Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors, is a delicious feast for the senses from beginning to end. The story of one family's escape for Saigon in 1975 and their journey to the United States is told with compassion, joy and thanksgiving.
When the family fled, Andrea's mother had the forethought to escape with her handwritten recipe book. This book would be the basis for Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. You could say that little orange note book kept the family together through the traditions, recipes, notes and the very paper and ink it held. During an online discussion recently on e gullet, Andrea shares with us that her siblings were made to practice with their handwriting skills by re-writing the recipes in cursive along side her mother's original notes.
The rich text of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen invites you to come in and cook for and with the ones you love! This is a cuisine of sharing, each partaking in the meal with their individuality in tact. The book is lovingly divided into sections taking the curious reader form snacks and salads through charcuterie, noodles, rice dishes, Banh and even palate refreshers of ices and fruit soups.
To begin: Gifts to the Mouth is no ordinary snack section. An example: the Stuffed Squid with Ginger Lime Dipping Sauce Muc Nhoi (Mook Nyoi) an offering of salty, sweet, sour and aromatic, perfect with a cold beverage. As I read the recipe I could smell the ginger and pan-fried essence of pork, deepness of the mushrooms and the freshness of the sea. I found there was a celebration of life and common respect for food within the descriptions and methods of preparation.
Providing information about Vietnam's history is brief and enlightening, Andrea gives you a sense of how the country's culinary picture was painted and the many influences it endured. Chinese, Japanese, French and Western cuisines were incorporated in the Vietnamese style. This would explain Baguette Sandwiches as well as the elegant Liver Pates and charcuterie.
Coming from Vietnam in 1975 to California, recipes, techniques and cookware had to be improvised utilizing the local produce and markets, unlike today when specialty shops cater to Asian Cuisines. The beauty of these impromptu changes however leads the family to discover new and sometimes better cookware and unique products in the Californian traditions. And when you find you cannot find in ingredient, Andrea recommends that you can substitute within reason.
My Italian-Irish-English-American family has embraced traditional Vietnamese methods of dining using hands, lettuce leaves, herbs and chopsticks and array of dipping sauces to put their signature on each dish. While trying the dishes in the book and dining out, always the discussion of similarities to our comfort foods comes up. Noodles and Pasta, Sticky Rice and Risotto, Beautiful Beef Stews with refreshing differences and the Chicken Stock with ginger instead of my mothers cloves.
A thoughtful teacher enlightens her student with the subtitle details of technique. Andrea Nguyen sets the reader up for success by sharing her observations and nuances within each recipe. Clear and clever discussions of ingredients that are not found in many American kitchens are peppered throughout the book coaching the novice on where and how to locate them. Her best advice is to ask questions at market. Don't be afraid to ask the other patrons and the proprietors' of Asian or specialty grocery stores where to find things, what their favorites are and to share in an informal tutorial that may ensue.
Visually, Leigh Beisch's images helps to take the fear out of creating such an exotic cuisine in your home. Her poetry in photography adds to the richness of the text. Besides my own reaction to the beautifully written and photographed pages, I found, when about town, someone was always looking over my shoulder in admiration of the art form.
On her website Andrea provides thoughtful links to better understand pronunciation of ingredients and titles.
Phonetics for common Vietnamese ingredients Viet recipe title phonetics