Vietnam - A Fragrant Feast
They can be characterised by the emphasis placed on freshness, fragrance and lightness, with fresh herbs and salad plates that accompany most meals from breakfast down to their definitive shared dinner feasts.
The Vietnamese meal, as in several surrounding countries, aims to achieve a balance between the four crucial elements of taste.
Sweet, Sour, Hot and Salty, as well as offering a combination of different meats, seafood and vegetables to provide contrasting textures and flavours.
When planning a Vietnamese meal with a number of dishes, it is important to take all these elements into consideration, by providing a choice of "wet" dishes (those with a lot of liquid or sauce, such as soups) alongside "dry" dishes (such as char-grilled or deep-fried foods) to create a pleasing juxtaposition and a well rounded meal.
Traditionally for a family meal or for a small group of people, two or three dishes would be considered the absolute minimum, and would consist of a soup, a stir fried dish and a salad.
For a larger group, a wider selection of dishes is considered polite.
A good rule of thumb is to offer one dish per guest, or to double portions of a smaller selection of dishes.
In the north, etiquette generally dictates that larger servings of three to four different dishes must be offered, whereas in the south, smaller servings of a larger number of dishes is the norm, naturally with rice or rice noodles providing the heart of any meal.
As a guest, it is polite to take one serving of each dish (about one tablespoon at a time) and to sample each dish before having a second or third serving of the same dish.
It is impolite to refuse offerings of third or even fourth helpings.
This way, each person sharing the feast not only enjoys a nutritionally balanced meal, but one that is also aesthetically pleasing as well.
There is much that can be said about the Vietnamese, but what is certain is that culture and history have impacted heavily to what we see in the custom of the shared table in Vietnamese culture, even to this day.