Raw, stir-fried, braised, pickled or salted, vegetables are worked into every meal in some manner in Vietnam. Almost every dish includes a few vegetables but, in addition, there may be a vegetable side dish, salad, pickled vegetables, or leaves to wrap around the food. The main thing to remember is that a meal must be balanced with vegetables, protein and starch. Texture is also important, so “salads” might include such ingredients as fruit, meat, shellfish and rice noodles.
In the warm southern Vietnam, the growing season is long and abundant, providing the regional cuisines with a vast choice of indigenous, and adopted, roots and leaves for exciting vegetable dishes and refreshing, crunchy salads. In the cool north of Vietnam, vegetables are more often steamed, stir-fried and preserved, borrowing traditional Chinese methods.
Traditionally, fruit is reserved for the end of a meal to cleanse the palate or aid the digestion, while sweet puddings and cakes are nibbled and indulged in as snacks. A wide variety of tropical fruits are available: take your pick from milky white lychees; sweet pineapples; fragrant red arbutus and the flowery rambutan; aromatic mango and papaya; yellow or green bananas; juicy, brown-skinned Iongans; star fruit; water-melonsized jackfruit with its bright yellow segments; guavas; passion fruit; zesty citrus fruits like pomelo; mangosteens; coconuts and custard apples; green dragon fruit; and the infamous, spiky durian, which is considered the “king of fruit” in spite of the fact that it tastes like heaven, but smells like hell!
Yin and Yang of Taoist culinary culture
Following ancient Taoist philosophy, some vegetables are believed to possess cooling “yin” qualities, others the warming “yang”. It is thought that If these yin and yang forces are not balanced, illness will ensue. This ancient belief is most prominent in the culinary culture of Chinese-influenced northern Vietnam, where a
number of Chinese communities still live.