Vietnamese cuisine pairs together some of the most beautiful flavours. Every dish is made with a whole bunch of fresh, delicate, salty and fermented flavours. My visit to Vietanam early this year, taught me a lot about its cuisine. Even though the key flavours in Vietnamese food have been borrowed from neighbouring countries like China, Lao and Thailand; Vietnamese dishes have their own unique identity and flavours palate. Needless to say, like any other Asian country, Vietnam too, thrives on its vibrant street food selection – and believe me, its yum! While walking along the noisy and hustling crossroads of Ho Chi Minh popularly known as Saigon (my favourite city for the best street food in Vietnam), you’d find a plethora street food vendors from morning to night serving up some of the most delicious, fresh and flavoursome stuff. The mornings in Vietnam begin with slurping up the light and brothy bowl of Pho (its more like their “national food”) or gobbling up that crunchy pancake with oodles of fresh prawns. The all-day street food menu includes Bahn Mi (in the south), a traditional Vietnamese sandwich made with stuffing a homemade sourdough bread with a wholesome filling of mayo, fried egg, cilantro, pork patê, fish sauce, cheese and some more pork, and Buncha (in the north) a hearty and comforting combination of noodles and pork meatballs meatballs served with a fish sauce + palm sugar + lemongrass sauce and fresh cilantro.
While I devoured most of the street food there with full zeal, the other thing I was the most excited about was the salads in most restaurant menus across the country – make no mistakes, this was NO ordinary salad. A dose of the fresh Vietnamese salad with oodles of umami-rich fish sauce dressing, nuts, dried seafood and fried shallots, was quite a mandate wherever we went (that’s true, I end-up ruling the table orders for my friends as well, the self proclaimed “food nerd” that I am)! If you’re that person who prefers to order the ‘Papaya Salad’ at every other Asian restaurant you visit – you’re about to loose you mind after eating one of those Vietnamese salads. Coming back with memories of different salads that I got to gobble at different corners of this marvelously flavourful country, my rendition of the Vietnamese salad almost made it through! If you have a bag of dried fish/shrimp handy, don’t think a blink before giving this salad a hit (my GF, sera bought me a bag of dried fish from her visit to Bangkok last week and I had to make this, thank god for small mercies)!
for the salad
100 g raw papaya
100 g raw mango
100 g carrot
100 g cucumber
1 medium onion, thinly chopped lengthwise
200 g dried fish
50 g roasted peanuts
50 g fresh mint
50 g fresh corrinader
for the pickling liquid
60 ml distilled white vinegar
50 g sugar
¼ teaspoon sea salt
for the dressing
100 g fish sauce
5-6 bird’s eye chilli, slighted
2-tablespoon coarse brown sugar
1 lemons, juiced
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
- Using a mandolin, julienne the raw papaya, mango, carrot and cucumber and keep aside.
- In a bowl prepare the pickling liquid (recipe above) and dip the julienned carrots. Allow these to pickle for one – two hours.
- In a separate bowl prepare the flavoured fish sauce dressing by missing together – fish sauce, bird’s eye chilli, brown sugar, lemon juice, and the chopped and fragrant lemongrass.
- Closer to serving the salad, heat oil in a deep pan, and fry the shallots/onion until crunchy.
- Once all the separate elements are ready toss together the ingredients in large bowl – julienned raw papaya, mango, cucumber along with the pickled carrot (without the pickling water, of course), mint, cilantro, fish sauce dressing, and the winning ingredient – dried fish!
- Once the salad is nicely tossed, put on the serving plate, and top it up with crispy fried shallots and roasted peanuts.
- Bon appetite!