While we have found many tasty dishes in Malaysia and now Singapore, we still find ourselves wistfully day dreaming of Bun Cha and all the other amazing foods of Vietnam. We reached out to food blogger Huy of Hungry Huy to learn more about these wonderful foods that we find ourselves missing so, so much. Here is a little more about him:
I was born and raised in California, and I still live here too. General geek, and food geek seems fitting: I always need to know “why.” I’m trying to learn about Vietnamese cuisine and culture starting by learning my family’s recipes. This means learning a lot from my mom, who’s a very talented cook. I love discovering new food, sharing meals and cooking for other people I care about. Food’s an adventure. There’s always new cuisine to be had, and something new to learn, and someone inspiring me with their food.
We couldn’t agree more, food definitely is an adventure!!
Q: Food and culture go hand in hand, how does the food reflect the culture in Vietnam?
A: Food in Vietnam reflects our willingness to incorporate international cuisine. A lot of these foods we’ve adapted from other countries we do not consider our own cuisine.
The cuisine isn’t largely affected by anything major like religion. Cuisine is affected by the topography mostly: the weather, and what grows well there. Also the food is influenced by the countries we’re nearby. So this means a lot of Chinese, Thailand, some of Laos and Cambodia.
Q: How does the food of Vietnam differ from foods of surrounding countries? Does the food differ from region to region within Vietnam?
A: Vietnam cooks with lots of herbs compared to surrounding countries. There’s also lots of seafood since Vietnam has a very long coast. We use less fat than typical Chinese cooking. Aside from the Hue region, food’s also not as spicy as Thai.
Southern Vietnam is richer in farming everything. This meant more variety of veggies, fruits, and sugar which are used in dishes you don’t see in the North such as coconuts. This abundance also meant more livestock. In the north, more fish was prepared in saltier versions (vs sweet). Central Vietnam is a poorer region known for spicier foods.
Q: What are the biggest influences on Vietnamese cuisine?
A: The Chinese and French are probably the biggest influences. I slowly noticed it as a kid, when certain food names didn’t exactly sound Vietnamese. Ha cao, gai lan, xa xiu to name a few. And wheat noodles too. The French gave us a lot as well, like baguettes, lots of food with red meat, pastries and goodies made with butter and eggs.
Q: What are some of your favorite traditional dishes? What are the “can’t miss” dishes?
A: The stuff I eat most commonly are banh mi, pho and com tam bi. As with any food anywhere though, you can’t just go anywhere to eat it. For any one good restaurant there’s gonna be 10 worse options. Some other stuff I really like is banh la or banh nam. They’re flat rice cakes with shrimp steamed in banana leaves. These smell so good!
Q: Overall, Vietnamese food seems to be incredibly healthy- lots of herbs and fresh veggies. What are some of the healthiest traditional Vietnamese dishes?
A: Yeah Vietnamese does have a lot of herbs. For sure it’s healthier than Chinese. Chinese foods tend to have a lot of oil in the cooking, whether its stir-fried or deep-fried.
Typical, everyday Vietnamese food is vegetable heavy even if you don’t count the herbs. There’s very little meat, as it was a luxury. In America it’s a slightly different story though. Meat and sugar are abundant. So lots of the food reflects that now and adapt here to local tastes. More is better right?
Q: Vietnamese food has a lot of big flavors. What are some of the most common flavoring agents- herbs, aromatics, spices, sauces etc.- that are used in Vietnamese cuisine?
A: The most common one is probably green onion. Next up are probably cilantro, mint, and Thai basil. Whenever you have soup you can be sure chopped green onion will go well with it, usually cilantro too. Dill is often paired with fish in fried fish patties (cha ca) or a sour fish soup (canh chua). Then there’s lemongrass, perilla, and Vietnamese balm, fishscale mint to name a few. There’s a ton!
For sauces, you’ll see a lot of fish sauce. Soy sauce is usually reserved for vegetarian food. Fish sauce is king. Fish sauce can be a tough sell for people who didn’t grow up with it, but you gotta embrace it to enjoy the food.
Q. You have been sharing Vietnamese recipes and more at HungryHuy.com. What inspired you to start your blog? Where do the recipes come from? What recipes are most special to you?
A: My blog started as a way for me to learn how to cook and chronicle some of my family’s recipes. I grew up with a lot of food cooked by my maternal grandma and my mom. Grandma stuck to relatively simple, humble recipes, but she’s great at making them. My mom takes it to another level with recipe exploration and fine-tuning so I’ve gotten to try a lot of that food. Most things I want to cook, I can call mom up for tips.
Recipes special to me both taste great and evoke some kind of feeling. In this case it happens to be nostalgia, and 3 recipes come to mind:braised pork belly and eggs (thit kho heo), caramelized catfish (ca kho), and fried tofu in tomatoes (dau hu sot ca chua). These were crowd pleasers in my home, and they’re always on the table.
Q: Any cookbook recommendations if I want to try my hand at Vietnamese cooking?
A: To be honest, I haven’t read many Vietnamese cookbooks. I’ve flipped through some for ideas, and to see what people are up to, but haven’t really cooked through any. Andrea Nguyen is a good teacher and has some books out. I also want to check out Charles Phan’s books.
Thanks so much, Huy! It was great to learn more about the food that we have completely fallen in love with!