Vietnamese cuisine is the freshest Asian cuisine. Raw vegetables and herbs are always served exuberant and as a side dish, called ‘table vegetables’. The base of the vegetables is (mixed) lettuce, cucumber and the fresh trinity: coriander, mint and Thai basil. The bowls of lush fresh vegetables are very characteristic of Vietnamese cuisine. Fresh vegetables and herbs are used as a side dish or to garnish dishes. Always delicious and healthy to accompany rice dishes, to characterize noodle soups or to color festive meals.
Coriander is the main fresh herb in Vietnamese cuisine. It is used in all fresh rice paper, hot pot and rice dishes, and as topping for soups and salads. With coriander you can give soups, salads, noodle soups and even wok vegetables an extra touch of freshness. Coriander is considered by many Westerners to have a too intense flavor. Many recipes recommend to replace coriander by parsley, but that has nothing to do with Vietnamese food. Parsley is in no way comparable with coriander. Take small amounts in the beginning and you will see that you are going to appreciate it over time. You can also use more of other fresh herbs and leave coriander.
Mint Rau thom
Mint is a delicious fresh herb that really goes well with fish and seafood. It is always accompanied with coriander and used fresh. With coriander and Thai basil as a topping on salads it gives a magical flavor.
Thai basil Hung que
Thai basil is a mild anise-like herb that is well known as finishing touch on Pho. Thai basil is delicious in almost all noodle soups, dry noodles and salads. It makes a golden combination with beef and steamed chicken. The Thai cuisine often cook the basil, but in Vietnamese cuisine it is always used fresh. Like coriander and mint, the basil is best to its fullest when used fresh. My personal favorite.
In addition to the fresh trinity, there are plenty of exotic herbs that can be used in specialties. The dish will get its characteristic feature that it needs to distinguish itself as a specialty, usually accompanied with a special dipping sauce.
Culantro Ngo gai
Firm bite and a little spicier than coriander. It is also called ‘saw coriander’ because of the long leaves with jagged edges. Ngo gai is used as a garnish in (noodle) soups.
Vietnamese coriander Rau ram
Spicy and peppery coriander flavor. Rau ram is used as a garnish in chicken salads, noodle soups or snacks.
Shiso or perilla Rau tia to
Cinnamon, lemon, cumin and anise flavor. Rau tia to can be served fresh in salads and as a garnish.
Fish mint Rau diep ca
Typical fish taste. Not everyone likes it.
Rice paddy Rau om
Cumin and citrus flavor. Rau om is used in the sweet and sour fish soup Canh chua.
You can use a variety of vegetables and fruits to supplement the basic ‘table vegetables’: pineapple, Chinese or ordinary dill, green or ripe mango, bean sprouts, sour apples, star fruit, banana blossom, pickled vegetables and so on.