If you are new to Vietnamese cooking, the unfamiliar ingredients can be overwhelming sometimes. I've developed a guide to the most essential items, and explain how to use each of them. Most items can be found at Asian Grocery Store or online. They are divided into the categories below. You can jump to each category by choosing their names. Hopefully this will serve as a useful reference for your cooking adventures!
- Jeannie -
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Seasoning & Sauces
The prepping process is very important in Vietnamese cooking, and the secret is marinating your meats and vegetables well before cooking them. Beside salt, here are some dry seasoning and sauces you should try.
All Natural Mushroom Seasoning (Vegan Non MSG Alternative) - Bột Nêm Nấm
Mushroom Seasoning is made from mushroom of course. It's vegan and suitable for all kinds of cooking like soup, stir-fry, marinating, and more. It's my main seasoning and can be used with salt or by itself. It gives a slighty sweet and salty flavor to your foods. It can also be used instead of fishsauce if you don't like the taste and flavor of fishsauce
Fish Sauce - Nước Mắm
Fish sauce is made from fermented fish and salt. It is used for marinating, seasoning and as dipping sauces. I rarely use fish sauce straight from the bottle as dipping sauce, though some people do like it. I prefer to dilute and add more spices to it.
Three Crabs Fish Sauce
This fish sauce is quite concentrated. It's good in most Vietnamese cooking and can be used as a base for dipping sauce
Squid Brand Fish Sauce
This fish sauce has a lighter flavor so it's a good option if it's your first time trying fish sauce. It's good in dipping sauce and soup. However, because it's not as concentreated, you need to use more of it.
Soy Sauce - Nước Tương
Soy Sauce is typically made from fermented soybeans, roasted grain, and brine (salt and water solution). It's used in all kinds of cooking and as a dipping sauce. You can use soysauce as a dipping sauce straight out of the bottle or mixed with vinegar and red pepper for a stronger flavor. There are many kinds of soysauces and each country has its own way of using them. Here are a few of my favorites.
Kikkoman Soy Sauce
A good all-purpose soy sauce. Good for marinating, stirfy, braised-dishes, and dipping sauces.
Knorr Liquid Seasoning
This is my favorite soy sauce for marinating beef. It has a salty and lighty sweet flavor. Also tastes good on plain rice.
Pearl River Bridge Dark Soy Sauce
This soy sauce has thicker consistency and darker color. It usually has added caramel or molasses. It is less salty and can be used to add extra color to dishes.
Oyster Sauce - Dầu Hào
Lee Kum Kee Panda Oyster Sauce
Oyster sauce is made from oyster extracts, sugar, salt, water, and cornstarch for thickening. It has a dark brown color and intense sweet and salty delicious taste. It can be used in cooking especially in stir-fry, and good on plain rice too.
Hoisin Sauce - Tương Đen
Lee Kum Kee Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin Sauce is simply called black sauce in Vietnamese. It's typicaly made from soybeans and addtional spices. I usually use it as a base for dipping sauces. When mixed with Siracha, it's a perfect dipping sauce for fried foods. Add lime juice to that mixture, it becomes a great sauce for dipping meats for Pho Noodle Soup.
Chili-based Sauce - Tương Ớt
Probably one of the most famous hot sauces, Siracha contains chili pepper, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt in a smooth consistency. It's the all-purpose hot sauce that tastes good in stir-fry, as dipping sauces for Pho and fried foods, or even on top of pizza. Add Hoisin sauce if Siracha by itself is too spicy for you.
Huey Fong Chili Garlic Sauce
This sauce is thick and still has chili pieces and chili flakes. It is great for marinating meats and as condiments for noodle soups. I also like to add this sauce to my dipping fish sauce when I don't have fresh chili on hand.
Huey Fong Sambal Oelek Chili Paste
This sauce is just straight up chilli paste, which gives you more control on what other spices to add to your dishes. I use it for marinating, in noodle soups, and in dipping sauces.
Gochujang contains red chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybean powder, barley malt powder, and salt. I was introduced to it from my Korean roomate in high school ( I went to a boarding school). It's more like a thick paste, and has a sweet, savory and spicy flavor. It's great for pretty much everything: marinating, seasoning, soups, dipping sauces, etc
Thai Sweet Chili Sauce
Made from red chili peper, rice vineger, sugar and sometimes garlic and fish sauce, this is a great dipping sauce for fried foods like fried eggrolls and wontons.
Bonus item: Chinsu Hot Sauce
This is my most favorite hot sauce ever but sadly it's only available in Vietnam. I put in here as a bonus item anyway in case you visit Vietnam or know someone there. It is sweet, savory, spicy with a hint of garlic. It's the best dipping sauce for fried foods. I hope it will come to the American market soon.
Fermented Paste - Mắm
Meats and seafoods are often fermented for preserving purpose. There are many kinds of fermented pastes and sauces in Vietnam. Some are also sun-dried instead of making into a fine paste.
Lee Kum Kee Shrimp Paste - Mắm Tôm
Shrimp Paste is made from shrimps and salt, grounded and fermneted into a fine paste. It's the essential ingredient for Bún Bò Huế noddle soup and many more dishes. Though the smell and flavor are intense in the jar, once cooked and mixed with other ingredients, you can barely tell that it's there. So don't be afraid to use it.