by Diana My Tran & Diana Tran (2000)
One page of deliciousness after another is what you’ll find once you crack the cover of Diana My Tran’s The Vietnamese Cookbook. Tran has a couple of qualifications above and beyond her Vietnamese heritage as underpinnings to this book: She has two impatient children and a very busy career. Time, then, is of the essence. And yet, she wants to pass on to her children the food of their culture–while living in the U.S.
So from the many dishes of her own childhood in Saigon Diana My Tran has simplified technique while making use of the available foods in an American supermarket. The results are quickly prepared, flavorful renditions of Vietnamese classics that give the cook the sense of what Vietnamese cooking is all about. As Tran points out, part of what it’s all about is low-fat cooking with lots of vegetables–a veritable diet book.
Tran divides her book by rice, sauces, appetizers and salads, soups, main dishes, and desserts and beverages. She mixes lemon juice and lemon zest to create the Lemon Rice she serves with chicken and seafood. There’s also a recipe for sticky rice with peanuts. Her sauces include such standards as Sweet and Sour Fish Sauce and Sweet and Sour Soy Sauce. Among the appetizers you will find spring rolls, both fried and fresh. Also, Shrimp Mung Bean Rice Cakes. There’s a Papaya Shrimp Salad as well as a Lime Steak Salad. The wonderful Beef Noodle Soup (Pho Bo) is represented. Main dishes include Ginger Chicken, Honey Roasted Quail, Sesame Spareribs, Caramel Shrimp, Lemongrass Fish, and Vietnamese Crab Cakes.
The Vietnamese Cookbook is an easy way in to this wonderful culinary world. Let your palate be your guide. –Schuyler Ingle
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
by Mai Pham (2001)
When Mai Pham–chef and owner of the renowned Lemon Grass Restaurant in Sacramento, California–left her home and her grandmother in Saigon in 1975, just days before the city fell to communist rule, she never thought she’d see either again. Happily for her, she returned 20 years later to rediscover her roots and reconnect with her 100-year-old grandmother. Happily for us, she’s written Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table, in which she shares that journey–and the vibrant cuisine of her homeland. She weaves a stirring tale of rediscovery; of visiting with cooks in market stalls and street cafés and home kitchens; and, perhaps most importantly, of rediscovering her “favorite food on earth,” pho, the noodle soup often referred to as the national dish of Vietnam.
Pham begins with a chapter on dipping sauces, condiments, and herbs, which, she explains, are the true backbone of Vietnamese cooking. She explores culinary variations: the “rice bowl” of the southern peninsula and the French- and Indian-inspired foods of Saigon; the more robust style of the cooler central region of Hue; and the straightforward style of the mountainous north. And she shares the simple, classic recipes that define Vietnamese food. Green Mango Salad with Grilled Beef is at once salty (from the ubiquitous fish sauce), sweet from the fruit, and tangy and spicy from Chili-Lime Sauce. Ginger Chicken is bright with the flavor of ginger and spicy with dried chilies; caramel sauce adds body and an intriguing sweet and smoky element to the dish. And of course, one can’t forget the beloved pho, which gets a whole chapter to itself. The traditional Hanoi-style Vietnamese “Pho” Rice Noodle Soup with Beef is fragrant with anise and ginger and thick with velvety noodles and delectably rare beef suspended in the hot broth.
Featured throughout the book are black-and-white photographs of the country and its people, stories of Pham’s childhood, and enchanting tales of the history and people of Vietnam that, taken together, highlight a rich and vibrant picture of the ancient cuisine of this complex country. Helpful guides to the Vietnamese pantry and cooking techniques, along with a glossary, menu suggestions, and a list of resources for the more exotic ingredients make the book extremely useful to even the uninitiated. –Robin Donovan
by Andre Nguyen & Yukiko Moriyama (2003)
This is a nice cookbook with no personal or cultural anecdotes, just simple recipes with practical ingredients and very good results. The recipes are laid out one per page, with photographs of the dish, the ingredients and preparation. With so much photos, the instructions are necessarily streamlined, which works for many of the recipes except for a few, like beef pho. Telling one to combine all the ingredients in boiling stock and cook over low heat just won’t do for pho. It assumes you know a thing or two about preparing this soup, like how long to simmer it. I recommend at least an hour or more.
There is a wonderful recipe for chicken simmered in coconut juice and flavored with Maggie sauce, which is essentially Ga Roti in my book. It tastes just like my mom’s and no other vietnamese cookbook I’ve come across have it. In fact, the ingredients the author uses are exactly my mom’s, except she would measure in pinches and tads and touches of this and that. Ditto for the caramelized pork and eggs (thit kho & trung).
There is also an ingredients list containing color photographs that is handy for shopping.
Overall, a good selection of easy, homey, delicious recipes like bun rieu, bun suong (another hard to find recipe), and vietnamese sandwiches. Also, if you like cookbooks that contain more photos of how to prepare the food and optimal (minimal) use of words, this is a good choice.