Famous for its lively, fresh flavors and artfully composed meals, Vietnamese food and cooking is the true 'light cuisine' of Asia. Abundant fresh herbs and greens, delicate soups and stir-fries, and well-seasoned grilled foods served on, or with, rice or noodles are the mainstays of the Vietnamese delicacies. Even the beloved sweets for snacks or desserts are often based on fresh fruits served with sweetened rice or tapioca. Rarely does any dish have added fats.
While the Vietnamese cuisine relies on fresh vegetables, subtle seasonings and rice, Vietnamese cooking also reflects its Chinese and French influences and it has numerous regional difference; in the south, look for plentiful fresh seafood and in the colder north, you'll find slightly heartier meals with beef. In central Vietnam, around the ancient royal capital Hue, the food may contain influences of the former court cooks.
But regardless of the region, home-style Vietnamese cooking calls for an array of simple dishes that make complementary partners at a family's communal meal. Dinners customarily call for a soup, probably a platter of leafy greens accompanied by rice papers and a dipping sauce, seafood or grilled meats or poultry, a vegetable stir-fry, and rice or noodles in some form - with hot tea as the preferred beverage. While such meals may look complex to outsiders, most dishes come together easily, and some call for advance preparation to avoid last-minute conflicts. And, as in any type of cooking, planning ahead makes putting together meals much easier.
Modern cooks with well-equipped kitchens and handy appliances will find preparing a Vietnamese meal both rewarding and relatively easy. And with the widespread popularity of Asian recipes and foods, locating ingredients is not a challenge as most supermarkets carry such basics as fresh ginger and spring onions, lemongrass and chilies, even coconut milk and Asian noodles.Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Riblets
(Suon Heo Rim)
2 lb. pork ribs, cut 1-inch thick crosswise by butcher
2 shallots, finely chopped
½ tsp. grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground black pepper
Sea salt to taste
Fish sauce to taste
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 stalks scallion, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tsp. sesame seed oil
1 tbsp. Chinese rice wine
Marinate ribs with shallot, ginger, garlic, pepper, salt and fish sauce in the fridge overnight.
Place a heavy skillet over high heat with generous drizzle of oil and granulated sugar. When the granules of sugar have dissolved and turned golden, toss in the ribs. Occasionally stir ribs until they've evenly caramelized and then add a splash of rice wine, sesame oil and scallion. Toss well and simmer until ribs have absorbed most of the liquid. Adjust seasoning and garnish with rings of scallion. Serve with hot jasmine rice.