Fermented foods have played an important role in Vietnamese cuisine. Mother Nature gives Vietnam lots of meat, fishes, shrimps, vegetables… Fermentation is a good way to process waste foods in many countries including Vietnam. Vietnamese fermented foods are not only delicious but also healthy. People in Vietnam can eat raw fermented foods or use them as dipping sauce, ingredients of many authentic traditional dishes. They make various Fermented foods from a wide range of fresh foods such as meat, shrimps, fishes, vegetables and tofu. Followings are some popular Vietnamese Fermented Foods:
1. Nem – Vietnamese fermented pork
Traditional Vietnamese fermented pork has sweet, sour, salty and spicy taste which please taste of many Vietnamese people. So that it has been a favorite of Vietnamese people for a long time. Vietnamese fermented pork is popular from North to South Vietnam. Recipes are different due to local preferences, ingredients and cooking methods. Lai Vung (Dong Thap province, South Vietnam), Thanh Hoa province (North Vietnam), Dong Ba (Hue, Central Vietnam) are famous for the best Vietnamese fermented pork recipes. Ingredient of this food are pork thigh, pork skin, garlic, spices and leaves. To make this food, the cook mix minced pork, shredded pork skin and others well. Then the cook wrap the mix in leaves (banana leaves, guava leaves…) into square piece or roll. Fermented pork is ready after 3-5 days. Nem chua is usually served with steamed rice, rice noodles, rice vermicelli sheets, wet cake and stuffed rice cake.
2. Mam tom and Mam ruoc – Fermented shrimp
Sauce from Fermented shrimp is a favorite dipping sauce in North Vietnam. Fermented shrimp sauce is the soul of famous Bun dau mam tom – a specialty food of Hanoi. To make Mam tom, Vietnamese cooks ground the mix of fresh shrimp, salt and store in a jar for about 6 months. To make Mam tom sauce, they beat Mam tom with lemon juice, sugar (optional), chili (optional) until it turns foamy.
While Mam tom is popular in North Vietnam, Mam ruoc is popular in Central and South Vietnam. Mam ruoc is a Vietnamese fermented foods from acetes – a kind of small shrimp. Mam ruoc has different taste and smell from Mam tom. Sauce from Mam ruoc is a favorite choice to dip boiled pork and vegetables. In addition, Mam ruoc is the key ingredient of delicious authentic Vietnamese foods such as Hue beef noodle soup.
3. Mam ca – Fermented fish
Fermented fish is popular in South Vietnam – kingdom of this kind of food. There are hundreds of kinds of Fermented fishes named after fishes. Although people in Chau Doc have created a lot of Fermented fish recipes, most of Fermented fishes are made by storing fishes, salt and other ingredients in an airtight jar for a few months. Vietnamese people can eat raw Mam with steamed rice or rice noodles, rice paper, herbs. They also use it to make dipping sauce or cook a wide range of tasty dishes. Rice noodles soup with Fermented fish paste and Braised pork with Fermented fish are specialty foods of Mekong Delta.
4. Mam ba khia – Fermented Sesarma mederi
Fermented Sesarma mederi has origin in Mekong Delta. To make Mam ba khia, they put washed Sesarma mederi into a jar with salt water, tighten the jar and dry for 7-10 days. Fermented sesarma mederi has red color and great smell. To eat, Vietnamese people shred sesarma mederi into half or quarters, add lemon juice, chili, sugar, Vietnamese mint, basil. In Kien Giang, they eat Mam ba khia with Stewed pumpkin and coconut milk.
5. Dua mam – Fermented baby melon
To make Fermented baby melon, they store baby melon slice, fish sauce, garlic in an airtight jar for 5-7 days. Fermented baby melon must be crunchy and salty. People in Central and South Vietnam usually mix this food with spices and eat with steamed rice.
Vietnamese fermented foods are favorite of locals but it may be strange to foreigners, especially Western people. These fermented foods could drive foreigners away because of their bad smell and taste. However, some foreigners have fallen in love with these foods, some like to eat dishes from fermented foods without knowing about them.
If you want to see, smell and taste them, you can join our Saigon Unseen Tour. We will have chance to go to many kind of local markets in Saigon where Saigoneses sell and buy these Vietnamese fermented foods.