The Herb Index
Explore the vibrant world of herbs that bring our Vietnamese recipes to life.
This is one of our favorite herbs in the Viet culinary palette. Its beauty lies in leaves that are purplishred on one side and green on the other. Its strong flavors stand up perfectly to bold flavored foods such as mock turtle stew (thit heo nau ya ba ba) and perks up the delicate qualities of a fried shrimp fritter (banh tom). If you enjoy green shiso leaves in your sushi, here's its Vietnamese counterpart - a little more assertive and a lot cheaper to buy! Note that in Vietnam, the leaves are dark purple on both sides and more delicate in flavor.
The mints available abroad are not the same as those in Vietnam. However, their tastes are basically the same. Mint in the U.S. comes in two guises, one that's midly flavored and one that's spicy. For many people, the mildness of the former rau hung (essentially spearmint) is much preferred over the assertiveness of rau hung cay. Northern Vietnamese who are purists about their pho noodle soup will insist on mint instead of purple basil.
This is the ubiquitous basil that's now commonly served with bowls of pho beef noodle soup. Rau hung que is traditionally served alongside Vietnamese pork blood sausages (long heo), as its spicy earthy notes provide the perfect contrast tto the pungent richness of the suasages. Interestingly, the literal translation of rau hung que is "cinnamon mint", though the herb is botanically a basil.
Related to familiar smartweed and knotweed, rau ram is spicy with hints of cilantro. This is a heart perennial herb, which means that it will grow back year after year. Rau ram is great in the ground and can spread quite far. To contain the plant, grow it in a pot and let it spill from the rim. It may also be grown indoors if there's good light. Some people might substitute rau ram with cilantro, while other claim that rau ram's spiciness is unique.
Vietnamese Lemon Balm
Kinh Gioi, commonly known as Vietnamese Lemon Balm, is a herb cherished in Vietnamese cooking for its distinctive lemony scent and flavor with a hint of mint. This bright green, leafy herb, characterized by its narrow, jagged leaves, is more than just a culinary delight; it's a sensory experience. Kinh Gioi adds a fresh, citrusy zest to dishes, making it a perfect complement to seafood and poultry. It's often used in salads, soups, and spring rolls, where its aromatic profile can truly shine. In our restaurant, Kinh Gioi is a key ingredient in many dishes, lending a light, refreshing note that balances the rich flavors of our cuisine. It's not just a herb, but a hallmark of authentic Vietnamese gastronomy, bringing a burst of freshness to every dish it graces.