The Yin and Yang of Vietnamese Cuisine
By Leslie Radford
To Americans, Vietnamese cuisine seems exotic and made up of hard to find ingredients, when in fact it’s made up of local, seasonal, and common foods. The distinction found in this fare actually comes in the form of balance, where no one flavor dominates.
The principle of yin and yang is applied in composing a meal in a way that provides a nutritional balance beneficial for the body.
The Yin represents dark, softness, and passiveness while the Yang symbolizes light, firmness, and activeness. The Yin and Yang philosophy believes that everything on Earth has Yin side and Yang side, which are blended into each other to create the nature of the world.
A Vietnamese dish must deliver both Yin and Yang aspects.
Vietnamese cuisine contrasts textures and flavors and the “heating” and “cooling” properties of ingredients. Dishes are served in their respective seasons to provide contrast in temperature as well as spiciness. For example:
Duck meat, considered “cool”, is served during the summer with ginger fish sauce, which is “warm.” Chicken, which is “warm”, and pork, which is “hot”, are eaten in the winter.
Seafood ranging from “cool” to “cold” is suitable to use with ginger (“warm”).
Spicy foods (“hot”) are typically balanced with sourness, which is considered “cool”.
Beauty in Balance
In the cooking process, chefs marinate and season foods in order to balance out all the flavors (sourness, heat, saltiness, and sweetness).
In particular, the Vietnamese have plenty of go-to flavorings, from different herbal leaves (like onion, mint, and dill) to fermented rice or homemade vinegar; from vegan spices (such as garlic, lemongrass, or galangal) to fish sauce. These diverse and flexible flavors create dishes that are not too sweet, too fat, or too hot.
The Vietnamese do not rely on oil or rare ingredients (as opposed to the Chinese), but rather harmony in flavors and nutrition from various local ingredients. The next time you try one of our dishes, notice the balance of flavors, the skill of our chefs, and how our food makes you feel.