Quite literally, đồ chua means “sour stuff” — or Vietnamese pickles, in this case. It was a staple in my parents’ house while growing up, and eventually became a staple in my own grown-up house. It’s a very Vietnamese thing and reminds me of all the wonderful home cooking from my childhood. I can eat a whole jar of this sour stuff in one sitting.
What I discovered years ago was that in Vietnam, đồ chua is mostly made with daikon since it’s cheap and commonly grown. Carrots are added just for color. On the flip side, some restaurants in the US (especially those in small towns with less of an Asian population) tend to go a tad heavier on the carrots, which are easier to source.
I like a 50/50 mix of daikon and carrots, and I’ll even throw in non-traditionally colored carrots for fun. Essentially, daikon is a mild white radish — Korean varieties tend to be large and round, while Japanese varieties are long and cylindrical. I’ve seen Chinese varieties both ways at the Asian market, and you’ll be fine with whatever you find. This season I grew Miyashige daikon at home.
This easy recipe will be familiar for many of you who’ve tried đồ chua before. It tastes quite similar to what you’ve had in a down-home Vietnamese restaurant, and that’s what I like most about it. You can’t beat simplicity.
Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickles (Đồ Chua)
Makes 2 pints
1 cup rice vinegar (or distilled white vinegar)
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 pound mixed daikon and carrots
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the vinegar, water, and sugar, and stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and let the brine cool to room temperature.
Cut your daikon and carrots into matchsticks about 2 inches long.
Combine the vegetables in a colander, and toss in a small handful of kosher salt. Mix in the salt using your hands. The salt will draw out moisture and odor (from the daikon) and you’ll see it all pooling on the bottom.
Let the vegetables sit for at least 30 minutes for the salt do its thing. The strips of daikon and carrot will become soft and pliable by this time.
Rinse them under running water to remove excess salt, then pack the vegetables into your jars.
Fill the jars with brine until the vegetables are fully submerged. Allow the jars to sit at room temperature to pickle for a few hours. They can be eaten the same day, but it’s best to refrigerate them over the next several days to develop that familiar sour flavor of đồ chua.
Though it’s traditionally used in Vietnamese dishes like bánh mì (baguette sandwiches), nước chấm (fish dipping sauce), chả gìo (spring rolls), gỏi cuốn (summer rolls), or my husband’s favorite — bún thịt heo nướng (vermicelli with grilled pork) — you can use đồ chua anywhere you’d use a pickled relish. Stuff it into a veggie wrap or even serve it with sushi!