Vietnamese cuisine features a combination of five fundamental taste elements (Vietnamese: ngũ vị) in the overall meal: spicy (metal), sour (wood), bitter (fire), salty (water) and sweet (Earth). Each Vietnamese dish has a distinctive flavor which reflects one or more of these elements. Common ingredients include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, rice, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables. Vietnamese recipes utilize lemongrass, ginger, mint, Vietnamese mint, long coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird's eye chili, lime and basil leaves. Traditional Vietnamese cooking is greatly admired for its fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, and reliance on herbs and vegetables. With the balance between fresh herbs and meats and a selective use of spices to reach a fine taste, Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest cuisines worldwide.
A typical meal for the average Vietnamese family
- Large bowl/pot/cooker of steamed white rice
- Fish/seafood, meat, tofu (grilled, boiled, steamed, stewed or stir-fried with vegetables)
- A stir-fry dish
- Raw, pickled, steamed, or fresh vegetables
- Canh (a clear broth with vegetables and often meat or seafood) or other soup
- Prepared fish sauce for dipping, to which garlic, pepper, chili, ginger or lime juice are sometimes added according to taste.
- Dipping sauces and condiments depending on the main dishes, such as pure fish sauce, ginger fish sauce, tamarind fish sauce, soy sauce, muối tiêu chanh (salt and pepper with lime juice) or muối ớt (chilli and salt).
- Small dish of relishes, such as salted eggplant, pickled white cabbage, pickled papaya, pickled garlic or pickled bean sprouts
- Fresh fruits or desserts, such as chè