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Learn about the basic ingredients for Vietnamese cooking to get started cooking this delicious cuisine in your own home!
This post contains affiliate links.
Vietnamese food has just exploded in the US in the past few years. I remember many years ago, a friend introduced to me Vietnamese cuisine and I was instantly hooked. All the delicious flavors!
I don't know about you guys, but I'm in love. Seriously, I'm in deep.
Vietnamese food has my heart.
The crispy seared meats.
Fresh bright flavors.
And the fish sauce. Good lord that fish sauce.
Damn if I don't get excited every time the boyfriend wants Vietnamese.
Now you understand that I'm super excited to embark on this month long journey celebrating Vietnamese cuisine (look out March!).
Because guys, this stuff is not hard to make. And with the popularity of Vietnamese cuisine, so many of the ingredients can be found at your local grocery store.
But before we get into cooking, we've got to get familiar with the basic ingredients for Vietnamese cooking. I've included Amazon links below for most of the products. Note if you purchase an ingredient through the affiliate link, I do earn a small commission from Amazon. This commission helps me keep this site going.
The cornerstone of Vietnamese cooking. And if you've never had fish sauce, or the thought grosses you out, get over it. Fish sauce is amazing. You don't have to drink it. You just have to cook with it. It provides an intense umami flavor to your cooking that you will soon realize is one of the most delicious things in the world. And there are many, many different brands and versions, but my favorite is Red Boat 40 fish sauce. It has no additives, made purely of sea salt and anchovies. That's it.
Another key ingredient in Vietnamese cooking (that's what we're doing here right?), lemongrass has a fresh slightly lemony flavor (though lemons will not work as a substitute). If you want to learn a little more about lemongrass and cooking with it, The Spruce has this great article with all sorts of info. In a nutshell, you should be able to find it in your local grocery store, remove the outer layers, and minced the inner white parts. Now, sometimes I just don't have time to prepare fresh lemongrass, so I use this lemongrass paste in a tube. I know, it's not quite the same, but it works in a pinch and prevents you from having to go to the store to hunt it down every time you make a recipe.
Fermented Shrimp Paste
I know what you're thinking. It's not gross, I promise. Much like fish sauce, this paste gives dishes a wonderfully amazing umami flavor. It is delish guys. Buy a jar and keep it in your fridge. Once you taste it you'll realize how many places you can use it.
Used as a garnish in many dishes, these are also great as a yummy snack. You should be able to find these at your local Asian grocery store or you can make them yourself (check out this recipe from White on Rice Couple).
Chili Garlic Sauce/Sriracha
I feel like we use this stuff in everything now, along with Sriracha (also a Vietnamese staple). With a healthy dose of chilies, fish sauce, sugar and garlic, this stuff adds just the perfect amount of spice to your dish. And Sriracha is delicious on literally everything. I bet someone has even made an ice cream with it....
Noodles, noodles, noodles. Vietnamese dishes are largely comprised of these wonderful rice noodles. I have had some luck finding fresh noodles at the Asian market, but dried are also widely available.
Often used as a garnish to oh so many Vietnamese dishes, these are also great used in all different types of cuisines. I love them on top of this Thai Beef Salad.
That deliciously sweet and dark sauce that comes served on tables in Vietnamese restaurants serving pho. I know I can't help but put a healthy dose in my soup. In addition to being a condiment for pho, it is also a delicious dipping sauce base.
Used in Vietnamese coffee and a main ingredient in many Vietnamese desserts, condensed milk can be found right in the baking section of your local grocery store.
And we can't forget the rice. Typically, jasmine rice is used in Vietnamese cooking, but really, you can use whatever kind of rice you prefer. Sticky sweet rice is also quite popular.
And of course limes, limes and more limes. Most Vietnamese dishes use lime in a marinade and/or add a drizzle of fresh lime juice on top of a dish. The lime really brings out the freshness of a dish.
Also, herbs such as mint, cilantro and basil are very popular. I would recommend having these on hand if you're planning on making any Vietnamese dish.
And those are the basic ingredients for Vietnamese cooking. Once you've got these, you are ready to get cooking!
haha someone actually made sriracha ice cream in my cooking class
LOL that's crazy! Was it any good?
Thank you so much for this informative article. Vietnamese is one of my favorite cuisines!
You're welcome! I've got some great Vietnamese recipes coming up starting in March - I hope you get the chance to check them out!
Looking forward to seeing the recipes you share. I have a vietnamese friend, Amy, who came over a few years ago to show me how to make pho and spring rolls; so good! I could use some of pho now to fight off this nasty cold I've had for over a week!
Oh no! Pho is great for that 🙂 Vietnamese food is wonderful - it's just got so much flavor!