Inside the Vietnamese pantry – The Denver Post

Yes, you too can cook Vietnamese food! Just pick up the basics.

Looked at one way, the entirety of the basics of Vietnamese cooking are four in number: sour, salt, sweet and chile heat.

For sour, Vietnamese cooks use the acidity of several foods such as rice or white vinegar, lime juice, tamarind, even the tartness of lemongrass. Salt comes by way of both soy and fish sauces and from the country’s predilection for Maggi brand seasoning, but also after salt is used to cook other foods such as pork shoulder or roast chicken that, in turn, become players in things such as banh mi sandwiches or rice noodle bowls.

The sweetness in Vietnamese cooking is almost always mere palm or cane sugar — and it is ubiquitous — but it also arrives via coconut milk and is the mark of the country’s famed sweetened condensed cow’s milk, itself used for desserts and the well-known coffee preparation. Chile heat? That fire of capsaicin oil? Exclamation points throughout Viet eating, and pho on and pho on.

But more important is the interplay of these four basics, often in a single dish. Like much of Asian cooking, what is most important are the yin and yang of salt beside sweet, acidity with saltiness, hot with cool.