(No.5, Vol.7,Oct-Nov 2017 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Do you eat to live or do you live to eat? If your answer is the latter, you will enjoy this brief overview of the vast subject that is Vietnamese cuisine and enable yourself to prepare and enjoy a few sample dishes in the comfort of your own home.
Originally intended as an introduction to the food of Vietnam, this book was published and disseminated throughout the English-speaking world by the British publisher New Holland. In recent months, the Asia Book Company, under its brand Artbook, has made it available for those already in the country. It is not a coffee table book with the aim of stirring up conversation, but instead, a compact, practical guide and recipe book. Having said that, the photography is superb and will have you salivating for the dishes. There are also fine pictures of various aspects of Vietnamese culture.
Having lived in Vietnam for over twenty years, I know how seemingly infinite the food here is. I am still discovering new dishes and cooking tips. How do you cover this topic in just 184 pages? The introductory essay explains this by detailing the foreign influences gained through Vietnam's rich history-in particular the French and the Chinese-and that of geography as the country has an enormous diversity of climatic zones and ecosystems. Thai and Cambodian influences are also given a mention. The differences between Northern and Southern cooking are explained and further adding to the diversity are the stories of the cuisine of Imperial Hue and the historical and international port of Hoi An, through which many now commonplace ingredients were introduced by such intrepid folk as the Portuguese.
The introduction also includes information on what the typical Vietnamese would eat during the day, a description of a Vietnamese kitchen and its cooking utensils and also the colourful contribution food plays in the street life of the country with its numerous food stalls and ‘com binh dan’ -those ubiquitous rice shops/eateries.
The rest of the tome is arranged by category of food. Many of the more exotic tropical ingredients are omitted in the recipes, as these would not be available in the average English supermarket. Also, given the English suspicions of the health dangers of monosodium glutatmate, this flavouring has been dropped. At the head of each section, there is a brief page of text to discuss the role of each food kind in Vietnamese life; otherwise it is just photographs and text until the end of the book. Here is a brief run down:
Appetisers and snacks
This section details with how to wrap and roll egg and spring rolls, make the local pancakes, seafood cane skewers, prawns in caramel and more. There is also a recipe for one of the many dipping sauces, many of which are specific to one particular dish (nuoc cham).
This introduces the Westerner imbued with the idea that a soup is simply an appetiser to the Vietnamese concept of an entire meal in itself in a bowl of steaming herbal liquid. Inevitably there is pho, but also hot and sour fish, cabbage, vermicelli chicken and duck and nut soups.
Whilst stating in the foreword that the Vietnamese get their protein from a vaster array of animals than most Westerners do-horse, goat, frog, buffalo, rabbit and deer-pork and beef recipes only are given. Impress your guests with a coconut pork stew or learn how to treat yourself to a breakfast of noodle pancakes with garlic beef!
Ah what a wonderful country for this! This part teaches you examples of what wonderful things the Vietnamese do to enhance the bounty of Neptune-crab, squid, prawn, eel and that dish that really packs in the flavour clay pot fish.
Chicken and poultry
What with lemongrass chicken, turkey with mushrooms and chicken egg cakes, the Vietnamese certainly know how to treat a good bird! Then there is that side line product of the rice paddies-duck. Here it is given a new twist with French influence - the spicy duck a l'orange and honey roasted duck got me drooling!
The trend particularly among the western youth to vegetarianism is easy to in Vietnam. Apart from bean sprouts, Emily Nguyen sticks only to vegetables familiar to the English with such recipes as stuffed tomatoes, spinach with peanut sauce and herb rice noodles with asparagus and peanuts.
Mentioning that in Vietnam, salads often come with minced meat, Emily keeps her salads vegetarian. Three sample salads with their dressing are given here; namely Saigon salad which is made from button mushrooms, potatoes, and artichoke hearts. The other two recipes are for green papaya salad and a chicken salad.
Those of us in-country know that dessert in Vietnam means fresh fruit and what an enormous variety of that there is! In a country as hot as this one, fruit is the healthiest way to get your sugars. However, this book was first published in a cold country where the sweet course can often be half the meal. The French creme caramel is given a Vietnamese twist and there are ginger biscuits imported from Scotland.

So a cook book that was originally intended for perhaps the upper middle class English hostess to impress dinner party guests with instant Vietnam recipes has now come home firmly to roost. No matter how short their time in Vietnam, people can not have failed to have realised how vast the subject of food is in this oriental land. This book serves to whet the appetite of all for more culinary adventures in Vietnam!

‘Vietnamese. Modern and Traditional Vietnamese Cuisine’ by Emily Nguyen is published in Vietnam by Asia Book Company Limited.
46 Le Loi Street, Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City.
Tel: 84-028-39105618. Email:
info@artbookcom.vn www.artbook.com.vn
Price: VND290,000

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