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At first glance a plate of Vietnamese food might look a lot like Chinese food, but that impression will disappear after the first taste. In fact, the essence of Vietnamese cuisine may be best understood in contrast to Chinese food. Politically Vietnam spent centuries resisting the dominance of Chinese culture, and that resistance finds full expression in Vietnamese food.
Where the Chinese love to use generous portions of peanut and sesame oil, the Vietnamese go to incredible lengths to avoid using any oil whatsoever. Where the Chinese love to stir-fry and deep-fry, the Vietnamese prefer to simmer, steam or eat food raw.
Virtually everything about Vietnamese food is light and delicate, with lemongrass, shallots, scallions, mint, coriander, and the subtle nuoc mam sauce taking the place of Chinese bean pastes, ginger, sugar, vinegar, cornstarch and soy sauce.
While rarely appearing at a Chinese table, fresh, uncooked vegetables and salads are an integral part of most Vietnamese meals. Even the Vietnamese pancakes, used to roll up spiced meats, shredded vegetables, and fruits for dipping, are different. They are made of rice flour and pounded so thinly you can read the newspaper through them.
As the French, who took a brief turn learning about the indomitable Vietnamese spirit, say, Vietnamese cooking is the nouvelle cuisine of Asia.
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