The food of Vietnam is often a delightfully memorable surprise for many who visit the country, with guests often enthusiastically extolling its virtues and, for this reason, many returning visitors will often include a cooking class or two to better understand the flavour nuances and philosophies involved.

Characterised by extensive use of herbs, spices and their magic ingredient, fish sauce, a pungent and salty liquid made from anchovies, which underpins a great many Vietnamese dishes, the finest quality version of which is produced in Phu Quoc Island, offshore from Vietnam’s most southerly point.

Freshness is the key ingredient, which governs the delicate balancing act, utilising herbs such as several Vietnamese Mints, including Fish Mint, Garlic Chives, Galangal, Ginger, Saigon Cinnamon, Chilli, Cassia, Star Anise, Rice-paddy Herb, Betel Leaf, Mustard Leaf, Amaranth, Water Spinach, Young Coconut juice, Lemongrass, Lime Leaf, Perilla Leaf, Black Cardamom, Green Onions, Dill, Asian Basil and Cilantro, just some of the armoury which form the basis of flavour elements combined with Noodles, Rice, Mung Beans, Fruits, Pork, Chicken, beef and other exotic meats, vegetables, seeds, nuts, salads, fish and seafood.

Vietnam’s geographical elongation and historic cultural heritage gives rise to distinct variations in the traditional recipes.

Northern food is generally subtler, lighter and less spicy, and is characterised by classic northern dishes such as Bun Rieu, Bahn Cuon, Pho Ga, Cha Ca La and Bun Cha.  

In central Vietnam, the food is immediately spicier, and more ornate, presented in a complexity of small dishes derived from the Royal cuisine of Hue, from the time of the last ruling dynasty of Vietnamese Emperors, who ruled from this region, and whose chefs prepared classic Hue dishes such as Bun Bo Hue and Bahn Khoai.

Vietnam’s southern cuisine is innately less spicy than Hue cuisine, but also much sweeter that its northern cousin, and makes much use of the Mekong Delta’s rich agricultural blessings, with traditional flavours enhanced through the additional use of sugar and coconut milk.

Away from the restaurants, and to those in the know, Vietnam abounds with plentiful street food sampling opportunities, many of which can be as deliciously unique as any to be found on 'a la carte' menus.