in Vietnamese cuisine varies as you travel up and down the coast or inland of Vietnam.  

The farther North you travel, the colder the climate becomes and the flavors and ingredients indigenous to this region reflect that.  The growing season is shorter than it's southern neighbors where the sun shines more often throughout the year.  Due to the colder nature of this climate, spices and fresh vegetables are limited and the locals rely on preserving and stewing these ingredients to carry them through the year.  Because of this, flavors tend to be very simple, less bold and lack extremes in spice, bitterness, & salt. The ingredients speak for themselves and are used in respect to its seasonality.  

Phở is a good example of this.  This Vietnamese specialty was originated in the North where the preferred preparation includes a simple broth that is cooked with bones, a simple meat, and (banh pho) the specific flat rice noodle used in the dish. That's it people.  No sprouts or big heaping mound of herbs or chili that is enjoyed in the South.  Just a simple soul-soother on those cold days. 

Northern Style - Phở Gà (Chicken)

Northern Style - Phở Gà (Chicken)

We have been to Northern Vietnam when a chill is in the air and the rain came down hard!  We sought shelter in a stall that had just the remedy we needed.  The menu was filled with warm, savory dishes like Vietnamese rabbit-curry .  Here, rabbit is stewed until tender with subtle flavors of turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, and other ground spices.  

I'm not talking about an extensive curry repertoire like you would find in Indian or Thai cuisine.  Vietnamese curry is lite and much more mellow and reflects a certain "peasant-stlye" of eating.

Vietnamese Rabbit Curry - Hanoi, Vietnam (*a special note just in from Chef Thai : "Dee, make sure you add 'this is not my food'!  You would never find wilted herbs on my plate".

Vietnamese Rabbit Curry - Hanoi, Vietnam (*a special note just in from Chef Thai : "Dee, make sure you add 'this is not my food'!  You would never find wilted herbs on my plate".

 

We also had an amazing hot pot and a steaming bowl of clams in a beautiful-aromatic broth to sip on and warm you up from the inside out.

Steamed Clams in a warm broth with Vietnamese herbs - Hanoi, Vietnam

Steamed Clams in a warm broth with Vietnamese herbs - Hanoi, Vietnam