To describe Vietnamese food would not be complete without the inclusion of herbs. The textures, flavors, scents and overall freshness that these herbs contribute to everyday Vietnamese dishes is what makes the cuisine stand alone. Although herb use in other ethnic cuisines are common, it is Vietnamese cuisine that is usually most noted for it’s abundant and frequent use of unique & exotic herbs.
Eaten generously along side almost every meal, these fresh leaves & stems create a unique & delicious layer of flavor to the already dynamic simplicities of Vietnamese cuisine. Raw herbs are torn, topped, tossed, rolled and/or wrapped into dishes ranging in anything from soups, rice & noodle dishes, sandwiches and spring rolls. A few other herbs are used more for cooking in soups, braises, and grilled dishes.
If you are eating a Việt restaurant meal, it is guaranteed that there will be small herb strips elegantly laced in your dish or abundantly adorning the traditional herb & lettuce plate. The overall health benefits, garden jewels and beautiful visual displays of these herbs make them that much more appealing outside of the kitchen and dinner table.
Some herbs found in Vietnamese dishes are common to other world cuisines and were readily available in North America long before the Vietnamese migration to America, such as spearmint, basil & dill. For the other more exotic ones, they slowly made their way to America by means that are not always clear. The most common belief by Việt families is that some of the more exclusive Asian herbs were introduced to America when South East Asian Immigrants, including the Vietnamese, fled their home countries and brought them over to The States. Some of these herbs roots and seeds may have also been sent via mail, so over the years home gardens flourished with these plants.
Some of the very first Việt herbs sold in Vietnamese grocery stores in Little Saigon back in the early 80’s did, in fact, come from these home gardens. As Vietnamese food evolves in America’s food scene, so does the incorporation of new herbs in more contemporary dishes. As a result of the America’s “New World” influence, these different herbs are not commonly eaten in Việt-Nam, but rather, are gracing more modern Việt dishes. These new herbs create contemporary flair, flavor and excitement to a traditionally humble cuisine.
Our obsession with herbs begins in our garden, continues to the kitchen and ends with a happier and healthier belly. We share our all of our trials and tribulations to garden enthusiasts who are interested in growing them for their ornamental beauty & grand displays. For the grazers, we provide our most current knowledge and advice on storage, prep and examples of culinary uses of herbs found in Việt Cuisine in America.
There are a plethora of herbs found and used throughout Việt-Nam but not commonly used and found in Việt Grocery stores in America. Those will be added at another time. So for now, may your herb interests heighten your discovery to the world of Vietnamese flavors!