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Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart Hardcover – August 1, 2008

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Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart + My Vietnam: Stories And Recipes + The Food of Vietnam
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing (August 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0740777432
  • ISBN-13: 978-0740777431
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this moving culinary account of her family's immigration from their native Vietnam, restaurateur Nguyen of Sydney, Australia begins: "In my family, food is our language...when we cannot speak the words "I am sorry"-we give this bittersweet soup instead." Luckily, Nguyen is also skilled in written language; her moving, honest and painful story follows her family's dramatic exodus from their war-ravaged homeland to the safety of Australia. There, Nguyen's parents opened the restaurant that would give Pauline and her brother Luke the foundation for their current enterprise, The Red Lantern, one of Sydney's most popular dining destinations. Worth the price alone is Nguyen's masterful storytelling, including a warts-and-all look at her family and the immigrant experience. The book's arc is entirely film-ready; indeed, color images of people, places and dishes are striking. And then there's the recipes: more than 275 traditional Vietnamese dishes, all relatively simple to prepare (though some might require some tenacious shopping). Nguyen's wide net catches classic comfort food like Pho Bo Tai Nam, the traditional beef noodle soup, and slow-cooked pork shoulder; fish dishes like Crispy-Skin Snapper with Ginger and Lime Fish Sauce; easy appetizers like Tom Nuong (Soy and Honey Grilled Shrimp); and exotic fare like Durian Ice Cream. Whether you buy it for the story, recipes or both, this is an essential volume for those interested in Vietnamese cooking and culture.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen has been chosen by NPR food writer Susie Chang as one of the Best Cookbooks of 2008 --NPR.org

Whether you want amazingly accessible Vietnamese recipes or just a good, honest family story with food, this Sydney restaurateur delivers. --Epicurious.com

Pho-nomenal...astonishing. Pauline Nguyen has combined a book full of classic, meticulous Vietnamese recipes with a powerful personal memoir. --National Public Radio

275 traditional recipes...are almost a sidebar to the compelling story of escape, refugee camps and reconciliation. --Atlanta Journal Constitution

A beautiful, poignant book. Through memoir and with stunning recipes, Nguyen details her path from Vietnam to...her restaurant in Australia. --Minneapolis Star Tribune

Pauline Nguyen translates the pure, clean, exotic flavors of her native food into simple recipes for the Western kitchen. --Hartford Courant

A beautiful journey through Vietnamese history, culture, and tradition that cooks everywhere will embrace. --Globalgourmet.com

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Customer Reviews

The cover is beautiful and the photos inside are stunning.
Book Addict
SECRETS is also the story of the Nguyen family's escape from Vietnam and eventual resettlement in Australia, where they opened the successful Red Lantern restaurant.
Robert H. Knox
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves to try new foods, experiment with new ingredients, but most of all loves to cook!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By DBucci on April 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is one of the most beautifully crafted books I have seen with a fabric cover designed to resemble silk. The thick pages are very pale gray with a silhouette pattern of leaves and branches in a slightly darker gray with a thin border near the top of the cherry blossom pattern from the front cover. But still the text has good contrast and is very easy to read. There is also a ribbon page marker.

The book is part family memoir and part cookbook. The ten chapters are titled from the family stories with recipes contained within. The recipes are only loosely organized by type, though there is a recipe index in the back. Beautiful photographs throughout, family pictures and many but not all of the finished dishes.
There is a large variety of recipes, basic building blocks like stock, master sauce and scallion oil to an assortment of salads, soups, seafood, poultry, beef, pork, some goat and five desserts.

The recipes can contain unusual ingredients that are only available at a good Asian market. I enjoyed learning in particular about some of the fresh herbs I had seen in the markets but never knew how to use them because so many Asian cookbooks adapt the recipes to use more familiar ingredients. There is a limited glossary and suggested substitutions for some of the harder to find ingredients but no pictures of them so I did an internet search to learn what they look like and also other substitution ideas like using lemon basil for rice paddy herb.

There are also many recipes that require only basic ingredients available at any market like the sublime and comforting Caramelized Ginger Chicken that uses only fish sauce, ginger, garlic, red chile, sugar, onion, chicken stock, scallion and cilantro.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By B. J. Lewis VINE VOICE on April 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Before we get to the incredibly intimate biography of Ms. Ngyuen, bear in mind that as I write this, I'm sipping -- no, gulping -- my second batch in the last ten days of Pork and Watercress Soup (p.65). So simple, so good -- the first made with my own homemade chicken broth, the second with a supermarket broth. Of course, the homemade broth is the winner, but don't let that stop you from this incredibly easy, delicious soup. Two suggestions: First, do the skimming before adding any seasonings; second, grind your own pork if you have a food processor. I just realized that, in my long life, I have never bought supermarket ground pork -- those curlicues -- ugh!

And before I continue with the recipes, I must tell you that I found the autobiographical section remarkable, informative and, in the end, quite uplifting. The author's tale of her life's journey is almost embarrassing in its honesty. She relates a story of incredible hardship and sorrow that we here in America seldom, if ever, have experienced. I feel privileged that she shared her story with me. Here's looking at you, kid!

Okay; back to the recipes. The caramelized white perch (p.95) would have been delicious had I had decent fish. So should I recommend it as a way to dress up something basically awful? No; it's such an easy method and so good that one should honor it with a really fresh fish.

The third recipe I tried was the shrimp with tomato, fish sauce and black pepper (p.60). In spite of the frozen supermarket shrimp I used (I know -- and I agree) it was so good that I ate one and a half portions at dinner, and could hardly wait to eat the leftovers the next day for lunch.

I have marked eight recipes to try in the future. I know they will be good.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia S. Froning on December 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
First off, this is one of the most beautiful cookbooks you will see. The artwork, photography, and layout are elegant and appealing. Fortunately, the contents live up to the presentation. The book is a combination biography of an immigrant family and cookbook and both sections are worthy. Nguyen tells the story of her family's journey from post-war Vietnam to Australia, with both the highs and the painful lows covered with grace and power. The recipes come from Nguyen's parents as well as her restaurant. So far, all of the recipes I have tried are excellent: clean, complex flavors and well-tested instructions. I wish I lived in a location more conducive to a cuisine based on fresh seafood, tropical herbs, and varied produce, but I have been able to achieve great results with substitutions from the local grocery store and a trip or two to the Asian market. I highly recommend this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By jaxx on June 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you're looking for a traditional cookbook that you can thumb through and pick out something for tonight's dinner, then this is not the book for you. This is a beautiful, heartfelt autobiography that takes you to the next level. It's an intimate family portrait, a painful journey and perhaps one of the best books of any category that I've ever read. It takes you well beyond simply a list of ingredients put together to make some dish. It's an explanation of how food plays such an important part in the lives of this family (and in turn an entire culture) that we're getting to know so personally. I don't think I've ever cried reading a cookbook before! But with almost every chapter, I feel my eyes welling up, and I often have tears running down my cheeks. I don't care if I never cook a recipe from this book (although I'm sure I will. I almost feel it's my duty!) Just reading it is enough.

I think that to truly understand the food from another culture you have to understand that culture -- especially one where food plays such an important part. Vietnamese food is very complex -- even more so with so many Vietnamese living so far from their homeland. This book will help you understand the culture and the history -- as well as the food -- just a little bit more.

If you cook a lot and have accumulated a lot of books, then you're probably at the point where you're looking for something more. This is that book -- and much, much more.
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