Vietnamese Food

One of the most satisfying experiences about a holiday to Vietnam has to be eating the amazing food. From high end restaurants to the ubiquitous street food stalls Vietnamese food is justifiably up there with best in the world. As well as being sumptuously tasty Vietnamese cuisine is also incredibly interesting, and this is mainly because every dish is built around the concept of aiming to balance the five fundamental tastes people are receptive to, and appeal to each of them.

The philosophy of the five basic tastes correlates to other philosophies in Vietnamese culture, and means that although the dishes you can experience vary a lot and are different in different parts of Vietnam, the principle of five is at the core of the design of all traditional Vietnamese meals and flavours.

What Are the Five Fundamental Tastes Used in Vietnamese Food?

There is nothing unusual or mystical about the five tastes Vietnamese food seeks to balance – in fact, they are exactly what you might expect if you have studied cooking of any origin:

  1. sweet
  2. sour
  3. salty
  4. bitter
  5. hot

Vietnamese ingredientsAlmost all cuisines play with different combinations of these tastes, although in a lot of traditional Western cuisines ‘hot’ is used less than the others, and many dishes focus most on the sweet and salty flavours. In Asian cooking, we see more combinations that include hot, sweet, salty, sour and bitter in a single meal, and you can find this as a feature of food from places like Thailand, China and Korea as well as Vietnam. The difference in Vietnamese food, however, is that not only are all five tastes widely used, they are also the guiding principle in the design of the dishes.

Colours and Senses
Vietnamese prawn salad

The five tastes aren’t the only set of five used in Vietnamese cuisine. Dishes are also ideally supposed to use the five colours that represent the elements, and appeal to all five senses. The five colours and what they relate to are:




  1. Red, representing fire
  2. Green, representing wood
  3. Yellow, representing earth
  4. White, representing metal
  5. Black, representing water

These elements and colours may seem a little different from western concepts, where we usually consider only four elements and would probably use blue to represent water, for example. However as you can see, these are all fairly easy colours to incorporate into food dishes as they appear a lot in nature.

For the senses, Vietnamese food aims to appeal to all five by using these approaches:

  1. The balance of five tastes to appeal to the sense of taste
  2. Aromatic herbs and spices to appeal to the sense of smell
  3. Food eaten with the hands to appeal to the sense of touch
  4. Attractive food arrangements to appeal to the eyes
  5. Crispy textures to appeal to the ears

Regional Differences
Vietnam Local MarketThe most truly traditional use of Vietnamese cuisine is found in the northern part of Vietnam, where fewer ingredients are used and the cooking style has not really been changed from its original principles. This is where you will find famous Vietnamese dishes like pho and bahn cuon at their most authentic. In the south, the food has been more influenced by Chinese cooking styles, and tends to be sweeter, and also uses a larger range or spices, herbs and other flavours. The central Vietnam region has its own distinct style of cuisine, too, where small dishes tend to be served rather like tapas, and food is usually spicier.

Vietnamese cuisine is delicious, and is sure to delight anyone who loves the cooking styles of Asia. Wherever you go in Vietnam, be sure to experience as much traditional cuisine as you can, and look at how the five tastes, colours and senses have been used in the foods you discover.

To learn more about discovering Vietnamese food and other experiences travelling Vietnam contact our experts at Portfolio Travel

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