As a child born in Australia to Vietnamese immigrants, I spent a good part of my youth believing I was just like any other Aussie kid. I ate meat pies and sausage rolls for lunch and spoke English with an Aussie accent. In fact, for most of my childhood, we lived in a small town on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland where we were the only Asians for several hundred kilometres; I was the only Asian in the entire school, but the community was so welcoming that I was never conscious of this fact. But such was my assimilation into Australian culture that I, unfortunately, barely had any interest in my Vietnamese heritage. Whilst my mother would be preparing a sweet and sour tamarind broth with a freshly-caught fish for dinner, I would be dreaming of rissoles with gravy and peas.
So, it is with much regret that I was never in the kitchen with my mother to learn all of those wonderful Vietnamese meals which, today, I crave so much. Like most Vietnamese mothers, mine cooks from memory and is hopeless at reciting recipes; her instructions are often along the lines of, “Add a small spoon of sugar” or “Pour in half a ladle of fish sauce“. So Vietnamese cookbooks have been my guiding light, both in deciphering my mother’s kitchen notes and helping me to keep in touch with my Vietnamese roots.
One new book which has been a jewel in my collection is Real Vietnamese Cooking by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl. What I find exciting about this book is that there are so many recipes for Vietnamese home dishes which you are unlikely to find in restaurants, or in most other Vietnamese cookbooks. Thanks to this book, I have been reacquainted with dishes such as Seaweed and Fish Soup, Crispy Chicken Wings with Fish Sauce, and Pork and Mushroom Pastries. There is also a comprehensive chapter on sauces and pickles, as well as a lovely collection of dessert recipes to surprise those who thought Vietnamese cuisine was lacking in this area. If you are curious to see what Vietnamese cuisine has to offer beyond the restaurant classics, or you are anxious to recreate some regional dishes from your travels to Vietnam, this book is a great place to start.
As briefly introduced in my post for Chicken Pho, Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl are both culinary experts on Vietnamese cuisine. Tracey is one of the directors of the successful Hanoi Cooking Centre and helped to set up KOTO, an Australian-Vietnamese charity which trains disadvantaged youths in Vietnam to cook and serve. In a special interview for Eat, Little Bird, Tracey and Andreas answer some questions which I hope goes to the heart of real Vietnamese cooking.
What do you think sets Vietnamese cuisine apart from other south-east Asian cuisine?
One of the hallmarks of Vietnamese cuisine is that it borrows from its neighbours and turns it into something which truly is unique. It’s a cuisine which possesses a subtle elegance, not the least because of its judicious use of herbs.
Take the classic green papaya salad for example. The Thai version features hot chilli and a strong fish sauce. Not a herb in sight. The Vietnamese salad is more aromatic with the flavours of all the ingredients coming through. Chilli is used but doesn’t dominate, the fish sauce is understated and big leaves of Vietnamese Balm twist around the slivers of papaya.
What tips would you give to someone eating their way through Vietnam for the first time?
Be adventurous! Meals prepared by street vendors can be some of the best you will find anywhere in the world. Don’t be put off by the small stalls which operate according to the principle of “less is more”. These stall usually sell only one dish often based on a family recipe perfected over the decades. Another advantage is that there is no need to fret over a menu Vietnamese – you just need to sit and they will bring the dish out to you.
What are the main differences in Vietnamese cuisine as you travel through Vietnam from north to south?
Food in the north tends to be more Chinese influenced due to the proximity to China. Also the winters in the north get quite cool with temperatures going getting down to 2-3 degrees, so the cuisine reflects that. Dishes can be heartier such as crumbed and deep-fried spring rolls with mayonnaise.
In the centre, there are traces of a Thai influence, with more lemongrass and chilli used in cooking. And the South around the Mekong sees the emergence of Khmer and Malay spices in curries and also the use of coconut and tropical fruit in coking.
Where would you find the best Pho in Vietnam?
Pho originated in the northern Vietnamese town of Nam Dinh and without a doubt the best Pho in Vietnam is to be found in the North. There the focus is all about achieving a clear, lightly perfumed broth, specked with coriander and water mint. In the south, other ingredients, such as bean paste, basil and bean shoots are added to the broth, which can unnecessarily complicate the clean taste of the broth.
What do you see are the current trends in Vietnamese cuisine, both in Vietnam and abroad?
Vietnam is very good at taking what they like from other cuisines and adapting it to suit their palate. A recent craze in Vietnam is wasabi. It is not unusual to see tubes of wasabi at local wet markets and street stalls. Customers generously add wasabi to their sauces and dip in steamed crab or fresh spring rolls.
Internationally, Vietnamese cuisine is becoming increasingly popular. During the 1980s in Australia and other countries, many small Vietnamese restaurants opened up serving cheap and cheerful Vietnamese food, mainly from southern provinces. But in recent years, we have seen the cuisine elevated in more up-market restaurants. Also, the choice on offer has broadened with menus featuring dishes from all of Vietnam.
I love that your cookbook, Real Vietnamese Cooking, has many recipes for Vietnamese “home food”, i.e. dishes that you are unlikely to find in restaurants. What are some Vietnamese “home food” dishes which can be easily recreated without too many specialist ingredients?
Stir-fried Cauliflower and Prawns (page 82) is a good place to start: it’s a very quick and easy dish to prepare at the end of a long workday. Cabbage Rolls (page 278) are a favourite staff meal at the Hanoi Cooking Centre and require only a few ingredients which can be purchased from most supermarkets. Great on a grey winter’s day.
A traditional Vietnamese family meal often has 2 or 3 shared dishes which are eaten with rice. What are some recipes from Real Vietnamese Cooking which you would suggest as part of a shared meal?
A selection or all of the following would make up a solid Vietnamese-style family meal.
Choko and BBQ Pork, page 46
Crispy Chicken wings with Fish Sauce, page 218
Caramel Fish with Galangal, page 116
Cabbage with Egg and Fish Sauce, page 40
Tofu and Egg Soup, 94
And of course, always, Boiled Rice (page 118)
What type of wine would you serve with Vietnamese food?
The Vietnamese are not great wine drinkers, yet. Most prefer a Pilsener-style cold beer, such as Hanoi Beer, with their meal. However, with the increased affluence in the cities, more wine shops have opened recently targeting the Vietnamese middle classes. We find that a crisp white wine, such as a dry Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, best complements most dishes. For the heartier winter fare from the north, a light red, such as a Pinot Noir, would also work well.
There are many different brands and types of fish sauce available in the supermarkets. Could you explain what the different types are and how they should be used in Vietnamese cooking? Do you have a favourite brand?
Look for a fish sauce that is of a deep but clear amber colour, without any sediment. Give the bottle a shake and you should see small bubbles coming to the surface. If the bubbles are large and rise quickly, the sauce does not contain enough fish oils. Then, look for the words Mam Nhi on the label. Mam Nhi is the first extraction of fish sauce from the earthenware vats which is less salty and has a lovely perfume. Fish sauces with a protein percentage over 40% are best and can be use in marinades, cooking or salads and dipping sauce. Fish sauces that are over 60% are generally only used at the table in dipping sauces or salad dressings.
We prefer to use the fish sauce from the southern island of Phu Quoc, as producers there only use one variety of fish – a variety of anchovie called ca com – in the making of the sauce which results in a crisp clean finish.
And finally, how would you make the perfect cup of Vietnamese coffee?
It is important to source real Vietnamese coffee, a strong, dark roast of mainly Robusta beans, with a slightly bitter and chocolaty taste.
2 teaspoons Vietnamese coffee
½ cup ice cubes
1 tablespoon condensed milk
Put the coffee into the inner filter of a Vietnamese coffee filter, then put exterior filter on top. Do not press down too heavily, as you don’t want to compact the coffee. Place the filter on top of a cup or mug, pour 1/3 cup of boiling water into it and let sit for a couple of minutes to soften the coffee. Then pour more boiling water to the top of the coffee filter and allow it to drip though. This will take 4-5 minutes. Place the condensed milk and ice cubes in a tall glass and pour the coffee over the cubes.
In association with Hardie Grant Publishing Australia and Hardie Grant Books UK, Eat, Little Bird has THREE copies of Real Vietnamese Cooking to give away.
The giveaway is open to anyone worldwide and the books will be distributed as follows:
*1 copy to a winner in Australia
*1 copy to a winner in the United Kingdom
*1 copy to a winner in the rest of the world
To enter, simply leave a comment below and please indicate which country you are from in the drop-down box.
Entries will close at the end of Friday 6 June 2014 and the winners will be notified by email. Good luck!
UPDATE: Congratulations to Duncan Bourne, Claire Hargrave and Christy Brooks! You have each won a copy of Real Vietnamese Cooking.
*All images in this post have been extracted from Real Vietnamese Cooking by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, published by Hardie Grant. Please check your local bookstore for prices and availability.
The book seems great! Thanx for the nice interview 🙂
Drooling and hoping. I’m totally intrigued by the food from this region.
Love ELB and would love to win this book for a friend who loves travelling to Vietnam and recently honeymooned there.
What is important is when your mother, through her cooking , gives you an idea of her culture…every woman cooks differently anyway, if I consider how my grandmothers and my mother used to cook 😉
Thank you for this interview!
You are very right, Dorothée 🙂 Today, I am very grateful that my mother cooked a lot of Vietnamese food when I was growing up because it feels like a very important link to her culture. Even though I dream of her cooking, sometimes I surprise myself and make a dish which tastes much better than hers … she would never believe me though! 😉
I would love to add a Vietnamese cookbook to my collection…might inspire me to cook more Vietnamese food (errmm since my parents came from there and all…hahaha..)
The Cookbook looks brilliant xxx
Such a great interview and the book looks very interested. Thanks for giving us a chance to win it.
Ooh, I’d love to win this! Thanks for offering the opportunity 🙂
This book looks great! I hope to be lucky 🙂
This looks like a lovely cookbook!
What an amazing-sounding book! It sounds like a perfect way to learn to cook Vietnamese. Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!
That looks like something I’d really like to try. Sounds like a great cookbook
I was looking at Vietnamese recipes just this morning. Sure would enjoy and use this book.
Chicken Pho is the first food I crave whenever I need
good nourishment. Nothing compares. I would love a copy
of Real Vietnamese Cooking so I can learn more.
I love Asian cuisine especially Vietnamese but much to my embarrassment do not own a Vietnamese cookbook instead relying on magazines and blogs to source recipes. This book would fill that gap perfectly. I didn’t realise you grew up in Queensland in a lovely part of the world.
My wife and I had the pleasure of eating at the Hanoi Cooking School last year; a most delightful experience – highly recommend it to anyone visiting Hanoi.
The content of this newsletter/e-mail, alone, is stunning; the book, itself, must be so inspiring. I wonder what the difference is, that makes the Vietnamese bread roll so delicious, and different to that of other countries!?
Looks fantastic! The food in Vietnam is my favourite of the cuisines I’ve tried, I’d love to try cooking more of it.
Nice interview, and have to second the recommendation to check out Hanoi Cooking Centre if you get the chance. Conveniently located in front of the equally excellent Hanoi Bookworm.
Crispy chicken wings with fish sauce…..I want to make and eat it right now!!! (And it is 8 in the morning).
I need this book in my life! The crispy chicken looks so good; it’s made me so hungry I’ve had to get up and make breakfast 🙂
Ha, I too have regrets about not documenting my Lithuanian Grandmother’s recipes that she has now vague on recipes! Wish there was Instagram and digital media to document it too back in the day. I appreciate the time and passion that has gone into creating this book encompassing your much loved heirloom meals.
Oops I’m in Australia 🙂
Well done Tracey and Andreas, congrats! I so miss Vietnamese food so I need this book for my collection!
Just came back from Vietnam and already miss all the great food!! This was our second year in a row going. We just love the people, food and culture. Just can’t get enough.
I try to replicate as many dishes I can when I get back home so hopefully this book will broaden my horizons.
That’s fighting talk on the best Pho. I think I’ve come to appreciate both the northern and southern versions (almost) equally. After four years of eating in Hanoi, it was a shock to see how it was done in Saigon. Looks like a lovely book. Will certainly seek it out next time I am in London.
I sometimes hear that the best Pho is not actually in Vietnam! I have had a few friends visit Vietnam and found the Pho to be disappointing in comparison to what they have tasted elsewhere. I think I have to visit Vietnam again to see for myself …
I have never cooked Vietnamese and love all the recipes on eat little bird so to win the book would be a good place to start, thank u xx
this looks brilliant, I would love to try some of these dishes
Didn’t know the differences in fish sauce, will have to seek out at a specialty market. The book sounds wonderful, we do lots of Vietnamese cooking since our visit last year!
This looks delicious! I’m always trying to expand my repertoire!
This book sounds great would love to do a good Pho at home
Thanks very much for the contest!
Looks like a very good and overdue perspective indeed.
Thanks for the giveaway! I love vietnamese coffee!
From Canada. Would love to win this book! 🙂
Great article – love Vietnamese food – please put my name in the hat!
The recipes look amazing! I would like to try them
It’s never too late to uphold a culinary culture gem in that of Vietnam! Isn’t it amazing to get to know and appreciate cooking in all parts of the world? Looks like a great book!
Great interview – very informative and such a lovely book of a subject ( Vietnamese home cooking) that has not been explored a great deal. I too must rely on cookbooks to try to recreate the dishes of my childhood. My father doesn’t have the same passion about the food he cooked for us . He learnt to cook from his mother and she was taught by her mother-in-law. She had married an immigrant who would only eat the food from his native country, and they all cooked without recipes. My grandmother was a marvellous cook and the old joke in the family were the times when she was asked for a recipe. She was never able to give a precise recipe, one had to learn whilst she actually cooked, much the same way as with your mum. As an Australian living in France, I hope to pass on a little bit of my culture though my food. Good post, thanks again!
I’m glad you enjoyed this interview 🙂 I suppose some of us have a more difficult time trying to extract recipes from our families 😉 I also hope to pass a bit of my culture to my child through food. Despite his picky ways, he does seem to have a palate for Asian flavours such as coriander, ginger, soy sauce, etc. Which is a big relief for me!
I’ve only just started getting exposure to the Vietnamese cuisine, but oh wow is Banh Mi heavenly. That bread, that bite, that CRUNCH. I’m really interested in exploring the cuisine further. As for moms and the way they cook, I suppose I was fortunate enough to grow up learning that style of cooking ‘a little bit of this’ and ‘a little bit of that’. I only just bought measuring spoons for my kitchen after starting my food blog! And it’s been a challenge transcribing all the recipes in my head into actual measurements. But I feel you, for someone learning a new cuisine, you must have specifics.
When I first started out cooking, I didn’t quite understand the concept of “taste for seasoning”. So my mother’s approach of “add a bit of this or that” rather terrified me! Thankfully, I’m a much more confident cook now. I still need to follow precise measurements when I cook, but at least I am better at adjusting the flavours when I have to. I can understand how it might be hard to write down specific measurements when you’re not used to doing so, but hopefully it will become second nature to you soon.
What a fantastic interview, inspires me to both cook more Vietnamese food and visit Vietnam! I have recently moved to Australia from the UK where Vietnamese and the ingredients needed to cook it can be hard to find. The opportunity to cook a wider variety of South East Asian food has been one of my favourite things about moving here. This book would certainly liven up my very British cook book collection!
The book looks fantastic, love all those wonderful flavours
A great article that brought back lovely memories of delicious early morning breakfasts of pho, sitting on tiny stools on street corners in Hanoi with families before their work and school days began, of fluffy stuffed baguettes and home-made tofu and spring roll cooking classes in beach shacks along the coast. Thank you for the trip down culinary memory lane : )
Love Vietnamese food and your book could quench my hunger for it. Fingers crossed!!
Looks lovely, my husband would be thrilled if I started cooking Vietnamese, his favorite cuisine.
From Czech Republic, but living in London. The delicious pho soup was the reason I travelled to Vietnam this month!
I am in a somewhat similar situation as you are. I too am collecting and referring to cookbooks to learn to cook food from my childhood. However, in my case my Mum was the one discouraging me from the kitchen. I love Vietnamese food (it’s much more aromatic) and hope to learn to replicate the flavours from the cookbook whilst using what’s available from my country. .
I would love to try the recipes from this book!
This cookbook sounds amazing. I love going out for Vietnamese food but have no idea how to cook it myself and would love to learn.
That book looks great and I love Vietnamese food, so fresh and clean flavors.
Have ordered your cookbook, can’t wait till it comes so I can start cooking!
What a lovely interview and I learnt so much. Isn’t it amazing on how food unties all of us… I’m just getting into Vietnamese food, it’s quite new to me so Im taking baby steps. Your blog has been a great source of information as well as inspiration.
I’m on the Sunshine Coast too, loved the interview.
I would really enjoy eating my way through Vietnam!
I’ve never cooked Vietnamese before, but I would like to learn!
I love Vietnamese cuisine. It’s the cuisine that I grew up eating, and the food that I cook for my own kids.
Mmmm, Vietnamese iced coffee – I keep eyeing up recipes for that so I really ought to actually try it!
I tried to make the coffee and it’s super-yummy! Thanks for sharing it.
Glad you enjoyed your homemade Vietnamese coffee!
The recipes looks delicious!
would be great to learn homestyle Vietnamese cooking from north to south
I can’t wait to try those chicken wings, yummo!!
I could be so lucky 🙂
As a Chinese kid from immigrant parents I can relate wholly with you. I too find that I am seeking to learn more about my heritage in food from both my parents. This cookbook. Sound amazing and I definitely would be cooking from it daily to learn more about Asian food. Thanks
I believe we strive to recreate the recipes of our parents or grandparents is because of the strong memories that are associated with those special people cooking for us. My grandmother cooked great middle eastern foods that i can actually still taste and smell. My father who is 89 years old also has strong food memories, if i attempt to cook for him one of his beloved foods that his mother cooked, it is “not exactly the same”. I am ok with that since I could never replace his strong memories. Lovely interview…better go check my fish sauce. Enjoy the day.
forgot to enter my country. USA
Please put me into the draw xx
Looks delicious, would love to try cooking some of these!
I would love to cook these Vietnamese recipes because the fresh food in the photos look so healthy and appetising!
I have been to Vietnam three times, the first time in 2009. It was not a country I had expected to visit anytime soon and yet I had an invitation to join a friend and took her up on it. I fell in love. I fell in love with the people, the food, the country itself. It was the beginning of a love affair with Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I’ve been to a few other places in S.E. Asia but these three seem to touch my heart — again, it is all about the people, food, and countryside. I have a small collection of books on food from these parts and look forward to acquiring and using this book, heavily. Thanks for the interview and insight as to what to expect from the book. And of course, there is always Vietnamese coffee that I used to make the typical way until a Vietnamese friend who now live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, turned me on to the Swiss Press which makes terrific Vietnamese coffee. Try it!
What a great interview. I loved the food in Vietnam! So fresh, vibrant and exciting. I would love to add this book to my collection.
I have tried cooking my Vietnamese mum’s sweet and sour tamarind soup. I can get it to be good, just not as great as hers. Fabulous to see this book 🙂
I feel the same about my mum’s sweet and sour tamarind soup too! She likes to use a whole fish (silver bream) which I have never been brave enough to do. Maybe when you come and visit 😉
Oh Creme how did I miss this wonderful blogpost. I am not that familiar with the Vietnamees kitchen so would love to get the book 😉
Do you know?? I wasn’t going to participate, because I thought I wouldn’t take tha most of that book, and it would be sad to me if I’d win (although I never win anything) and didn’t make the best with it. That’s why you didn’t received my endless comment here.
But I liked so much the wings, and I am so intrigued by some Vietnamese dishes (wow, I didn’t eat Greek food, and when I discovered, I loved it so much!!) that I want my giveaway ‘ticket’, and so it would be an obligation to try this food, or you will force me 😛
Have a nice weekend!!
I’m glad you entered this giveaway 🙂 Who knows … you might win 😉 I’m drawing the winners tonight …
I have never met a person who said they didn’t like Vietnamese food. They could have merely said so to be polite, but I honestly think Vietnamese food appeals to everyone. Maybe not every dish, but the philosophy of Vietnamese cuisine – fresh and light – is something hard to go past. I hope you will get a chance to try some Vietnamese food in your near future!
Too late for the giveaway but this book is going straight to my basket at amazon! I don’t really need another Vietnamese cookbook (I already have 7 or 8 of them!) but I can’t resist..it looks amazing!
My favorite pho in Vietnam was at Pho Hoa in Saigon. We went there every morning for breakfast and still talk about it often. hmm getting hungry just thinking about it!
Oh shame! But I think you will enjoy this cookbook if you buy it 🙂 I think it’s always nice to compare similar recipes, take a bit from here and there and somehow make the recipe your own.
I love that you ate as the locals did in Vietnam, i.e. pho for breakfast each morning. Sounds a bit odd to have a bowl of noodle soup for breakfast but it just works 🙂
Btw, where do you think is the best pho in Zurich?? I quite like the pho at Asiaway …