Authentic Vietnamese Cooking is Easy When You Stock These Ingredients

Every cuisine has pantry items that are absolutely essential for getting those authentic tastes. Learn all about staples of Vietnamese food and start cooking Vietnamese meals at home!

  • By Brittany Yamamoto-Taylor
  • June 21, 2022

Vietnamese cuisine is a vast treasure trove of delicious yet surprisingly healthy foods with a side of potent condiments. If you aren’t too familiar with Vietnamese food outside of an occasional order of phở, that’s okay. You will learn a lot about the basics as we walk you through the staples of Vietnamese food and how to use them. By the end of our free PDF Vietnamese Pantry Staples Guide, you’ll be on your way to whipping up a comforting noodle soup, hearty salad entrée, delectable dumplings wrapped in leaves, or fresh summer rolls.

Before we get into the specific Vietnamese pantry items to have on hand, we have to note that a key aspect that makes Vietnamese cuisine so delicious is how it manages balance. The five elements of water, wood, fire, earth, and metal are significant throughout East and Southeast Asian culture. That has led to Vietnamese food often featuring a harmonious balance of five tastes: salty (water), sour (wood), bitter (fire), sweet (earth), and spicy (metal). These elements give Vietnamese cuisine its unique flare, and you will notice them pop up in our Vietnamese Pantry Staples Guide.

Now onto the guide!


Vietnamese Pantry Staples

Now that you know all of the pantry items to stock up on for Vietnamese cooking, we want to give you a list of some of the fresh staples of Vietnamese food. One of the things that makes Vietnamese meals healthier than those of many cuisines is that they use a ton of fresh herbs and vegetables. Since there are so many (and many that may be new to you!), we want to help you out by explaining some of the common herbs and veggies used to add flavor, texture, and nutrients to Vietnamese food.

Fragrant Herbs

Fresh herbs are absolutely vital staples of Vietnamese food. In fact, there is often a basket of fresh herbs on the table in Vietnamese restaurants that diners utilize by snipping off sprigs and adding them to their bowls or plates of food. Here is a list of 10 herbs commonly used as garnishes and to give abundant flavor to salads, rolls, soups, noodle dishes, stews, and more: 

  • Vietnamese cilantro / Vietnamese coriander / rau răm: resembles mint, but has a peppery, zingy, citrusy flavor; use in many dishes, especially with seafood
  • Cilantro / coriander / rau mùi: use in many dishes like bánh mì sandwiches, phở, and salads
  • Thai basil / rau quế / húng quế: purple-stemmed basil of Southeast Asia with an anise-like flavor and slightly spicy hit; use in many dishes, including phở
  • Lemongrass: use in sauces, marinades, and stir-fries
  • Culantro / ngò ga: long, serrated leaves taste like a more potent cilantro; often cooked in dishes and broths
  • Rice paddy herb / ngò om: long, serrated leaves with a citrusy and cumin-like flavor and scent; especially common in Southern Vietnamese food
  • Shiso / perilla / tía tô: large, fan-shaped leaves with an earthy flavor; try in bánh xèo sizzling crêpes, summer rolls, or bún chả pork and noodles
  • Mint: Vietnam has dozens of mint varieties, including peppermint, spearmint, and hung cay spicy peppermint; add to fresh rolls, salads, and to complement pork and shrimp
  • Chinese chives / hẹ: similar to green onions, which you can substitute; use in phở, fresh rolls, and bánh xèo sizzling crêpes
  • Vietnamese lemon balm / rau kinh giới: serrated, lemony-flavored leaves; use to flavor meat dishes, soups, and salads

Fresh Vegetables

The other staples of Vietnamese food are fresh veggies. Meals often use both raw vegetables (rau sống) or sliced vegetables (rau ghém). From savory stir-fries to fresh summer rolls, these 10 vegetables are commonly used in Vietnamese meals.

  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Radish
  • Lettuce: Vietnam uses several types of lettuce, including Vietnamese lettuce (xà lách), loose-leaf lettuce (xà lách lô lô), and butterhead lettuce (xà lách mỡ); substitute with any available lettuce; use for salads and wraps
  • Mung bean sprouts / gia do: long, crunchy white sprouts; use in fresh rolls, bánh xèo sizzling crêpes, and soups
  • Water spinach / water morning glory / rau muống: subtle flavor with crunchy texture and usually shredded into thin, green curls; often stir-fried or used in noodle soups
  • Bitter melon / bitter gourd / khổ qua / mướp đắng: an oblong fruit with crunchy, watery texture, bitter flavor, and warty skin; use in bitter melon soup, stuff with ground pork, or eat with dried meat 
  • Chayote fruit / mirliton / su su: crispy, green gourd; use in sautés, stir-fries, and soups

Quick and Easy Vietnamese Recipes to Try 

Now that you know all about the pantry essentials and fresh staples of Vietnamese food, we want to get your imagination going with a few of our favorite Vietnamese-inspired recipes.

You can learn how to make our Shrimp Vermicelli Bowl with Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce for free and also get a taste of the delicious yet beginner-friendly meals we have as a part of our weekly meal plan service, including a couple dozen Vietnamese dishes in our Recipe Archives, including:

Slow Cooker Chicken Pho with Carrots and Bok Choy

The key to delicious Vietnamese phở is the fragrant broth that comes from simmering aromatics and spices low and slow, which makes this a great recipe to adapt to the slow cooker. Bean sprouts, carrots, and bok choy add delectable textures and colors to this easy meal that is Instant Pot–friendly and perfect for making big batches to freeze for a quick, comforting meal during a busy week.

Vietnamese Pork Chop with Spicy Cucumbers, Asparagus, and Ginger Rice

Classic Vietnamese flavors are folded into all the layers of this meal — from the marinade, to rice, to spicy pickled cucumbers served on top. Ready in under an hour and with instructions for both the grill and stovetop, this delectable meal is great for any time of year.

Banh Mi Tofu Tacos with Pickled Vegetables and Pineapple Smoothie

We love the flavor and crunch of a Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich so much that we couldn’t resist turning it into Asian-inspired tacos! In just 35 minutes, sweet tofu, tangy pickled vegetables, and creamy Sriracha mayo combine to make this an addictively flavorful meal that vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will love.

Vietnamese Pork Burger Fusion with Carrot Slaw and Sriracha Mayo

In this inventive recipe, the bánh mì sandwich meets the classic burger. Cook up a pork patty full of Vietnamese flavors, top it with spicy sriracha mayo and tangy homemade pickles, then serve it up with a side of carrot slaw. You can make this fun burger on the stovetop or over a grill and pull the recipe out any time you want a tasty, low-calorie dinner.

Now that you know all about the essential Vietnamese pantry items and ideas for ways to put ingredients to delicious use, you’re about ready to take the plunge into all things Vietnamese cooking, right? If you want super accessible, step-by-step recipes (with videos!), you can sign up for a free 14-day trial of our meal plan service and try out all of our Vietnamese recipes in original, gluten-free, vegetarian, and even paleo versions.

If this Vietnamese Pantry Staples Guide has been useful to you, check out our Thai, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese Pantry Staples Guides, too. You can also stay tuned for more infographics and how-to articles by signing up for our weekly email below.


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