what we can learn from vietnamese meals
A Tale of Two Barbecues
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In the Vietnamese neighborhood near us, I'm so in love with one restaurant there that I suggest it every single time my husband and I want to eat dinner out. It's authentic, fragrant, and the English translations on the menu are sometimes hard to understand. My kind of place! Though I try to vary what I order there each time we go, I just end up going back to the same perfect dish.
Their "BBQ Pork Chop" plate has barbecued pork, cucumber, pickled cabbage, carrots, and steamed rice served with homemade fish sauce. The pork is fatty and just a little sweet from the marinade, and that fatty sweetness gets balanced out by the acidity of the pickled veggies and the salty, fishy fish sauce. My husband has ordered Vietnamese cold vermicelli plates that are similar to this, and we both love pho with its rich broth contrasted by the crisp bean sprouts and basil. We think this cuisine is so beautiful and completely genius because every ingredient has its place, and they all work together to create a meal that's complex and diverse in taste and nutrients!
Being Memphians, we do occasionally get the craving for some American BBQ. Smoked meat is one of the greatest things ever invented, but I recently noticed how ridiculously one-note our meals can be at BBQ places. What are some staples of these restaurants? (Of course, sides and styles vary from region to region). The meat, mac and cheese, greens, baked beans, and coleslaw are the first things that come to my mind. Servings are usually then divided into a mammoth portion of meat with a lot of starch (here in Memphis, it's Wonder Bread), then a 1/2 cup of side. I usually go for the mac and cheese and greens if I'm feeling really crazy. And afterwards a lot of post-indulgence bloating and groaning.
so what's the point?
BBQ certainly doesn't epitomize healthy eating, but I think many of our everyday meals have come to look just as unbalanced without our noticing. We fill half of our plate with a piece of beef or chicken, sometimes fish, and round it out with a small portion of some obligatory and usually boring vegetable. Not only does this kind of eating get monotonous, it's also not conducive to getting a wide variety of nutrients. So here's what we can do to fix it, taking some pointers from Vietnamese cuisine:
- Get creative with veggies
Steaming everything is kinda lame. Experiment with sautéing, blanching, roasting, and pickling. Use spices! And butter! Try it raw and cooked. Which do you like better? Look for vegetables with the tops still on, like turnips and carrots, and see what you can make with them. I promise there's an endless number of recipes and experiments you can try so you'll never be bored.
- Cut down on the meat
Seriously. I love a good steak or chicken as much as anyone, but I've learned that an oversized portion is hard on my budget, can make me feel way too full, and definitely isn't necessary if I've loaded my plate with delicious vegetables and some quinoa, rice, etc.
- Look for ways to add in some fermented vegetables or condiments
Fermentation is a centuries-old process that we still use to make such recognizable things as sauerkraut, miso, chocolate, cheese, and so much more. All of these things have their own unique health benefits, from dark chocolate's polyphenols to sauerkraut's vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium, but a huge uniting benefit of fermented foods is their probiotic power-their ability to grow and diversify your gut microbiome (the wonderful bacteria in your GI tract). If you want to give Vietnamese food a try at home, traditionally fermented fish sauce is definitely a must-have in my kitchen, especially for making broths. I recommend Red Boat brand, but there's a lot of other choices out there. Just be sure to check the label, as the only ingredients should be anchovies and salt!