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Herbs used in Vietnamese cuisine

Updated on August 10, 2014

Fragrant herb is vital in Vietnamese cooking. It adds flavour, aroma and layer to your senses. It makes deadly simple and bland dishes become subtle beautiful.

To learn Vietnamese cooking, you must learn to use Vietnamese herbs along with rice cooking, fish sauce, cooking techniques and few other things. This post is going to share with just that.

The chart above are popular Vietnamese herbs.

The pink font area, are herbs and spices can be used to season food.
The black font area, are herbs can be used both to season and accompany food.
The green font area are table salad herbs or fragrant herbs.

When used herb for seasoning food, to retain the freshness and aroma we only add herbs at the very end of the cooking process. We even turning off the heat first. High heat would ruin herbs' colour and fragrant.

How to use Vietnamese herbs

We use herbs to give final touch to cooked dishes and to accompany main dishes, the later are raw herbs having its space in dining table, we call it rau thơm. Rau means vegetable and thơm means fragrant. If you are wondering why rau means vegetable? It's because Vietnamese people use the word rau for both vegetables and fragrant herbs .It's obvious that people named it as thơm for its magical fragrant to distinguish its from other vegetables.

So there are two ways of using Vietnamese herbs but their combinations are unlimited. When you are familiar with the basic you could go and experiment yourself. In this hub, I will only introduce some simple and timeless combinations to make your first step easier.

Seasoning herbs:
Pork: spring onion
Fish: dill, spring onion
Clam, oyster and alike: Vietnamese mint, spring onion
Duck& muscovy Duck: sawtooth herbs, spring onion
Chicken: lime leaves, Vietnamese mint
Congee: perilla, spring onion
tofu: spring onion, sawtooth herbs (maybe)
stir-fried dish: spring onion +
in cooked dish, spring onion goes with almost dishes, alone or with other herbs.

Fragrant herbs
pork: spearmint
duck: Thai basil, sawtooth herb
Goat: Thai basil
In table salad, lettuce and coriander are the base, they go with almost everything.

Hanh hoa - scallion
Hanh hoa - scallion | Source

Hành hoa - scallion

Seasoning herb
Hanh hoa - spring onion/scallion.

The mighty garnishing-seasoning herb, goes with almost every dish: noodle, congee, stir-fry, sauté, stew and you name it.

Rau mui - coriander / cilantro
Rau mui - coriander / cilantro | Source

Rau mùi - coriander/cilantro

fragrant herb

If scallion goes with almost every cook dishes, cilantro is the core in the table salad.

Hung lui - spearmint
Hung lui - spearmint | Source

Húng lũi - spearmint

fragrant herb

People often mistake spearmint and peppermint. They look and smell quite similar only that spearmint's leaf is rounder at the top, less teeth, less sharp and has milder aroma.

In Vietnam, spearmint is more popular and goes with most dishes, especially fatty dish as boiled pork.

Interested fact: we brought spearmint from Vietnam and grew it here. After few years, it turned to peppermint.

Hung cho - Thai basil
Hung cho - Thai basil | Source

Húng chó - Thai basil

fragrant herb

Húng chó/húng quế/rau é/é quế - Thai basil/Asian basil.

Though not as popular as cilantro and spearmint, it has its irreplaceable in many dishes especially duck vermicelli noodle soup, black pudding, venison and goat. In the South, people also use Thai basil in side-dish for pho.

Rau ram - Vietnamese mint
Rau ram - Vietnamese mint | Source

Rau răm - Vietnamese mint


Rau răm - Vietnamese mint / Vietnamese coriander.

It goes very well with delicate or fishy dishes. A irreplaceable seasoning herb in clam noodle; missing it, the dish is only half good.

Thi la - dill
Thi la - dill | Source

Rau thì là - dill

seasoning herb, mainly

Thì là - dill.

Like fennel, dill goes so well with fish and seafood.

Other uses:

  • A strange but well combination, dilled and mince pork in fried pork-balls.
  • Seasoning canh sắn - cassava canh.

Mui tau - sawtooth herb
Mui tau - sawtooth herb | Source

Mùi tàu - sawtooth herb


Mùi tàu - sawtooth herb

It goes well with noodle especially pho and bamboo shoot noodle soup.

Tia to  - perilla
Tia to - perilla | Source

Tía tô - Perilla


Tía tô - Perilla/shiso(Japanese)/beefsteak

is irreplaceable in canh khoai sọ - jam canh and Cháo tía tô - perilla congee. It's also known for anti-cold effect.

Kinh gioi - Vietnamese balm
Kinh gioi - Vietnamese balm

Kinh giới - Vietnamese balm

fragrant herbs

Kinh giới - Vietnamese balm, green perila.

It goes well with bún riêu-crab noodle, bún ốc - snail noodle and bún đầu mắm tôm.

And here is how we keep them fresh longer.

How to keep fresh herbs fresh longer


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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      When we were in hanoi, we enjoyed all these herbs. This Veitnamese practice of placing a plate or bowl of fresh greens and herbs with each meal is one we continue to practice.

    • huyenchi profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from London - Hanoi

      Hi nifwlseirff, Thank you for dropping by and for your comment. Thai basil seed is quite easy to find in Asian Market, actually, it used to make dessert and very good for eyes, search for h?t é. Perilla is a bit more difficult to find but when you sow it, it grows strong as weed. About coriander, I know, last week I reaped it and as we ran out of newspaper (and mostly because I was lazy), after 2-3 days, it gone bad but the last time, I kept it in the fridge for 3 weeks. The culprits are the air and moisture and temperature.

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 

      7 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      I wish I could find Thai basil and perilla here, but I have yet to find seeds, let alone any fresh herbs in the stores. Thanks for the storage tip for cilantro - I almost never buy a bunch because it doesn't keep well (and I don't use the whole bunch in most of my recipes).


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