Herbs, spices and condiments
Vietnamese food is packed full of fresh herbs, it’s one of the things that makes the whole cuisine so tasty and full of flavour. Fresh herbs often come as a side, waiting for you to pick leaves of basil, mint, coriander (both of the variety you might be used to but also Chinese Coriander) or maybe even the pungent fish tasting ‘fish mint’, and add them liberally to your food to get the flavour you want. Spice wise, expect garlic, fresh chilli (not huge amounts of it) fresh turmeric and lemongrass to feature alongside each other, you can also find delicious sour tamarind or sweet mango making an appearance, soy sauce and chilli sauce seem to be served with everything, sometimes soy with fresh chilli inside.
But hands down the most interesting condiment we came across was ‘chao’, a fermented tofu which strongly resembles a very strong blue cheese. It divides opinion here at the Vegan Food Quest and with others we have met along the way and its definitely one of those ‘love or hate’ foods. Added to rice porridge in the morning, or to a steaming hotpot soup, it adds a very addictive element to vegan Vietnamese food. We also had an amazing burger made for us with some chao spread on the bun – an inspired piece of cooking and a definitive hit with the half of the Vegan Food Quest team who can’t get enough fermented tofu.