Garlic Vinegar

Andrea Nguyen

"The Pho Cookbook"

“When I noticed this condiment at Hanoi pho restaurants in 2010, I was skeptical. Northern pho diehards usually don’t add lime or the like to their bowls, so where did the garlic-infused vinegar come into play? 

I asked a local who was around my age, and she said she’d always had it with pho. I sprinkled some into my beef pho and it added a wonderful, delicate bright note. The garlic didn’t hit me on the head. It lent a pungent edge to the mild vinegary tang, which amplified the broth without taking it in a totally different direction as a squirt of lime would. The garlic vinegar was very northern Vietnamese in its subtle grace, and my skepticism turned to love. 

This vinegar works its magic on noodle soup, panfried and stir-fried noodles, fried rice, and dumpling dipping sauce. Overall, it’s good for times when a dish needs a slightly tart top note to balance flavors; I’ve splashed it into greens toward the end of the cooking time. Hanoi cooks often slice or chop the garlic, but bruising the cloves prevents the garlic from wandering into your food.” —Andrea Nguyen in her 2018 Beard Award–winning The Pho Cookbook. 


  • 2 cloves garlic, smacked with the broad side of a knife 
  • 2 Thai chiles or 1 large serrano chile, partially split lengthwise 
  • 1⁄4 cup unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar 
  • 1⁄2 cup water 


Combine all of the ingredients in a jar. Cover and age it in the refrigerator overnight. 

The next day, check the flavor: The main zing ideally comes from the garlic, with the chile playing a minor supporting role. If the garlic or chile is too harsh, add more vinegar and water, starting with a 1:2 ratio. Increase or decrease the amount of garlic, depending on its pungency and your preference. For extra chile bite, double the quantity and see what happens. 

You can use the vinegar the day after it’s made. It keeps in the refrigerator for months, so feel free to tinker with it over time. For practicality and authenticity, present the condiment with a teaspoon for guests to help themselves. 

Notes: When the vinegar runs out, add new ingredients to the old ones in the jar. When things taste tired or off, start over. 


Reprinted with permission from The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles by Andrea Nguyen, copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.”


3/4 cup