Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Creating a Vietnamese Kitchen Garden

There are experiences in life you know will never forget and for me... this will be one of them. 

In previous homes I have had just enough space to grows a few herbs. Basil, mint, sage, rosemary and thyme and occasionally, if I was very lucky, I could get coriander (cilantro) to grow for a few weeks.  When we moved from England to Vietnam, I looked to see if we had anything to work with and discovered we only had patches of lemongrass around the property to deter the local snake population.  It was not exactly what I had in mind. ;)

We have a great garden team- Mr. Thuan, our gardener and Mr. Khai, our green thumbed driver. Together they work their magic. My role is coming up with the ideas.

One day I explained my grand garden plan to establish a herb and vegetable garden. I rattled off the list of herbs we were interested in growing to looks of total confusion. I could see right away that this was going to be a process that would evolve...slowly. I suggested we start with mint. We all agreed mint was a good idea.

And one day I came home to find mint growing in the garden...sort of....jugs of mint..but it was a start.

But..I couldn't let go of what might have originally been contained in those jugs so I asked for an alternative. I returned home another afternoon to find a well stocked garden of styrofoam boxes. The container of choice in many Vietnamese gardens. A transportable garden, for all weather conditions...a reality of gardening in the tropics. We were getting somewhere but we weren't quite there...yet.

Next to our water tank, we had a large rectangular tuft of mondo grass growing I asked what they thought about converting it to a kitchen garden. Having just planted the mondo grass, tuft by tuft, Mr. Khai and Mr. Thuan explained that it was like digging through concrete...but...they had an idea for me.

A few days later I came home to three large mounds of dirt with sprightly little green plants popping out of them. I was beaming, we had lift off...a little Vietnamese kitchen garden to call our own.

It took one year to get from jugs of mint to this patch of garden
and three years of trial and error. I learned that try as we might,
we were not going to get pumpkins to grow at Chateau Mango.

Over the years we have came to love the flavors of Vietnamese food
all due to the wonderful cooking skills of Miss Huyen.

It has been a team effort. 
I supplied the cookbooks with both Vietnamese 
and English translation and she made the menu suggestions. 
She guided me through it all, translating as we went. 
We have had four years of delicious Vietnamese food,
we couldn't ask for more than that. 

The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen

Do you enjoy Vietnamese food?
I have a long list of favourite Vietnamese cookbooks,
if you are interested, you can find them here.  

I have included a list of our 'go to' herbs,
ones that we grow in our garden. 
They are all staples in Vietnamese cooking.

*Vietnamese Lemon Mint
 (rau kinh gioi) (Elsholtzia ciliata
Tastes.. basil meets lemongrass

*Wild Mint
 (rau hung lui)  (Mentha arvensis) 
Tastes.. stong ming, slightly bitter

*Asian Basil
 (rau que) (Ocimum basilicum)
Tastes..sweet/spicy with a scent 
and light flavor of anise/licorice

(rau ngo)  (Coriandrum sativum) 
also known as coriander
Taste..citrus, aromatic

* Ginger
(gung) ( Zingiber officinale)
Taste..spicy, peppery, lemony, 
slighlty has a kick

*Vietnamese Coriander
 (rau ram(Persicaria odorata) 
Taste.. peppery mint

*Kaffir lime
( La chanh) (Citrus hystrix)
Taste--lemon/lime fusion

*Piper Leaf
(la lot) (Piper sarmentosum)

(rau ngo gai) (Eryngium foetidium) 
Taste...strong coriander flavor 

(rau tia to) (Perilla frutescens) 
Taste..a blend of mint and basil 

* Lemongrass
  (xa(Cymbopogon Citratatus) 
Taste..grassy, citrus flavor

* Luffa Sqaush
 ( muop huong(Luffa aegyptiaca) 
Tastes...similar to zucchini

*Rice Paddy Herb
rau ngo om(Limnophila aromatica) 
Tastes.. citrusy with mild cumin flavor.

*Vietnamese Lemon Mint
(rau kinh gioi(Elsholtzia ciliata) 
Tastes.. basil meets lemongrass

We have one recent addition to the garden 
which grew by chance.
Miss Huyen popped a few papaya seeds 
into the soil to see if they would take.
They did.
Mr. H's favourite fruit...Papaya

Growing at Chateau Mango...

I have started thinking ahead to Tahilla Farm.
In the past, I have had success with lemongrass, 
 and managed to keep coriander going until the lemongrass
started to grow with reckless abandon.
I learned a few lessons that summer.

 Lemongrass, Coriander, Russian Sage and Cleome
 growing at Tahilla Farm

It's a tricky business.
Finding many of these herbs in the local nursery
in rural New Hampshire is challenging.
 But I will not be deterred.
I have been busy researching and I think
 I might have a few solutions.

I thought some of you might be interested 
and did some extra research for you too!

Here goes...

If you are interested in Vietnamese herbs, 
any one of the links below will help-
Luke Nguyen's Guide to Vietnamese Herbs

Many of these plants are temperature sensitive.
You can check your plant hardiness zone below.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

Here are a few places to purchase
 Vietnamese herbs, seeds and or plants-
Seeds (USA) from Kitazawa Seed Co. 
Plants and seeds (Canada) from Richters
Plants (USA) from Dave's Garden
Plants (Australia) from Mudbrick Cottage
Plants (UK) Pepperpot Nursery

 For those who enjoy discovering new flavours,
A great Food App I just discovered..
from Specialty Produce

If you enjoy international food
it is best to stock up on essentials when you can.
 Food 52  here has some great suggestions.
Be sure to read the comments after the article too!

And there you have it...
a tale of our humble Vietnamese kitchen garden
with a few tips thrown in. If you are thinking about
creating your own kitchen garden,
 you can find inspiration here

Growing at Chateau Mango...

I hope you found something here to spark your taste buds.
Do you have a favourite Asian dish?
Would love to know!

You can write to me

Happy gardening and cooking!

Jeanne xx


  1. have spent the last few days getting my kitchen garden ready to go, altho it is still technically too cold to plant anything expect greens and broccoli. it's always so fun in the spring to jump into the herbs and veggies with both hands! hope you will be able to bring some of your favorite Vietnamese herbs and dishes to Tahilla Farm to enjoy in the future.

  2. Ah, wonderful. One of my favorite entries - more like a few chapters of inspiration and information. Memories too of far less successful efforts at Villa Bambou in Madagascar.