Olive Magazine
Uyen Luu and Vietnamese spring rolls

olive podcast: 10 things you need to know about Vietnamese food and cooking

Published: February 18, 2022 at 1:32 pm

In this week's episode, we interview Uyen Luu about Vietnamese food and cooking, including the importance of snacks and why breakfast is the best time to eat noodle soup

Author and food photographer Uyen Luu talks us through 10 things you need to know about Vietnamese food and cooking, including why balance is key, the importance of snacks, why breakfast is the best time to eat noodle soup and food as an expression of love.


Check back next week to hear author, food writer and supperclub host Luiz Hara chat about Nikkei cuisine - the merging of Japanese cooking techniques with South American ingredients that is particular to Peru and Brazil.

Vietnamese food and cooking

When to eat pho

In Vietnam, noodle soups are mainly had for breakfast, and pho is one of the most favoured and loved. It’s thought that when you sleep, your body cools down, you’ve rested and everything should be calm. So, to get up and have a sprightly, vibrant, hot, steaming soup wakes up your soul and senses, and balances your yin and yang. And, if we’re talking about pho, the textures in the noodles are really slurpy and silky. Then you have the steaming hot broth that’s contrasted with some crunchy thai basil and coriander. Then you have that squeeze of lime for the sour. So there’s that sweet and sour taste throughout the broth and the whole bowl. And you get the different textures of the meat or tofu with it. The smells make you feel invigorated.

The importance of rice

The Vietnamese way of asking ‘How are you?’ is to say ‘Have you eaten rice yet?’. Rice is so important – it’s not a meal unless there’s rice. Everything else is considered a snack. When you sit down and eat rice with three or four other plates, that’s considered a proper meal. That’s the type of meal you’d share with family or your work colleagues. If you go to Vietnam and go into a shop at lunchtime, all the employees will be sitting on the floor together eating rice. So much of the culture is just eating rice together – having a meal alone is not considered a proper meal.

Healthy desserts

There are loads of dessert carts in Vietnam and a lot of the things they sell are quite healthy. There’s one called chè, which is like a dessert soup. It’ll have some tapioca in it, seaweed, lotus seeds and grass jelly, plus other medicinal jellies made from herbs and spices that are good for you. These are lovely, refreshing and sweet, and are good to have after your rice or if you’re having a feast. The dessert balances out the heat that you have from your meal and makes you feel quite refreshed. What’s great about Vietnamese desserts as well is they’re vegan, as there’s no dairy involved. So it’s really nice to have when you’ve got a vegan or vegetarian friend coming over.

Uyen’s top 3 effortless cooking hacks

Use your kettle for delicate noodles, such as rice vermicelli, just put them in a heatproof container, then pour over just-boiled water from a kettle. Cover, then leave until the noodles are just tender. This means there’s no danger of overcooking them, as you might do on the stove.

Invest in a good grater: you can find great Vietnamese vegetable graters or julienne peelers online – they make perfect-sized shredded vegetables for dishes such as papaya salad, and it saves so much time compared to doing it with a knife.

Peeling eggs: for easier peeling of quail’s or hen’s eggs, I put them in a pan of cold water and just shake it so the eggs jiggle and tap against each other. Then I boil them as normal – afterwards, the shells should peel off a lot easier.

Try Uyen Luu's recipes here:

Vietnamese spring rolls

Stuffed with prawns, crabmeat and scallops, these crispy spring rolls come with a hot and savoury sauce for dipping.

Bánh xèo tôm Vietnamese pancakes

Bánh xèo is a light savoury crêpe, eaten with an abundance of salad leaves and herbs. This one comes stuffed with juicy king prawns.

Two crepes with salad and fillings and chopsticks

Vietnamese chicken curry (cà ri gà bí)

A mild, slurpy curry, meant to be dipped into and mopped up with crispy Vietnamese baguettes or steamed rice. Make it as hot as you like!

A chicken and squash curry

Vietnamese ginger chicken (gà nuong)

Ginger, tangy lemon, hot chillies and sticky honey are a great combo in this midweek winner, served with steamed rice and greens.

A one-pan chicken dish with lemon

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