• Vietnam Food Safari



Annatto is the seed or extract of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America. Annatto’s flavor can be described as earthy, musky, and slightly peppery. Annatto seeds are usually steeped in oil or ground to a powder prior to adding to recipes, rather than adding the seeds whole. Annatto in Vietnamese cooking is component of Annatto Oil – the seeds are fried in oil to extract their brick red colour and the seeds are discarded.


Rice paper used for Vietnamese food is traditionally made from just rice, water, and salt. They are one of the unique aspects of Vietnamese cooking and dining. Basically, rice paper is a thin steamed rice crepe (or sheet, as some people call them) that has been dried. Traditionally, rice paper gets dried on bamboo mats or stretchers of sorts, which explains why they have a woven, rattan like pattern. Rice paper is a great way to store rice for a long time and it is convenient too. Right before using, it is rehydrated and softened in warm or hot water. Vietnamese rice paper is a cooked ingredient and once rehydrated, it can be eaten as is or fried.


Bun Noodles:

bun – round rice noodles. These are one of the most commonly seen and eaten noodles. In fact, a Vietnamese kitchen would be incomplete without bun. What do they look like? Bún (pronounced “boon”) is a thin white noodle made from rice. Fresh noodles are jiggly and sticky, and dried noodles are very white. These noodles are best fresh, so look for them in the refrigerated section, often translated into English as rice vermicelli. If you can’t find them, try the dried noodles aisle and follow the directions on the bag.

Rice Sticks (Bánh Phở)

You know these thick white rice noodles from the beef or chicken noodle soup, phở. Phở noodles aren’t just for soup; they’re often stir-fried as well in dishes like phở xào. The flexible white sheets of processed rice that are cut into strips to make the noodles can also be used to make phở cuốn, rice noodle rolls filled with sautéed beef and herbs dipped in sauce. The noodle sheets are also used in phở chiên, where they are cut into squares and deep fried.

Egg Noodles (Mì)

Think of these as Chinese lo mein. They’re yellow egg noodles, and I’ve only seen them in stir-fries such as the delicious mì xào hải sản, fried noodles with squid and shrimp, and mì xào bò, the same but with beef.

Substitute lo mein, chow mein, or any other spaghetti-sized egg noodle. Since you’re stir-frying, buying them dried would be fine, but they’ll likely be easier to find than other types of noodles since they’re used in many Asian kinds of cuisine.

Glass Noodles (Miến)

These thin and round or narrow and flat noodles are really cool looking when cooked! They start off gray and mostly opaque, but they’re clear, slippery, and extra flexible when fully cooked.

They’re made of mung beans and often called mung bean threads, glass noodles, cellophane noodles, or vermicelli, not to be confused with rice vermicelli, or bún (above). They’re often added to fried or fresh spring rolls after being soaked in hot water until they’re still a bit chewy, or served in a chicken soup.

Tapioco and Rice Flour Noodles (Bánh Canh)

These thick white noodles made of tapioca flour or a mix of tapioca flour and rice are similar to Japanese udon noodles. They’re used in different soups and are more common in the center and south of Vietnam that in the north.

Instant Noodles

Haters gonna hate, but instant noodles in Vietnam are much better (and even cheaper) than Top Ramen noodles. They’re widely eaten for breakfast or soaked and stir-fried with vegetables, meat, and egg for a more filling meal. Try Cung Dinh brand on its own, doctor up your own bowl, or try a pack of instant miến (glass noodles).


This is one ingredient that illustrates well the saying that “a little goes a long, long way”. These tiny sun-dried shrimps are so tasty that you only need a few tablespoonfuls to really bring a plain vegetable dish to new heights of excitement.

They taste different from fresh shrimps; the dried ones have a stronger and more concentrated flavor which some cooks refer to as “umami.”

When rehydrating, place the dried shrimps in a bowl and pour just enough warm water to cover. You want the shrimps to soak up the water so that no pool of water is left when you scoop out the shrimps.


Mam ruoc (Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste) It's more popular in North and Central Vietnam, while Mam Nem (Vietnamese Fermented Anchovy Sauce) is more popular in the South. Ruoc are small shrimp caught during the rainy season.

They are dried in the sun for three months, then mixed with salt, ground into a powder, and placed in a jar to pickle in the sun for another month-and-a-half. Sugar is then added to that mixture and left to ferment for another month. The mixture is then dried again in the sun for 10 days.

Vietnamese mam ruoc tends to be light pinkish-gray. All that drying and pickling and drying and pickling again results in a very thick, very concentrated, very salty, shrimp flavor. In some recipes such as Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hue-Style Beef Noodle Soup), there really is no other substitute.

As a dipping sauce, its pungency can be diluted with lime juice. Add chili peppers, garlic, and sugar to round out the taste. You can dip raw or boiled vegetables, hot pot ingredients, rice paper rolls, or anything you wish really.


Quite easily the soul of Vietnamese cuisine, nước mắm is the county’s most loved and versatile condiment. Visit any restaurant, home, street corner or shop in Vietnam and there is one thing you will be guaranteed to find: fish sauce.

It’s pungent, salty and slightly sweet flavor

is truly like no other, making it not only a Southeast Asian favorite but a common ingredient now found in the West. Use it in marinades before cooking, as a seasoning during or as a simple dipping sauce as you eat, there is nothing it can’t do.

Navigating your way around the wall of brands on the market can be a bit of a mind field: an array of bottles, each filled with liquids dark and light. But there are things to look out for to ensure you are buying quality. The most obvious of these is to look at the ingredients.

Steer clear of bottles that have a number of preservatives—remember that fish sauce is made from just fish and salt. In addition, the better-quality brands tend to use one type of fish rather than a blend, so bear this in mind when you sift through the label.

Another good indicator of quality is to look out for nitrogen content. Typically, this will be marked on the front of the bottle as “degrees N”, referring to the amount of nitrogen per litre. The amount of nitrogen denotes the quantity of protein in each drop—and the higher the protein, the more concentrated the liquid is. Industry-standard is considered to be “30N”, while “40N” is seen as high quality.

Anything under “30N” is seen as low-grade.


In the culinary arts, five-spice (also known as Chinese five spice) is a blend of ground spices often used in Chinese, Vietnamese and most popularly in Asian cuisine. One theory behind the composition of five-spice powder is that it is intended to incorporate the five main flavors of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent.

The traditional five spice powder is made of ground cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise and Szechuan pepper. This makes for a potent blend, and five spice is best used in moderation. Five spice powder can be used for seasoning meats and poultry, in marinades or in spice rubs. Because it is also sweet and aromatic, five spice can be used in flavoring desserts as well as savory dishes.


Vietnamese cuisine generally has a bit of sugar in it (with the exception of things like pho). It's usually minimal, but I know that for some people, even the tiniest bit can set off things. If you can tolerate it you may want to try substituting a "light" tasting sweetener like agave or palm sugar.


Black pepper in Vietnam was the sole source of spiciness before chiles were introduced but has not lost much popularity since the introduction of the fruit to the cuisine.


This viscous sauce is made from essence or reduction of boiled oysters that's mixed with sugar and water and thickened with cornstarch. The result is a savory but also sweet and caramel sauce that works best in sautées as it's able to spread evenly through foods.

A staple of Cantonese and Southeast Asian cooking, it's used mostly commonly in the Vietnamese culinary world to tone down the bitterness of leafy greens and add a sweetness to a beef cubes dish called bo luc lac, or "shaking beef."


Sprinkled on top of many dishes to add a nutty, onion taste, these fried shallots are easy to make. Simply steep chopped shallots in oil, on low heat, until caramelized, straining the mix and keeping the shallots as a garnish, and the oil for cooking.


Cinnamon from Vietnam has a bigger bark and higher level of spice than the Indonesian varieties commonly sold here. It’s also sweeter in smell. Used in many stocks and soups, including the broth for pho, goes in pho, it lends an undertone of warming sweetness. Generally, one stick of cinnamon is enough to flavor an entire pot.


Along with star anise, clove, and cinnamon, cardamom helps form the spice base for soups, including pho. While black cardamom is commonly used in Vietnamese cooking, Ly prefers green cardamom for a more delicate, restrained flavor in savory dishes.


Is a star-shaped eight-pointed pod. It has a pungent flavor of aniseed or licorice. Used most often in soups, and other recipes requiring long simmering.


Cloves are the flower buds of the clove tree, an evergreen also known as Syzygium aromaticum ( 1 ). Found in both whole and ground forms, this versatile spice can be used in Vietnamese cooking to flavor soups such as Pho, or combined with others to produce five spice.


A lotus seed or lotus nut is the seed of a plant in the genus Nelumbo, particularly the species Nelumbo nucifera. The seeds are used in Vietnamese cuisine and traditional medicine, in a number of different ways, from desserts to soups.


Rice vinegar is called dấm gạo or giấm gạo in Vietnamese. Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice. The sugars in rice are converted to alcohol (rice wine) and then, through a bacteria-laden second fermentation process, into the acid we know as vinegar. The result is typically far less acidic and milder than pure distilled white vinegar or those made from grape-based wine or malt, making it a subtle addition to salad dressings, pickles, marinades, or splashed lightly over sautéed vegetables.


There are three major kinds of rice wine in Vietnam: the conventional distilled variety known as ruou gao (literally “rice alcohol”), wine brewed in large ceramic jars called ruou can (party wine), and distilled alcohol infused with plants and animals, known as ruou thuoc (medicine wine). Apart from drinking, it can be used in desserts, dressings and seasoning for rice.


Tapioca balls are translucent spheres produced from tapioca, a starch extracted from the cassava root. They are used in Vietnamese Cuisine in desserts, soups and even drinks.


Prawn crackers are made by mixing prawns, tapioca flour and water. The mixture is rolled out, steamed, and sliced. Traditionally, to achieve maximum crispiness, raw crackers are usually sun-dried first before frying, to eliminate the moisture. They are then fried in oil until they puff up and are crispy. Served in Vietnamese cuisine with salads, or noodle dishes like Cau Lau.


The crispy round Vietnamese sesame rice cracker or Girdle sesame rice cake is specialty food of Central Vietnam. In Vietnamese, they call this food Bánh tráng mè, Banh trang me (in Central Vietnam) or Bánh đa vừng, Banh da vung in North Vietnam. Made from rice and sesame, Banh trang me is sold and stored in a dried version. To serve and eat, grill or fry the dried Banh trang me on charcoal for a few minutes. Served as a snack, or with salads or noodle dishes.


Starch is made from cassava roots. Used in Vietnamese cookery in soups, noodle making, and frying of food.


Rice flour is a form of flour made from finely milled rice. It is distinct from rice starch, which is usually produced by steeping rice in lye. Rice flour is a common substitute for wheat flour. It is also used as a thickening agent in recipes


Tree/wood ear fungus/mushroom, called nam meo in Vietnamese, is a popular ingredient in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking. Although it is sometimes referred to as a mushroom, it is a fungus that grows on trees


Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is part of kitchen pantries throughout East and Southeast Asia. For many Vietnamese people, MSG is part of the flavor profile of many soup stocks, especially pho.