Get these dishes on your side

By Ngoc Dinh   June 23, 2018 | 05:00 pm PT
Fermented or marinated veggies are perfect summer antidotes to hot, greasy dishes.

Ca phao or Pickled “firecracker” eggplant 

This dish, arguably the most familiar side dish in Vietnam, makes the perfect accompaniment for a summer lunch in Vietnam. The strong sweet, sour and spicy eggplants perfectly balance the greasy and salty taste of other dishes, specifically grill and fries. Vietnamese also eat this solely with white rice, for its salty taste further whets eaters’ appetize for another of bowl. The dish  is also a part of old Vietnamese cuisine, with various references to it in folk stories. 

The fresh eggplants are washed, deprived of their stalks, and put into closed jars full of salted water. Other spices like ginger or spices can be added to add the flavor. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

The fresh eggplants are washed, stalks removed and placed in sealed jars filled with salted water. Other spices like ginger can be added for greater flavor. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

Rau cai - Fermented greens - leaves of radish, mustard greens, etc.

This pickle made with a variety of leaves (not mixed) like that of the radish, leaves undergoes a similar marinating process as the eggplant. After being sliced into short pieces, they are soaked in salty water and compressed for days in closed containers. While eggplants strike you at the first bite with a strong sour and spicy taste, this fermented dish gently soothes the hotness of the main dish, freshening a sunny noon with its  salty sourness. The pickle is also used to make a fish soup with tomatoes.

Fermented vegetable. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

Fermented vegetable. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

Sung muoi

Sung (ficus racemosa), variety of fig, is another ingredient for making pickles. Sung stands out for its special tartness that some people say is an acquired taste. Fermented sung is a great companion for salty dishes. The making has never been easier: the fruit should be washed, soaked in water, salt and sugar, then compressed in closed jars, or even buckets, for a few days.

A  bowl of sung muoi. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

A  bowl of sung muoi. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

Du Du Ngam - Vinegar soaked papaya

If you are a Bun Cha enthusiast, vinegar-soaked raw papaya must be an old friend. Small triangle pieces of green papaya soaked in vinegar and a little sugar with a few chilli slices gently balance out the strong spices absorbed in the meat. The papaya pieces are usually soaked in vinegar for 15 minutes. Apart from Bun Cha, vinegar soaked papaya is also used in dipping sauce of spring rolls and other fries.

Bun Cha and sour papaya. Photo: VnExpress/Quynh Trang

Bun Cha and sour papaya. Photo: VnExpress/Quynh Trang

Muop Dang Ngam -  bitter gourd in spiced vinegar

Muop dang, or bitter gourd, is a summer vegetable whose taste, as the name suggests, is bitter, and therefore, not everyone's cup of tea. But for those who do favor it, the bitterness is uniquely awesome. The vegetable is sliced into cloud shaped pieces and soaked in vinegar with a dash of sugar and chilli. It is a great summer supplement for a meal, with the vinegar softening its bitterness, but not robbing the slices of their crunchiness. 

The soaked bitter melon. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

Bitter gourd slices soaked in vinegar. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

Kieu muoi or Fermented Kieu

Kieu (allium chinense) is a cousin of the green onion, and made for fermenting, Vietnamese connoiseurs will tell you. Usually, Kieu is placed in closed jars with sugar, salt, rice vinegar and garlic. The pickle has a pure white color with light sour taste and crunchy texture that goes well with many main dishes, but it really comes into full play during the Tet season, when it accompanies the banh chung (rice cake).

The final fermented product. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

Fermented Kieu. Photo: Ngoc Dinh

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