Food & Recipes - June 3, 2023 | 07:30 pm PT

10 Vietnamese salads that define freshness and bold flavors

Vietnamese salads, called goi in the south and nom in the north, are a symphony of flavors and textures. Here are 10 Vietnamese salads that reflect the country's culinary creativity and its emphasis on fresh, lively ingredients.

1. Goi ga mang cut (Mangosteen chicken salad)

Mangosteen chicken salad has gained immense popularity in the culinary world, emerging as a current food trend. This salad presents a twist on the traditional chicken salad. It combines tender shredded chicken, onions, carrots, laksa leaves, basil, and, most importantly, unripe mangosteen. The fusion of flavors is elevated with an assortment of fresh herbs, lime juice, and fish sauce.

A salad features chicken with yellow skin paired with tangy mangosteen and crisp vegetables. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy

While the ingredient list appears simple, the preparation of the unripe mangosteen poses a challenge. The green, unripe mangosteen has a thick skin and lots of sap, demanding lots of effort to extract its fruit meat. However, it is this tropical fruit that sets this chicken salad apart. The fruit itself is crisp with a combination of sweetness and subtle tanginess.

With every bite, the carrots provide a satisfying crunch, while the chicken skin adds a crispy texture. When you take a mouthful of everything, the flavors harmonize. This combination creates a refreshing, sweet and sour salad, making it a perfect option on hot summer days. It is worth noting that unripe mangosteen is exclusively available during the summer season. Therefore, if you're intrigued by this dish and eager to experience its unique flavors, you better try it soon before the season ends.

2. Goi xoai (Mango salad)

Mango salad captures the tropical essence of Vietnam, using green mangoes as its main ingredient. Green mangoes are not the same as ripe mangoes that are yellow and juicy. They are firm, tart, and slightly sour.

Goi xoai has a harmonious blend of sweet and sour flavors. Photo by VnExpress/Ha Thu

Goi xoai includes cooked shrimp, carrots, cucumber, red onion, mint, cilantro, basil, peanuts, and fried shallots. The dressing is made with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and chili. The salad is easy to make and can be customized with different vegetables and herbs according to your preference.

The salad, with its tangy, crunchy, sweet-sour, and spicy taste, is a healthy alternative to enjoy green mangoes – why just eat them plain or with salt and chili? In addition to cooked shrimp, dried shrimp can also be used in this dish. It is an easy dish to make for parties: it can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the fridge until ready to serve.

3. Goi buoi (Pomelo salad)

Goi buoi features pomelo as its star ingredient. These citrus fruits are akin to grapefruits but possess a sweeter and less-bitter taste. They have white or pink flesh, which is divided into segments. When you take a bite, the juicy sacs within the fruit burst in your mouth, providing a splash of flavor.

A vibrant pomelo salad. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy

To prepare goi buoi, the pomelo must be peeled, and the flesh separated into bite-sized segments. Other ingredients commonly found in this salad include fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, along with crunchy vegetables such as cucumber and carrots. Additional components may include cooked shrimp or chicken, roasted peanuts for a nutty crunch, and a tangy dressing made of fish sauce, lime juice, and a touch of sweetness.

The natural sweetness of the pomelo or oroblanco grapefruit is complemented by the tanginess of the dressing. Each bite provides a burst of juicy citrusy goodness, with the crunch of the vegetables and peanuts adds a textural element that enhances the overall experience. The salad is a perfect dish for family gatherings.

4. Goi bap cai (Cabbage salad)

Goi bap cai features shredded cabbage, carrots, onions, herbs and a protein of your choice, such as chicken, shrimp or pork. The salad is tossed with a fish sauce lime dressing that balances the sweetness of the vegetables.

Shrimp and purple cabbage salad. Photo by VnExpress/Tuyet Nguyen

Goi bap cai can be customized in different ways, depending on the region and personal taste. Some people like to sprinkle fried shallots or peanuts for extra crunch and aroma. Some people like to swap green cabbage for purple cabbage to add more color. Among the various protein options for the cabbage salad, shredded chicken is still my favorite. It adds a savory taste that does not overpower the cabbage flavor.

The key to making a delicious goi bap cai is to use fresh, crisp vegetables. Cabbage has a light, earthy flavor when eaten raw, so massaging the cabbage gently with the dressing can help them absorb the flavor and soften the vegetable slightly. You can also add some chillies to the dressing to create a well-balanced flavor between sweet, sour, salty and spicy.

5. Goi cu hu dua (Coconut tuber salad)

Coconut tuber salad, known as goi cu hu dua in Vietnamese, is a dish originally from the Mekong Delta region in southern Vietnam. Coconut tubers are the inner part of the coconut stem. To get the coconut tuber, the whole coconut tree has to be cut down, which makes it a rare and special ingredient.

Goi cu hu dua is often served with shrimp crackers. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Ky

Goi cu hu dua is made by thinly slicing the coconut tuber. The tuber slices are then soaked in ice-cold water, often with a touch of salt or lemon juice added to prevent browning. This technique helps maintain the tubers’ crisp texture over an extended period of time. The tubers are combined with carrots, onions, and a medley of aromatic herbs. The salad is further enhanced with the addition of either shrimp, pork belly, or chicken. To elevate the flavors, a sweet and sour fish sauce is drizzled over the salad. Normally, this salad is served as a starter or side dish alongside rice paper wrappers, fresh vegetables, and crispy shrimp crackers.

6. Goi du du (Green papaya salad)

Goi du du, also known as green papaya salad, is a Vietnam's beloved street food that can be found when you're strolling the streets of Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.

Green papaya salad is a popular street food that can be enjoyed as a snack or a light meal. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Ky

The star of this salad are thin strips of unripe green papaya, known for its crispness and slight tartness. Alongside the papaya, you'll often find beef jerky, carrots, fresh herbs like mint and basil, bean sprouts, and roasted peanuts. The finishing touch comes with a sweet fish sauce dressing drizzled over the salad, ensuring every ingredient is coated with its flavorful embrace.

The combination of papaya and carrots provides a refreshing and satisfying crunch, while the infusion of fragrant herbs adds aromatic nuances to the salad. What truly sets this dish apart is the inclusion of beef jerky. The jerky brings an additional depth of flavor, enhancing the overall taste experience and adding a touch of sweet and savory richness.

7. Goi rau muong (Water spinach salad):

Water spinach, known as rau muong in Vietnamese, is a leafy vegetable with long, hollow stems and tender leaves. It is also known as morning glory, and is a common ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Water spinach salad has a captivating green hue. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy

Water spinach is blanched briefly to maintain its crispness while removing bitterness. After blanching, it is then chilled in ice water to preserve its green color. Once cooled, it is combined with other ingredients such as Vietnamese coriander and mint, roasted peanuts, and sometimes shrimp or beef for added protein. The salad is typically dressed with a well-balanced mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and chili.

This dressing infuses the water spinach and accompanying ingredients with a sweet, and slightly spicy flavor. For a savory pairing, consider adding stir-fried beef to the salad. The salad’s refreshing taste makes it a popular choice, especially during the hot summer months when light dishes are preferred.

8. Goi ca trich (Herring salad)

Goi ca trich, also known as herring salad, originated in Vietnam's coastal regions. This salad showcases herring, a small and oily fish, renowned for its rich taste.

Raw herring fillets are cured with lime juice. The cured herring is then combined with sugar, fish sauce, black pepper, kumquat juice, sliced onion, and minced ginger. Thoroughly mixing the ingredients ensures a well-balanced blend of flavors. Finally, the salad is enriched with the addition of laksa leaves and roasted peanuts, providing a colorful and aromatic touch.

Herring salad comes with herbs, cucumber, rice paper rolls and dipping sauce. Photo by VnExpress/Huynh Nhi

The herring's tender and flaky texture adds a savory element to the salad. To enhance the flavor of the salad, a dipping sauce is prepared by combining minced chili garlic with roasted yellow peanuts. This mixture is then combined with fish sauce, a touch of sugar, and a squeeze of lime.

When enjoying the salad, diners can take a thin piece of rice paper and fill it with a combination of herbs, cucumber, and the herring salad. Then dip the roll into the sweet and sour dipping sauce.

9. Goi bap chuoi (Banana flower salad)

Banana flower salad showcases the vibrant colors of thinly sliced banana flowers and fresh herbs. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy

The star ingredient of this salad is the banana flower, which is the purple-red blossom of the banana tree. The flower is prepared by removing the outer layers to reveal the tender, edible inner layers. These layers are thinly sliced or shredded, creating a crisp and slightly fibrous texture. The shredded banana flower is combined with thinly sliced carrot, fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, and peanuts. The salad is generously dressed with a fish sauce dressing.

In some variations, the salad may include pork ears which are boiled until tender, and are sliced into thin, long, bite-sized pieces.

10. Goi sua (Jellyfish salad)

Jellyfish salad is one of the most interesting salads in Vietnam. This simple dish showcases the unique texture and taste of jellyfish.

A plate of jellyfish salad. Photo by VnExpress/Bui Thuy

The star ingredient of the salad is the jellyfish that is crispy and translucent. It is important to ensure proper processing to guarantee safety and enhance its texture. Alongside the jellyfish, the dish incorporates fresh components like cucumber, green papaya, carrots, and aromatic herbs such as mint and cilantro. The salad is topped with roasted peanuts and sesame seeds for extra crunch and nuttiness.

The combination of chewy and crunchy jellyfish with the refreshing vegetables and herbs creates an intriguing blend of textures for goi sua. It is commonly enjoyed as a light snack, particularly on hot summer days.