"In Vietnam," writes author Annabel Jackson in Café Vietnam
, one more title in the Conran Café series
, "you can eat on the street, and eat extremely well.... For the food on the street is the real food of the country, the food that the Vietnamese have traditionally eaten since they were children and which they steadfastly eat today." It is just these daily delicacies, defining delicacies really, that Jackson brings into the home kitchen.
Crab and Asparagus Soup, found in the "Appetizer" section, demonstrates the strains that run through Vietnamese cooking. The structure is Chinese, the asparagus an introduction of the French, and the results decidedly Vietnamese. In the case of this soup, each ingredient is given room to speak its mind: the chicken stock, the Chinese mushrooms, the crabmeat, the hardboiled quail eggs. The only spice is black pepper, the only garnish a sprinkling of chopped cilantro.
This appetizer is followed by Hue Rice Rolls in Banana Leaf (tinfoil works, too), or Steamed Rice-Paper Rolls, which are stuffed with a ground pork forcemeat. Of course, there are Spring Rolls, but these are made with crab meat and shrimp as well as pork. The recipe for Sautéed Clams (you use shucked meats) with Toasted Sesame Rice Crackers looks particularly interesting.
You may want to turn right to the Hanoi-Style Fried Fish, "a legendary dish so loved that Cha Ca La Vong, the most famous restaurant in Hanoi serving it, even had a street named after it." Marinated fish is fried with turmeric and ginger, then just before the fish is done, you add dill, scallions, and peanuts. It's served on rice vermicelli with fresh basil and a dipping sauce. Yum. There are claypot recipes for chicken and beef, recipes for stuffed squid, and both beef and chicken pho, the fabulous brothy noodle soup of Vietnam. And curries, too. Again, while the ingredients and the cooking technique might point to other lands and other culinary cultures, the results are strictly Vietnamese.
Café Vietnam is a gentle, slim treasure trove of recipes that will take the reader to the heart of Vietnamese cooking. It's like getting to know another culture by discovering which flavors a culture finds most familiar and comforting. Let Annabel Jackson be your guide. But read these recipes carefully; they seem short and simple, but you really need to know where you are stepping ahead of time. --Schuyler Ingle