Say ‘How are you?’ in Vietnamese and you will be asking ‘Have you eaten rice yet?’ This grain is central to the fare, but does not overwhelm the characteristic love of fresh herbs and vegetables that play essential roles in a rainbow of colours, tastes and textures.
The author is well-suited to write for westerners, having been brought up in London since the age of five, when she and her mother and brother arrived as refugees from post-war Vietnam. Her career started with films, moved to fashion and a boutique in Covent Garden until food became her main love and in 2009 she opened a supper club and cooking classes from her photography studio. The advent of the present pandemic saw her adapt to takeaway fare while she wrote this book which features simple cooking techniques, quick and easy meals and a few one-pot family treats for weekend feasting.
The ingredient list is categorised under headings of sweet, sour, hot, salty and umami, and we are given alternatives to use if we cannot find Vietnamese herbs. Recipes start with “Things to eat with rice” – along with dishes based on chicken and meat, there’s an omelette with cabbage, carrot and sausage, which could also suit vegetarian palates sans the sausage. Vegetable dishes are as important as fish or meat, and Luu includes western veggies as well as Asian ones, both lent Vietnamese treatment with sauces, chilli, garlic and fresh coriander.
Similarly, salads are dressed with sweet fish sauce or acidic lime dressing, with chillies adding the requisite kick. They are often served over noodles, making a complete meal containing leaves, herbs, meat, chicken or seafood. Comfort food includes great noodle soups and noodles also star in quick dishes. French influence can be seen quite often with items like baguettes and desserts. Recipes are illustrated with excellent photographs.
Eat well, eat fresh and eat together is what Luu recommends, and few would argue with such good advice.
VIETNAMESE: Simple Vietnamese Food to Cook at Home by Uyen Luu. Published by Hardie Grant Books, [Australia, 2021].
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