Cooking with Flowers in Vietnamese Dishes
Vietnam is known for its unique food culture, as well as for the use of exotic animals and plants in its local dishes. These can range from pig blood cubes, to chicken feet, to dog, to half-grown eggs, to dried fish, to many things you would typically throw away but are actually edible. Not much goes to waste, and local cuisine is quite reliant on what is in season and available to buy from the market.
If you are traveling to Vietnam, it’s important to have an open mind about what you are eating. If you are looking to cook up a unique Vietnamese dish, forget the pho, banh mi sandwiches, and com tam.
Here are five different flowers you can use for cooking at home. You should be able to find most of these at a Vietnamese grocery store or your local farmer’s market.
Squash Blossoms (Bông Bí)
During Vietnamese summers, farmers pick the male blossoms to sell at the market in bundles and preserve the female blossoms for bearing fruit.
Dishes that can be made using these delicate, beautiful flowers are not complicated, but they do require a bit of skill in order to maintain their glorious color and form. A nifty tip to preserve leftover squash blossoms is to put them in the refrigerator laid out on a dish.
One of the tastiest ways to prepare squash blossoms is to fry them. Vietnamese shrimp-stuffed deep-fried squash blossoms is a very popular dish among Vietnamese people, especially those who inhabit the Southern regions of Vietnam and Hué. When deep-fried in hot oil, the flowers become crispy. They are then combined with the minced, seasoned fresh shrimp and result in a delicious dish.
Tonkin Jasmine Flowers (Bông Thiên Lý)
Tonkin Jasmine flowers can be found all around Vietnam. Besides being used in traditional medicine, they are also a great ingredient for cooking.
If you prefer milder soups, you might love freshwater crab and Tonkin Jasmine soup. The mild flavor of the soup can be combined with other salty stewed dishes for a more satisfying meal. This soup is not only fresh and delicious, but locals believe it helps reduce anxiety levels and promotes a better night's sleep.
Banana Blossoms (Hoa Chuối)
Banana blossoms can be easily found in almost every part of Vietnam’s countryside, and they are normally eaten as a side dish to accompany many Vietnamese noodle recipes. They can be cooked or sliced into long strings and then dipped into hot soup. A great way to clean and store them is to put them in a container of lemon water.
Banana blossoms salad is one of the greatest salads to have in the summer. Each flower's soft and crunchy texture blends perfectly with other herbs on a sweet-and-sour base of lemon juice, which creates a cool and delightful taste. The crushed fried peanut topping adds a deeper taste to the salad, as it harmonizes all of the ingredients, creating a fresh summer veggie dish.
Sesbania Sesban Flowers (Bông Điên Điển)
Due to the country’s interlacing river system, during the flooding season in southern Vietnam there is almost nothing to eat, since crops and fields get submerged in water. But that’s when the brilliant golden color of sesbania sesban flowers blossom along the winding channels, river banks, and small inlets.
A fresh dish made with this flower is a Sesbania sesban flowers salad with shrimp and pork. The salad tastes a bit sour, a bit sweet, and a bit bitter, and it has a pleasantly crispy texture.
Daylily (Bông Kim Châm)
The daylily blossom is one of the most beautiful of all the edible summer flowers. It tastes like a cross between asparagus and green peas when sautéed in a little garlic and vegetable oil.
Mild and sweet, daylily shrimp soup helps cool down your body's temperature during hot summer days.
To learn more about Vietnamese culture, check out Wild Tussah, where you will find Vietnamese handicrafts and artisan stories.