It’s amazing how intertwined Asian cuisines are. Southeast Asian countries have different versions of noodle soups, for instance. Chinese influence, definitely — the Chinese have been trading with various Asian countries for centuries. In fact, in the Philippines, the Chinese have been doing business even before the Spaniards arrived.
But the Chinese influence aside, the similarities in the local cuisines are endless, the variations are interesting but the differences even more so. For instance, while the Japanese teriyaki and the Vietnamese chicken in caramel sauce may appear similar, and even taste somewhat similar to the untrained diner, two dishes cannot be more unlike. While both have that sweet-salty flavor, Japanese teriyaki is sweetened with sake and mirin and salted with soy sauce, the Vietnamese chicken with caramel sauce is sweetened with sugar and salted with fish sauce. The only thing they have in common is the ginger but ginger isn’t even a requirement in cooking teriyaki. Still and all, if you’re a fan of chicken teriyaki, chances are, you’ll like this chicken in caramel sauce.
Make the caramel sauce: Melt the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Off the fire, pour in the fish sauce while stirring. Bring back to the fire, continue stirring until smooth. Add the sliced onion or shallots and lots of black pepper. Simmer for about 3 minutes.
Cut off the roots of the lemongrass. From the base, cut a one-inch piece (the light-colored part); discard the fibrous leaves or use for making tea. Crush the lemongrass and finely chop.
Peel and grate the ginger.
Place the chicken thighs, skin side down, on a heated non-stick frying pan that is large enough to hold all the chicken thighs in a single layer. Cook over high heat until the skin starts to render fat. Pour in the caramel sauce, add the ginger and lemongrass and simmer for about 20 minutes. Lift the chicken pieces from the fatty sauce. Slice and serve the Vietnamese chicken in caramel sauce with rice.
I used yellow ginger (turmeric), hence, the bright yellow color of the chicken meat. If the more common variety of ginger is used, the cooked dish will look even more similar to chicken teriyaki.