by Corinne Trang & Christopher Hirsheimer (1999)
Authentic Vietnamese Cooking offers remarkable insight into the history and details of this seemingly simple yet enchantingly sophisticated cuisine. Author Corinne Trang shares the story of her family, starting with her grandparents, who emigrated from Hunan, China, to Cambodia and then to Vietnam. Eventually, Trang herself made homes in Paris and New York, as well as Asia. The resulting blending of cultures and culinary traditions in her family is a common experience for Southeast Asians who, over the centuries, have had to flee from one place to the next to survive despotism, hunger, and war.
Trang clarifies the distinctions between dishes from the three regions of Vietnam. There is the Simple North, where stir-fries are common and the seven-course beef meal, Bo By Mon, originated. The Sophisticated Center features Chao Tom, shrimp paste grilled on lengths of sugar cane created to please the wealthy families of Hue. In the Spicy South, sea trade with India, plus Cambodian influences, led to the development of aromatic, golden curries. Today, the Vietnamese serve them with Banh Mi, the light, crusty Saigon baguette made with rice and wheat flour.
In addition to the four groups of condiments essential to Vietnamese cooking (sweet, pungent Nuoc Cham, vinegared vegetables, sate, and table salad), Trang gives recipes for rice-paper-wrapped Summer Rolls, filled with rice noodles, pork, and shrimp, and Mint Rice with Shredded Chicken. Requiring only rice, chicken stock, shallots, fresh mint, and cooked chicken, it has the clean and layered flavors typical of Vietnamese food. Western sensibilities may recoil at Trang’s brief, honest discussion of the exotic meats served in Vietnam, including dog, snake, and monkey, served mostly to demonstrate machismo or status (no recipes are given). Christopher Hirsheimer’s artistic black-and-white photos enhance the poetic simplicity of Trang’s deeply involving text. –Dana Jacobi