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The Wonder of Vietnamese Pickles, Side Dishes, and Dipping Sauces


Vietnamese cuisine has long been famous for the interesting coordination of flavors within one dish. This special feature not only stems from various relishes but also the pickles and the side dishes. In this blog, we will introduce to you how Vietnamese pickles and side dishes are made, in addition to different kinds of dipping sauces that are popular in Vietnamese cuisine.

Vietnamese Pickles

There are thousands of kinds of pickles in Vietnam. They differ in terms of ingredients, the way we make them and how we enjoy them. Various ingredients can be used to make pickles. Basically, they are vegetables such as carrot, daikon, cabbage, broccoli, cucumber, etc. These ingredients will be soaked into a mixture of water, vinegar or fish sauce, sugar, and sometimes chilies.

vietnamese pickles

Jars of Vietnamese pickles

Talking more specifically about how to make Vietnamese pickles, there are two ways. The basic difference between them is the time needed for the pickle to be available to serve and the primary flavor of it.

The first type is the instant pickle. This kind of pickle is made in a short period of time, usually within a day. Although it is slightly sour, it tastes hot and super spicy. It gives you the feeling that is similar to when you try wasabi. Some popular ingredients for this type of pickle are carrot, daikon, and cabbage. They are often sliced thin so that the mentioned mixture of vinegar and fish sauce can be absorbed fast.

dua cai

Instant cabbage pickle

The second type is the normal pickle. This kind requires a longer time of preparation. Perhaps because of this reason, it takes longer to expire as well. While instant pickle takes you on a roller-coaster of flavor, normal pickle gives you gentler but also more intense flavor. Since it takes longer, about 2 – 3 days, for this type of pickle to be ready to eat, the ingredients sometimes leave unsliced. They will be only cut into bite-sized pieces when they are served. If you want something sour you can go choose pickles of carrot and daikon (do chua), small leeks (cu kieu), mustard cabbage (dua cai), bean sprouts (dua gia), or papaya (du du ngam). But if you want something spicy and salty, you will have to try the fish sauce pickles of carrot and daikon (dua mon) or garden eggplants (ca phao).

dua cai 2 dua mon

A dish of dua cai and dua mon

Vietnamese Side Dishes and Vietnamese Dipping Sauces

To enhance the flavor of the main dishes, there must be exceptional side dishes and dipping sauces. Below, we will take you on a tour of two popular side dishes which are pickled garlic and carrot and daikon pickles and three popular dipping sauces which are the classic dipping sauce, soy chili dipping sauce, and ginger dipping sauce.

Pickled garlic is often served with "hu tieu" to boost the flavor of this beloved dish in southern Vietnam. You can also put it in other kinds of noodles if you want something sour. Pickled garlic is very simple to make. First, you slice the garlic and prepare chili. After that, boil the mixture of water, vinegar and sugar then add sliced garlic and chili in and boil for 5 more minutes. Leave it cool then pour it into a jar and keep in a cool and dry place. It can be used for several weeks.

toi muoi

Pickled garlic

The main ingredients of carrot and daikon pickle are apparently carrot and daikon. These ingredients will be first cut crosswise then mixed with salt and sugar. Next, use your hands to toss them until they are well coated. After that, you rinse them with cool water and leave them to drain well. Lastly, put carrot and daikon in a clean jar, pour the mixture of warm water, vinegar and sugar into the jar, seal it, refrigerate it and leave it there overnight. It would last 4 – 6 weeks in the refrigerator. This kind of pickle is widely known as an indispensable part of "banh mi". Besides, you can eat it together with whatever dishes you like. Vietnamese people often eat it with grilled or fried food such as fried spring roll, "bun thit nuong", broken rice, etc.

do chua

Carrot and daikon pickle

Other than pickles as side dishes, Vietnamese also have various optional ingredients to put in their foods such as fresh herbs, poached vegetables such as bean sprouts, fried shallots, roasted peanuts, and slices of hot chili peppers.

The classic dipping sauce is a perfect combination of 4 flavors: sour, salty, sweet, and spicy. Let’s take a look at its ingredients. The sour is attributed to lemon juice, sweet comes from sugar, spicy from chili and salty from fish sauce. In this kind of sauce, garlic and chili will be finely chopped then mix with water, sugar, lemon juice, and fish sauce. You stir the mixture until the sugar completely dissolved. This is perfect dipping sauce to serve with "bun thit nuong" or you can simply eat it with any kind of noodles, especially "bun". It can be served with spring roll, Banh xeo, and many other dishes as well.

mam ot

Sweet and sour fish sauce with chili

Another popular dipping sauce in Vietnam is soy chili dipping sauce. This one can replace the classic dipping sauce if you are a vegan. It is a mixture of soy sauce, lemon juice, and sugar. You can add chili if you are a fan of spicy food. An upgrade of this version is the hoisin sauce. After adding some peanut butter, you must cook this mixture until thickened. The lightly sweet, nutty, and creamy texture will go great with rolls of "bo bia" or summer rolls.

nuoc tuong

Chili soy sauce

The last but extraordinary one is the ginger dipping sauce. The main ingredient of this sauce is finely crosswire sliced ginger, chopped garlic and chili dipping in a mixture of water, sugar, and lemon juice like other kinds of sauce. The ginger dipping sauce is often served with boiled snails, boiled duck, stewed beef, or boiled cuttlefish. It helps balance the flavors of the meal.

mam gung

Ginger fish sauce

Besides these classic dipping sauce, you may come across some special sauces like mam tom (shrimp fermented paste) in "bun dau mam tom", mam nem (sour fish fermented sauce) accompanying the summer rolls, mam ruoc or kho quet (cooked shrimp fermented sauce) with the vegetables, lime-pepper-and-salt sauce or the sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce which go great with the boiled seafood. You can replace or eat without these Vietnamese dipping sauces if you can't stand their smell but it would be an incomplete taste.

vietnamese dipping sauce shrimp paste

Shrimp paste

vietnamese dipping sauce tamarind

Tamarind sauce

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Summary of the Wonder of Vietnamese Pickles, Side Dishes, and Dipping Sauces

Vietnamese cuisine is among the most interesting and engaging cuisine in the world. This is not only because of the local fresh ingredients but also because of an array of pickled and side dishes, which are perfect companions of many main dishes. Above are some of the popular Vietnamese pickle and side dishes. Remember to try all of them when you visit Vietnam or join our local tour guides on our food tour in Ho Chi Minh City.

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Guest - Alyssa Foster on Saturday, 26 October 2019 15:20

Those side dishes are perfect with some beer

Those side dishes are perfect with some beer
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Thursday, 01 June 2023

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