When talking about Vietnamese food, many people think of Pho or Banh Mi, because they are so popular in cuisine and people’s life.
However, the traditional dishes often appear in the ancestor’s worshipping or during the Lunar New Year holidays, and these foods are bold in Vietnamese culture.
In this article, Vietnamdrive will guide you to traditional Vietnamese dishes with their cultural meanings to get deeper feelings about them.
Banh Chung bears bold traditions in Vietnam, always at the top of the list of must-have dishes in Tet holidays. The Banh Chung has a square shape, symbolizing the earth according to the conception of the ancient Vietnamese.
The main ingredients of the cake are made from glutinous rice, pork, and mung beans. These materials have the characteristics of the wet rice culture of the agricultural residents on the S-shaped land.
In the days near Tet, most families wrap Banh Chung to worship their ancestors. Working together to pack these cakes helps family members closer together. Therefore, Banh Chung also has great significance in creating the solidarity and reunion of the Vietnamese people.
Banh Tet has a round shape like a pillar, and its ingredients as well as Banh Chung, including sticky rice, pork, and green beans.
If Banh Chung is square, symbolizing the earth, Banh Tet has a round cylinder, symbolizing the sky, like yin and yang in Vietnamese cultural and feng-shui conception.
Banh Tet is used to worship the ancestors on the Lunar New Year, but many people also make this dish every day because of its convenience and ability to carry it easily.
Pickle (Dua Kieu)
Pickle is an indispensable side dish with Banh Chung during Tet in Vietnam.
Pickle is made from roots and fruits, such as long leeks, carrots, radishes, red onions, and papaya. All ingredients are chopped, wilted, and soaked in the fish sauce with sugar.
If Banh Chung and Banh Tet have cold colors, then the bright red melon from carrots and papaya will be like flower buds decorating an ancestral worship tray to be fresh, eye-catching, and more cheerful.
The perfect combination of pickle and Banh Chung will create the yin and yang harmony in the culture of Vietnamese meals. Soft Banh Chung represents yin, crisp and bright pickle represents yang. It is the perfect balance in life that the ancients want to send to new generations and descendants today.
Sour meatball (Nem Chua)
Nem Chua is a traditional dish in Vietnam that many people love to taste. The main ingredients are fermented raw meat.
Nem Chua comes from pork or beef, taking advantage of the yeast of some leaves and sour rice to ripen, creating a very attractive sour taste. Currently, some places also use yeast to ferment it faster.
To make a sour meatball, people choose good pork, crush it, and add spices such as sour rice (possibly yeast), salt, pepper, chili, sugar, lots of garlic … mixed with pork skin.
Then, the workers wrap this mixture with leaves of plants such as guava leaves, fig leaves, ming aralia leaves… depending on the locality. The outside has a thick layer of banana leaves, and keep them for about 3-5 days to become Nem Chua that can be eaten.
A lot of people like to use Nem Chua when drinking alcohol or beer. Therefore, this is a very popular dish in local pubs in Vietnam.
The leaves of the tree such as guava, ming aralia … are also good herbs for the body. Using leaves available in the garden for food processing makes the dish more delicious and better is also one of the features in Vietnamese agricultural culture.
Meatpie (Cha Lua)
When it comes to traditional Vietnamese dishes, Cha Lua is indispensable in that list. It’s because the way of making this meat-pie is only available in Vietnam. And, in this beautiful country, you can see a high level of processing pork into a tasty dish.
Cha Lua has the main ingredient of pureed lean pork meat with pepper, seasoning, red onion, garlic, and sugar. The mixture is then wrapped in a banana leaf with a round cylinder and boiled for about 2 hours.
Cha Lua appears in most parties, ancestors worship tray. This dish can also be stored for a long time, so it is very convenient for Vietnamese people in many areas, especially in rural areas, where very few people have a refrigerator to keep food.
Cha Lua is also a favorite dish on the tables when drinking. Just with little pork pies, no need to cook anything more, and a few glasses of beer, friends can sit and talk together. Therefore, Cha Lua can also be seen as a very handy “Vietnamese fast food”.
Fried spring rolls (Cha Gio)
It is unknown since when spring rolls have become a traditional dish in Vietnam. And, the locals make them treat international friends as a way to introduce the typical flavor of the Vietnamese cuisine.
Spring roll in Vietnamese is Cha Gio, also called nem rán (fried spring roll), chả ram, chả cuốn. It is a typical dish of Vietnamese people, available in all different regions in Vietnam. Just with a little difference, each area will have its own variation according to the local ingredients.
But the common point is that these ingredients, after preliminary processing, will be mixed with spices and packed in a thin piece of rice paper, fried for golden, fragrant, and crunchy, eaten with sweet and sour sauce, Vietnamese herbs, and lettuce.
Spring roll usually has a small cylinder to keep it evenly, making the fillings stay stable inside, and doesn’t come out. With the traditional spring roll recipe, many people can creatively cook their own versions as well as choose from different rice paper wrappers including plain, or mung bean ones.
Freshly fried spring rolls will have a crispy outer layer, and inside soft and sweet, giving it an interesting taste to enjoy.
Fried spring rolls are a dish with solemn and noble meaning. The combination of different raw ingredients makes the spring roll as a symbolic meaning of the solidarity, love, and mutual support of the Vietnamese people.
Sticky rice and sweet soup (Xoi Che)
Xoi Che is actually two different dishes: Xoi cooked from sticky rice, sometimes with beans; Che from glutinous rice, glutinous flour, or beans and especially sugar to become sweet.
On the tray to worship ancestors on Tet usually have the Xoi Che dishes. This food shows fullness and warmth, in which, Che has an elegant, sweet flavor to offer the respects to grandparents, to treat children and grandchildren, to wish the family always reunited and happy.
In particular, in the traditional culture of the Vietnamese people, on a full month ritual ceremony, sticky rice and sweet soup are a must-have offering, with many meanings for a bright, successful, peaceful, and smooth future for babes in the future. The full month ceremony or stopping-cradle ceremony of the babies will include 12 small pieces of Xoi Che for 12 Tien Nuong (mothers) and another big set for Ba Mu Thien Thai (the head mother).
Mooncake is popular not only in Vietnam but also in many Asian countries though it originates in China. However, when coming to Vietnam, this cake has a different meaning and is considered as one of the traditional dishes every full moon festival in the eighth lunar month.
At the full moon festival, people often give mooncakes to each other with the meaning of wishing everything in life to be perfect. So, the mooncakes are gifts of pure value indispensable in the Mid-Autumn Festival.
In Vietnam, there are two types of cakes: grilled mooncakes and sticky mooncakes.
The sticky mooncake is made from pure white glutinous flour stuffed with sugar and fragrant grapefruit perfume, cast in a round wooden or plastic mold. Its inside part has lotus seeds or mashed mung beans, bringing the character of Vietnam. The circle of the cake shows the moon shape, the ivory white color has the meaning of “family reunification” and especially the close love between husband and wife.
The grilled cake consists of two parts: the crust and the filling. The crust is made of sticky rice flour mixed with eggs and a little wine, filling can be made with green beans, taro or lotus seeds, and salted egg yolks with a scent of vanilla or durian. Besides, the mixed filling can include plenty of things, such as pork, bird’s nest, coconut, watermelon seeds, lotus, squash…
The circle of cakes or in the filling is a sign of fullness. The salty taste of salted eggs combined with the sweetness of other ingredients, which reminds us of different sides of life, no matter how much bitterness we experience every day, there are relatives by our side, protecting and giving us the sweetness of the love. Like a mooncake, there is sweetness in the savory, creating a strong flavor of life.
In addition to the above food, Vietnam has many other dishes that are also considered traditional cultural ones. However, due to the limitation of the article, Vietnamdrive only introduces you to the most typical traditional dishes.
Understanding the Vietnamese culture and meanings behind each traditional dish will help you feel and love Vietnam more when you taste them or travel to this beautiful land.
Come to Vietnam and try some of these traditional dishes!