We stopped by the Asia Bookroom at the weekend and, while browsing the many shelves in this unique and interesting store, I began to reflect on how books—that is, the old-fashioned kind printed on paper as opposed to ebooks—stimulate our in terms of --
Luke Nguyen's voice is distinctive throughout this book, which is a comprehensive, beautifully-illustrated, delightfully written and thoroughly researched ode to the food of his homeland. Take these snippets, for example: 'My film crew are in fits of laughter, trying desperately to hold back their delight at the raucous mob that have surrounded my cooking cart,' he writes. And 'We row past rice paddy fields, tall limestone karsts and through dark mystical caves—the perfect place to bring your sweetheart... but instead I get to prepare my snails.' This is perhaps reflective of the Vietnamese character, summed up by Nguyen in another gem: 'Each place I visit, I meet people who are hospitable, welcoming and sharing. The Vietnamese never miss an opportunity to have a laugh. Their ability to make fun of themselves is the key to their resilience.'
This book is Nguyen's opus on his journey to discover food and heritage. He says he was inspired to go to Vietnam and 'felt a pull to discover the country and people on his own' and understand more about the lives of his parents and his heritage. His culinary adventure leads him from Saigon and the south; from the coast and countryside of Mui Ne, Phan Thiet and Da Lat. He meets the salt water people of Nha Trang, Quoy Nhon and Hoi An; travels to Hue, Vinh and Quang Ninh; and Ninh Binh (the ancient tenth century capital of Vietnam); to Hanoi and the port of Ha Long Bay; and through Sapa to Bac Ha and the remote village of Mai Chau in the mountains.
Nguyen has dedicated The Food of Vietnam to 'all the wonderful street vendors, home cooks and chefs that [he] had the pleasure of meeting and cooking with throughout [the country]'. He says: 'A lifetime of travelling, talking and eating throughout the country may not be enough to discover all that Vietnam has to share, but the people's stories and their memories are all in some way tied up in any single dish that is prepared; each technique is the word and practice of someone before them.'
Of course, accompanying Nguyen's travel tales are recipes, and many of them begin with a quirky introduction about their origin, viz: 'I learnt this recipe from a lady who also taught me how to make my own tofu...' or 'This recipe belongs to Mr Lam, a local shoemaker or Hoi An...' or 'This recipe belongs to Hai, a young gentleman who showed me how to speak "duck"'. Stunning photographs by Alan Benson and Suzanna Boyd add to the quality of this work. Yes, this is absolutely my kind of food and I could happily cook my way through the book!
The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen, $69.95, Hardie Grant Books. Thank you very kindly to Luke Nguyen and the publicity team at Hardie Grant for giving me the opportunity to review this title. It will be treasured and well used in my kitchen!
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