Fresh & Vibrant Vietnamese Chicken Salad

Love Vietnamese Food? You'll love this fresh Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe from @whiteonrice

This recipe story was originally shared in August 2010 and is one of our most popular recipes. By request of our readers, we’re re-sharing the story with updated info about our favorite fish sauce, new image and a few recipe updates for easier reading. 

My Mother has acquired an unprecedented fan base here on our blog since I started sharing her nail-shop-eats escapades and she has absolutely no idea of her devoted following. Mom is not a woman of technology, social media nor simple “hand-phone” use. To explain to her what twitter, facebook, social media and blogging are would be too epic of an explanation for her. I would lose hairs just wondering where to start. She would be bored after the first 3 minutes.

Love Vietnamese Food? You'll love this fresh Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe from @whiteonrice

Mom thinks twitter is a cute video game with a blue bird and that blogging is a waste of time in front of a “digital machine”. But she’s seasoned home cook and can whip together a meal for our family of 10 faster than I can write a short post. Her kitchen skills far exceed anything that I can ever accomplish online.

Her kitchen training began as soon as she could barter her way through the market stalls of Viet-Nam and became head of household at the age of 11 when my grand-father died in the Viet-Nam war. She had no choice but to leave school and was catapulted into adulthood to tend for my grand-mother and family of 5. Mom had to grow up fast, learn the street and market smarts like a savvy produce dealer and grew a skin thicker and sharper than a durian shell.

Mom is tough, as is the rest of her nail shop staff, and when they all discuss things they are passionate about, it’s a delirious afternoon of stories and laughter. When it comes to food-talk, everyone has a strong opinion about how a dish is prepared. With 12 women hailing from different regions of Viet-Nam and with different flavor preferences, there’s never a dull moment.

They were talking chicken salad one afternoon. Everyone had the best chicken salad recipe.

So there were 12 best-chicken-salad-makers in one nail shop, at one time. Oh hell, watch out. This nail shop is way too small to have 12 BEST-CHICKEN-SALAD-MAKERS. It’s one thing to have 12 best eye-brow-waxers and 12 best-mani/pedi-curers in town, but for some reason, having 12 best cooks working within the same walls doesn’t garner the same camaraderie.

Love Vietnamese Food? You'll love this fresh Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe from @whiteonrice

I sat in the corner and listened to each of the techniques and recipes shared out-loud across the bustling shop. The conversation was intense, often sisterly combative, but friendly and mostly silly-snarky about Northern or Southern ways of seasoning the fish sauce dressing and particularly on how they poached the chicken.

Customers were drawn into the conversation, often wondering if the staff was smack-talking the customers’ hairy eyebrows.

I re-assured the clients that the staff were talking food. The ladies don’t smack-talk. The customers felt relieved and were even more entertained. They decided to add more to their service just to stay longer. Mom was excited that business was bustling because of chicken salad talk.

Everyone was getting excited about their chicken salad recipe. The nail drills were grinding louder and the massages were becoming more firm.

Then I decided to add my own chicken recipe salad into the fun conversation and spoke up in Vietnamese, “I put napa cabbage in my salad and I BBQ my chicken instead of boiling it!”

Thunderous silence! The nail drills came to a halt, the 12 Vietnamese voices dropped dead silent. Vicky (aka Phuong) breaks the silence, ” You do what? The kimchi Korean cabbage? In a Vietnamese chicken salad? You don’t boil your chicken?” Vicky is hard-core. No substitutions are allowed in her cooking.

All eyeballs turned to me. I was getting hot. I stumbled for words, stuttered in my thoughts to explain my rationale on using napa cabbage instead of regular cabbage and why I prefer BBQ’d chicken. I started getting flashbacks from when I was a kid in trouble, trying to figure out if I should lie or just tell the truth.

Then I realized I was an adult, a 30-something Vietnamese-American woman who is dating a cattle ranch white-guy. My life has always been flooded with enriching things outside of my own culture. I was a diverse cook and embrace all things different and edible.

Love Vietnamese Food? You'll love this fresh Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe from @whiteonrice

I felt empowered and respectfully blurted in one long breathless Vietnamese sentence, “Yes sister Vicky! And all you sisters!” (out of respect, we all call each other sisters). “I like napa cabbage because I like the delicate crunch and soft textures of the lacy leaves. And it’s really pretty when you have the different colors of the stem and green leaves. And I like the flavor and char of bbq chicken instead of boiled chicken. And you should try it too, dear sisters!” I gasped for air.

All got quiet on the nail shop front.

Mom broke the awkward silence, “Hey, I like that! Sounds like a good idea. Did Tot (she still can’t pronounce Todd correctly) show you that? Tot is smart.”

Omg, Mom had my back. She agreed with me about my recipe & technique for once. Mom didn’t try to tell me how to make my recipe better. I felt accepted as a bonafied Vietnamese home cook.

The rest of the staff agreed, “Yes little Sister, that sounds good, we’ll have to try that. Thank Tot for us.” Then the nail shops continues humming with the regular sounds, as if there were no distractions.

Whew. I think I won. I actually had the 12 best-chicken-salad-makers agree with me! And they gave all the credit to Tot.

Oh well, I don’t care where the credit went to.  I still think my chicken salad recipe is great and  we’re all winners!



What fish sauce do we like to use? There are several brands we prefer for different types of dishes. In fact during the recipe testing on this salad, we tested 7 different fish sauces. They were all still good. But for overall general cooking and for this Vietnamese chicken salad recipe, we like using:

Red Boat Fish Sauce

BLiS Fish Sauce

Phu Quoc Flying Lion (there are many imitations, make sure to double check the label)

Three Crabs Fish Sauce

Love Vietnamese Food? You'll love this great Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe from @whiteonrice
More Great Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipes:

Quick Vietnamese Chicken Salad from Food & Wine

Vietnamese Chicken Salad Goi Ga from Pham Fatale

Vietnamese Chicken Saladfrom Momofuku for 2

Vietnamese Chicken Cabbage Salad from Food for Four


5 from 1 vote
Vietnamese Chicken Salad Recipe (Gỏi Gà or Gỏi Bắp Cẚi Gà)
Total Time
40 mins

There are many variations of this fabulous and classic Vietnamese Chicken Salad. The salad can be especially pleasing with different textures and flavors ranging from fried shallots, roasted peanuts, fried garlic and picked onions to different Vietnamese herbs such as mint, basil or the classic rau ram (Viet coriander). 

Some salads will be heartier with more chicken than cabbage, so you can choose your ratios and toppings to your personal taste. The chicken can be boiled, poached, grilled, fried or bbq.

Servings: 6 Servings
For the Chicken:
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless Chicken (910g)
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh Ginger (15ml)
  • 2 cloves Garlic , crushed or finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil or Grape Seed oil (30ml)
  • 2 tablespoons Fish Sauce (30ml)
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar (5ml)
For the Fish Sauce Dressing:
  • 1/4 cup Fish Sauce (60ml)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh Ginger
  • 3/4 cup Water (180ml)
  • 3 cloves Garlic , finely minced or crushed
  • 1-2 Red Chilies , minced
  • 1 teaspoon Sugar (5ml)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh Lime Juice (15ml) or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar (10ml)
For the Salad:
  • 6 cups thinly shredded cabbage (regular or napa)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh herbs: rau ram (Vietnamese coriander), mint, basil, and/or cilantro
  • 1/4 cup shredded Carrots (60ml)
  • 1/4 cup crushed, roasted Peanuts (60ml)
  • 1/4 cup fried Shallots (60ml) - Optional
  • 2 tablespoons fried Garlic (30ml) - Optional
  • 1/4 cup Pickled Red Onions (60ml) - Optional
Make the Chicken
  1. In a large bowl, combine all chicken marinade ingredients (ginger, garlic, oil, fish sauce, and sugar). If your pieces of chicken are thick, place them between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound them with a meat mallet to an even 1/2-inch thickness. Remove the plastic wrap and add the chicken to the marinade. Let marinade for about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat a grill or heavy bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until it is browned and cooked through, usually 3-4 minutes per side. Let cool, and then shred or chop the chicken.
Make Fish Sauce Dressing
  1. In medium bowl or large jar, combine all ingredients well (fish sauce, ginger, water, garlic, chilies, sugar, lime juice, and vinegar). Allow sugar to completely dissolve before using. (You can keep chilled in fridge for up to 1 month).
Final Assembly:
  1. In large bowl, combine cabbage, herbs and shredded carrots. Add the chicken to the bowl and toss to combine.
  2. Add fish sauce dressing to taste just before serving. Top with peanuts and other optional fried shallots, garlic, and/or pickled onions if using and serve.
{ 69 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. Plantlust

    Hmmm. I bet that I can use pork instead of chicken. Oooo and add vermicelli noodles?

    Thanks for a great summer recipe!

    1. Todd & Diane

      Yes you can definitely use pork! We cook it with pork all the time.

  2. Esther

    Hi Diane,

    Can I use leftover chicken rotisserie, then shred it up and mix it with the marinate? Any advise would be great, thanks!

    1. Todd & Diane

      Hi Esther, yes leftover chicken rotisserie is perfect! It’s simple, quick and wonderful for the salad.

  3. Esther

    Hi Diane, can I use leftover store bought rotisserie chicken, shred it and then put the chicken in the marinate?

    1. Todd & Diane

      Hi Esther, yes you can totally do that! When we need a quick dinner, we’ll buy a store bought roast chicken. And leftover bones become chicken soup!

  4. alicekiandra70Alice

    I just loved this story and am going to follow the recipe to a T. I live in Italy but actually have Vietnamese Coriander on my terrace (in Aus it gets called Vietnamese mint). I’m going to use the recipe for a cooking workshop I am putting together around the theme of flavours from my hometown (I’m from Melbourne). Thanks for sharing the nail shop story.

  5. Kim at Something New For Dinner

    Hi Todd and Diane –

    I love the story behind this recipe and can’t wait to try it. Any new photography classes planned? I am thankful for your class every day!

  6. Deb @ What's Cooking at Dinner Thyme

    This looks like an amazing salad! (and you are a wonderful storyteller — nice tribute to your mom).

  7. Huyen

    Oh, Diane! This brought happy tears to my eyes. As a fellow Vietnamese woman, whenever mom approves of my cooking, I shine!! I will always respect and honor traditional Vietnamese cuisine but as you mentioned we live in a beautiful, multi cultural country. To embrace and incorporate that into our cooking is not only fun, but offers creativity and inventive avenues to cooking which is the joy for me.

  8. Moore Lucy

    Such a great salad, I think I’m going to love is. Now I only have to get the ingredients for it… 🙂

  9. Tsu Dho Nimh

    Seriously … you need to put these into a cookbook called “Nail Shop Eats”.

  10. rose

    this recipe is GREAT. i’ll admit, i only used some of the elements…the dressing as a base and some of the salad ingredients. we made it vegetarian to have along side lime-mustard salmon, so to bulk it up we added peapods, green onions, bean sprouts, and extra carrots/peanuts. we also added sweet chili sauce to the dressing cause my hubs is very sensitive to fish sauce. i will be making this again and again – and will add chicken next time to make it a complete meal on its own. thank you so much! and i loved reading the story – your mom/nail ladies sound like a good group!

  11. deb

    Do you have a recipe for kimchee. I had it made in Switzerland at a school by a team of visiting people from Korea. They served it fresh, rather than fermented. It was the best thing after this salad which works well in a wrap also. Thanks

  12. Delish Dinners

    A Google search for goi ga brought me here and I was desperately hoping to find a recipe that didn’t have poached chicken because I’m not a fan of poached chicken!

    So not only was I thrilled to read that BBQ chicken has the authentic tick of approval but I also loved reading this story!

    I will be making this salad tonight- with BBQ chicken!!!

    Great blog 🙂

  13. Diem

    I felt like making goi ga today, googled and was happy to see that you had a recipe. Lovely story – a lot of the time, the nail ladies don’t realize I can speak the language. And it’s true, most of the time they don’t talk about the clientele at all.

    Btw, my parents call my husband Bread 😉

  14. Lily

    Oh wow….I stumbled upon your blog, i couldn’t stop reading. It’s just fascinating following the conversation in the nail shop. Thanks for sharing the chicken salad recipe.

    1. White on Rice Couple

      Lily- thank you for coming, hope you enjoy more reads and recipes!

  15. Ann

    What a great (and funny) story! I printed out this recipe and left it lying on our kitchen counter. I laughed out loud when my husband walked by it, stopped and incredulously asked “We’re having nail salon salad?” I took the recipe to the beach with us Labor Day weekend, made it for some friends and everybody loved it. It’s definitely a keeper. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Lael Hazan

    What a wonderful story! I can just imagine the 12 best chicken salad makers staring at you. Of course, all kudos to “Tot”. I do understand 🙂

  17. Jeanette

    Love the story and photos. Sounds like a scene out of The Joy Luck Club! I’m of Chinese heritage and I can attest that the Chinese are just as passionate and opinionated about food! Thanks for sharing.

  18. Marisa

    Cute story! Sounds like your mom & her nail shop friends means business when it comes to cooking. 🙂

  19. Jackie at

    I can relate to your story, Diane! My mom has 7 sisters. Each of them makes their own version of gơi gà and calls it “đặc biệt” (special) 😉

  20. Betsy

    I love that your mother says ‘Tot’. My step-siblings are half Vietnamese and their mother can’t say my name. To her, I am ‘Pepsi’. 🙂

  21. Karen Rubio

    My eyes welled up with tears when I read your Ma’s reaction to you standing up for your recipe. That was the best part of the whole story! Of course I am very excited about the chicken salad recipe too.
    Your newest cooking and photographing friend,


    Another great post – storytelling at it’s very, very best and one that made me laugh out loud! I’m so fascinated by cultures and how they intersect with food. And I’m happy that you discovered you’re a grown woman, not a child, while still in your thirties . . . most of us don’t figure that out until we’re . . . well . . . I can’t wait to meet you and Tot in Atlanta!

  23. JillS.

    What a great story teller – I could just picture being there! Your mom sounds terrific (I also have a technologically-challenged mother and she has decided she want to learn how to text – heaven help me!). The salad looks fantastic – great for a summer dinner. Go Tot!

  24. Cheryl

    I really want to meet your mom! LOL I might have to venture to the OC to get my nails done, but you have to tell me ahead of time when your mom is cooking!

    Gorgeous pictures as always!

  25. Priscilla - She's Cookin'

    Hilarious! I can just see all heads turning to look at you! Drop dead gorgeous photos – especially the one of the chicken grilling. And, thank G-d for Tot, that’s a beautiful salad – I prefer the crunch of Napa cabbage, too!

  26. maybelles mom

    My Indian mother used to get anxious when my italian american boyfriend would come over and cook. Then one day he made dosas crispier than she ever had using his cast iron griddle. Since then, my mother loves to boast that my husband is a better Indian cook that me. I love this story, and I agree about the chicken.

  27. momgateway

    Yum! I’m making this when my in-laws come to visit!

  28. Tokyo Terrace

    Wow! I loved reading this post about your mother’s life and cooking. Such a touching story. This post also made me even more excited for our spring trip to Vietnam in March. Can’t wait! Maybe you can give us some tips on where to go and (of course) what to eat.

  29. Victoria

    But I forgot to add above that your story made me smile.

    And do I love the part about Tot?

    You bet I do.

    I toast both of you every time I have a WORC Sidecar Fizz or a WORC Meyer Lemon Margarita (or two). I still haven’t tried the Sidecar made with tangerine juice – that is definitely next on my list.

  30. CarolineAdobo

    Great post! A great example of dishes that are so versatile we can put our own spin on it to make it our own. Love mom’s accents, in my case my mom calls my husband Day-niel. hehe

  31. Mai

    I love your nail shop stories! Keep them coming.

  32. colleen

    You sure bring smiles to my heart/mind. And, the salads look sooooo delicious!!!

  33. Victoria


    How said it made me when you said your grandfather died in the Viet-Nam war. I wonder if your family called it the American war.

    I recently had a friend from Australia visit. She is 40 years old and has been to the States many times on business but had never gotten to D.C., and this is the one thing she wanted to do on this visit. So one more time I took someone to that granite monument, designed by a female Asian-American student of architecture, and stood in the place where you can see the name of the first American who died in what we call the Vietnam War AND the name of the last American who died there. And, again, I cried tears for all the Vietnamese whose names are not there but whose spirits hover over that aching place. Then I pointed to the name Rodney D. Johnson, a boy from Knoxville, Illinois, who I once dated in our seventeenth summers.

    I’m 63 now. It still makes me sad.

  34. Jenious

    You weave quite a vivid and hilarious tale here. Thanks for the laugh. 🙂
    p.s. – your chicken marinade sounds delightful!

  35. Kate @ Savour Fare

    I’ll have to try this! I love Viet cabbage salad (though I remain unconvinced about the Napa because I generally prefer the crunch and flavor of regular cabbage, I think grilling is genius). Love the Tot story!

  36. Fiona

    Mighty impressive to suggest recipe changes AND have your mom back you up. The day that my my mom doesn’t debbie-down my suggestions will be the day that pigs everywhere take flight. Can’t wait to make this recipe!

  37. serena @bigapplenosh

    This looks so delicious! Thank you for sharing the recipe and the stories! 🙂

  38. TripleScoop

    You know if you add some Bun to this recipe it would make a entree!

    I’m like you ..I don’t even bother with explaining blogging and social media to my parents…they are just happy to read the Vietnamese newspaper online and boy where they excited to see vietnamese videos online. Simple pleasures keeps everyone happy.

  39. ravenouscouple

    fabulous recipe and story–the momglish speak “Tot” is LOL spot on from what we hear from our parents. Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to Delicious Vietnam!

  40. Cathy/ShowFoodChef

    Your story was a tiny movie and I love it so! If you changed the details, but kept the spirit and love – you would have a story of my mom with her sisters, too, from the South in NC. She also loves to give my husband credit for things, a cultural thing also, and I love it because it brings her closer to him somehow. Food is that global connector, right? Thanks for sharing such a funny and loving post. Of course, the pics and the recipe are truly amazing – you and “Tot” are precious!

  41. pam

    That’s hilarious! I hope Tot comes up with more good ideas 🙂

  42. Michael Procopio

    This is my first time visiting your blog. It won’t be my last.

    This post encompasses everything I feel a great food post should be: the photography and recipe are beautiful, but it’s the story behind the food that really makes me want to read about it. And eat it.

    As a friend recently said to me, “It’s the sippers and munchers, not the sips and munches themselves, that we’re really interested in in the end.”

    Thanks for the great post,


  43. Patty

    I see a lot of my mom in your mom. Great story, well written and the chicken salad sounds and looks delicious!

  44. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle

    The salad looks delicious and thank you for sharing but more…thank you for sharing the story. No matter the culture we are all made of some of the same cloth; hesitant to speak up out of fear or respect or…who knows, but glad to hear you found your voice! Maybe I’ll thank Tot for that, but you for the salad!

  45. Lauren

    Fantastic post! I loved reading it, and the recipe was just a perfect finale :).

  46. TheKitchenWitch

    That’s good stuff–both the story and the salad. Tot is certainly a genius, because napa cabbage and charred chicken are inspired variations to the traditional recipe.

    Wonderful descriptions–I can almost hear those ladies clucking and comparing recipes. Your mom’s story…boy. She’s a tough cookie. She has my admiration.

  47. Jen Yu

    I’m crying tears of laughter! Diane, I love how you tell your mom stories. That salad looks incredible, but the juxtaposition of your story makes it doubly special. It’s okay if Todd (Tot) gets the credit – it’s much better that they like the white boys than not! 🙂 Love you guys xo

  48. Cookin' Canuck

    What a great story you weave. I can practically hear the crickets chirping as you made your napa cabbage & bbq chicken pronouncement. I love that all the women were having a heated discussion about chicken salad.

  49. Sandy

    I just had my sister-in-law’s salad, which is pretty tasty, but traditional. Dare I suggest napa cabbage and grilled chicken to her?

    Hilarious story about the nail shop. I can pick out a few Vietnamese phrases here and there, but I think the shop that I go to never has such heated conversations about food!

  50. Ken

    What a healthy delight. I’m definitely making this in large quantities.

  51. Tamar@StarvingofftheLand

    And all this time I thought they were talking about the ugly American with the big feet! To think that this was what I was missing for not speaking Vietnamese. Thanks for the translation, and thank your mother for the food. What a beautiful recipe.

  52. Maria

    Thanks for sharing this story. Love it! The salad looks incredible!

  53. Kristina

    OMG, I love, love, love this story. I laughed out loud because I could just hear them chattering about who had the best salad and then the thunderous silence when you spoke up. The salad sounds fantastic too. I’m with you on the grilling vs. poaching.

  54. hanna

    Oh, this is such a familiar feeling! I also stammered out a recipe tweak to my group of cooking aunts once. And the credit was given to my roomie. Thanks for posting this story (and recipe)!

  55. Jenny Flake

    What a story! This is a beautiful post through and through. As always, your photography just makes me happy, GORGEOUS!! Have a great day 🙂

  56. alison

    I just tweeted this post. Great story, recipe and incredible photos.

  57. matt

    Having experienced the sisters AS WELL AS YOUR CHICKEN SALAD I could quite easily tell you that yours would win in my book any day. And the other readers here, well, I only wish you could have this salad as Diane makes it because it’s nothing like you’ve ever had before. Yes, thanks to Tot.

    Sidenote: You left the salad on the table once and I kept going back and picking at it until it was gone. I ate the entire thing.

  58. Fran

    What a fun story. I’m envious of the experience of being part of this kind of camaraderie in small business. There are so many popular and hilarious “barber shop” movies, I’ll bet a Vietnamese nail salon movie would be a hit too, but with food at it’s core it would draw a whole other segment of movie-goers.

    And your update to the salad sounds pretty close to perfect to me! I think I’ll head to the market to pick up some chicken and cabbage — the rest of the ingredients are all here. Yum!

  59. Alanna

    I love how you ‘paint’ pictures, Diane, just as beautifully as you ‘shoot’ them! Fun story … and I think it’s about time I find a new bottle of fish sauce.

  60. joudie's Mood Food

    Oh my Goodness. I can literally hear the crunching from over here. This looks so fresh, and raw. I love these kinds of dishes, full of flavour and texture. Great post, and very very beautiful and tempting pictures.

  61. Foodie in Berlin

    Your description of this event is hilarious! I can literally picture it all – like I am watching it on film and laughing (and drooling just a little bit – OK a lot!). I have been to Vietnam twice now and I LOVE the food. Fish sauce, chili, mint, rice pancakes – delicious!

  62. Jessica @ How Sweet

    Beautiful and so delicious! I can’t imagine the stories. 🙂

  63. Pepy @Indonesia Eats

    I can smell the goodness of rau ram. Ever since I learned Vietnamese cooking, I’ve always have nuoc mam cham in my fridge

  64. matt

    Lovely lovely food, photography and narrative guys! That must have been a total riot in the nail shop, would love to have witnessed that!

  65. Anh

    Thanks for participating in Delicious Vietnam! 🙂

    And what a cute story! I went through a phrase of “to substitute or not” when I first came to Australia. Now I think of freedom in my cooking. The key in Vietnamese food has always been the freshness of ingredients and simple cooking technique anyway?

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