112 of 117 people found the following review helpful
I very rarely leave 5-star reviews.
I can tell that this one is going to get thumb-eared very quickly. This is the food that I gravitate towards, explained better and in more detail than any of the 50-odd other Asian cookbooks I own. The book goes deep, very deep, which delights me (I made rice paper!), but it also clearly explains utterly basic things, with photographs, so it's great for basic or even just aspiring cooks.
A quick example: the recipe for caramel sauce lists exactly two ingredients (palm sugar and fish sauce). Any competent 8 year-old could make it, it keeps for months, and the combination might well stun you: toss it with some shrimp and scallions, and dinner is READY. Can't find palm sugar? Substitute light brown and barely notice the difference. (But it's easier to melt any sugar in a 280F oven rather than on a stove burner.)
A slower example - Pork with Young Coconut Juice - is a recipe that takes second place to nothing on Earth. If you take the time to make the utterly porkalicious stock first, and find really fresh coconuts, jaws will drop. Same goes for the Lemongrass Beef Stew.
Uniquely for an Asian cookbook, it specifies good-quality, sustainable (pastured, grass-fed, etc) ingredients, even when making stock, and clearly explains why.
If you are interested, and just starting, you could spend YEARS with this book before you absorb it all. If you are Vietnamese-American, and looking for a cookbook to give your kids, this one is a very strong candidate. I recommend the hardcover rather than the softcover, or you might have to eventually replace it and lose years of hastily-scrawled notes, like my sugar/oven one, above. That kind of cookbook.
69 of 72 people found the following review helpful
If you feel a bit overwhelmed when you venture into an Asian market and would like to change that feeling, this book will be immensely helpful to you. The book is overflowing with information, and I love a cookbook written to include such helpful insight, instruction and coaching.
I am a sponge for new cooking techniques and new ingredients. I was born in the U. S. and my first language is English. I'm of Polish decent. I've been interested in Asian cooking for about four years now. I cook all kinds of dishes, but we really love fresh fish, oriental greens and the unique flavors found in Asian recipes. We love the simplicity of the dishes and we love the contrasts of salty, sweet, tangy and good Texas jasmine rice. Our winter garden is currently full--really full--of Asian greens and veggies. And with that said: I think this is a great cookbook. I've used it over and over again--in just the short few months I've owned it.
So, while I can't speak for someone born in Vietnam and relocated here and I can't speak for someone who has a Vietnamese Grandmother on which to rely, I can speak for a majority of those looking at this review and wondering whether to buy this book or not: You will learn a lot from this cookbook, and you will be happy you bought it (or proud you gave it as a present). Use it as a reference book; use it for its recipes; enjoy the pictures; delight in the way the author coaxes all of your senses to blossom; take it with you to your favorite Asian grocery store and smile a lot and nod your head while you refer to it as you search out ingredients, (yes, take it with you instead of just a grocery list and spread the word.)
The author went at this cookbook venture with the intent to teach. And I'm here to say he taught me quite a lot; and thank you so much! This cookbook is not only filled with wonderful, enticing, not overwhelming recipes; it is filled with information. You will get helpful and unbiased wisdom on: Woks, ceramic pots, cleavers, grills, how to choose condiments and important ingredients, and much more.
If you are considering this cookbook and live out in the middle of nowhere, with no access to an Asian market, you may want to check this out of your library before purchase.
The recipes are divided between techniques: Steaming, frying, braising, grilling, and stir-frying; plus soup and street food. There are recipes for condiments, dipping sauces and a few pickles.
Personally, I now have precise times for steaming my whole fish; assurance that I'm grilling my whole fish in the best way possible; I have great fillings for steamed buns; I know how to prime my wok properly and for how long to let the oil heat up before adding food; I know the importance of caramel sauce, and much, much more. I've always loved a broth-y fish soup and now I have a beautiful and simple recipe using a whole fish--and I already know I will turn to it often. Because I personally zone in on whole fish in this paragraph, don't let me mislead you into thinking this is a seafood cookbook; it's really encompassing and covers beef, pork, other seafood, rice, noodles and veggies.
It's got beautiful pictures; easy-to-read and easy-to-understand ingredient lists and concise directions; a terrific glossary; an adequate index, plus it is a bound, hard-covered book, with pages made of quality paper.
The author mentions his family and his restaurants frequently, but those mentions don't seem overpowering, they just add to the charm of the writing.
Not that I'm ready to compare it with other Asian cookbooks, I can already say that this is more of a hands-on, take-it-and-cook-with-it book, than "Beyond the Great Wall" and "Hot Sour Salty Sweet' by Alford and Duguid. (While I love those two, they slant more towards coupling recipes with an area and therefore seem a bit travel-related and coffee-table style).
I'm very glad to have purchased this cookbook.
175 of 199 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 2012
As a Vietnamese-American cook, 2nd generation Vietnamese, and American food writer based in Houston, I had high hopes for this cookbook. I was hoping for a collection of recipes about the dishes I grew up eating, the dishes from the streets of Vietnam, and it succeeds on certain levels.
Phan includes a lot of background information, like how to differentiate between different types of dry noodles, clay pots, how to season a wok, etc. I like how he prefaces each recipe with a small intro, giving context to each recipe. There beautiful photos and some very helpful step-by-step instructions for making noodles and filleting fish. The photos at the beginning of the book begin to capture the spirit on the streets of Vietnam, though cursorily.
However, with the exception of a few recipes like "Banh Beo," or "Banh Cuon," "Bun Bo Hue," and "Pho," for whatever reason, Phan and his editors chose to omit the Vietnamese names of most dishes. For instance, the recipe "Catfish in Clay Pot" is one of our national and most recognized dishes. Why not include its actual name: "Ca Kho To?" Pork and Shimp Spring Rolls should likewise have the name "Goi Cuon;" Hot and Sour Shrimp Soup should also be "Canh Chua Tom," Grilled Pork Chops with Sweet Lemongrass Marinade should be "Suon Nuong Xa," and so forth. The naming convention of the recipes seems very arbitrary.
He also includes a lot of Chinese/Cantonese dishes, which reflects his own personal heritage, explaining that Chinese ingredients have infiltrated daily Vietnamese cooking. However, I find that the inclusion of those dishes sends a mixed message. This is Vietnamese-Chinese cooking, not just Vietnamese home cooking, as the title suggests. And while I find many of the Cantonese recipes useful, I just wish there were more Vietnamese recipes in this book. I would have loved a good recipe for "Cha Ca Thang Long," (classic Northern Vietnamese fish dish), or "Pho Ap Chao" (Pan fried pho noodles), or "Suon ram" (caramelized pork spareribs), or "Bun rieu" (Rice vermicelli soup with tomato and crab) -- dishes you might find if you sat down for a typical Vietnamese family meal.
I don't want to make it sound like there aren't Vietnamese recipes. The must-not-miss ones are there: Pho, Banh Mi, Bun Bo Hue, Bo Luc Lac, Suon Nuong (He calls them Grilled Pork Chops), Cha Gio (Imperial Rolls), Banh Tom (Sweet potato and shrimp fritters), Tom Rim (Caramalized lemongrass shrimp), etc -- and if you're a fan of the Slanted Door, he has some of his signature dishes broken down for you to try at home, as well.
52 of 62 people found the following review helpful
on January 30, 2013
First of all, we love the Slanted Door and we love to cook. But the recipes just don't work. Several examples. He disdains canned broth, but the broth done according to his recipes have no taste. He recommends cooking brisket for 45 minutes (and then putting it into ice water). Brisket demands long cooking, so following his recipe you get tough brisket. On one of his salads, his instructions for slicing the vegetables made no sense. The instructions didn't do what the photos showed. His instructions for preparing tofu for deep-frying are wrong, and the deep-frying times for the tofu are way too long. And so on.
So here is this great cook whose work in his restaurant we love, and whose recipes we hate. They just don't work. Just a theory. It's hard to scale restaurant menus down to family size. Could be the problem. Maybe nobody tested the menus in the book (hard to imagine that anyone did, given our experience).
I feel bad about writing this very negative review because we've enjoyed his dishes at the restaurant. But, sadly, the book isn't up to the quality of the restuarant, not even close.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2013
I have to agree with the reviewer named M.Pham and his/her wish that the book could be more Vietnamese. While I was very excited to order the book on Amazon and counted down till the day I received the parcel at my door, I was a little disappointed reading the book. Despite nice pictures and easy-to-follow recipes, Charles did not fulfill his mission to portray authentic Vietnamese cuisine, not to mention the regional distinct of Vietnamese food.
I was born and grew up in Hanoi, spending 20 years in Vietnam before going overseas to study and work. I always try to experience Vietnamese food in different countries I have the chance to travel too. And my overall impression is, most Westerners and Americans get to know mainly the Southern Vietnamese food, since most Vietnamese expats are originally from the South - they evacuated from Vietnam after the North won the civil war in 1975. But Vietnamese cuisine is really much more than just a few Southern dishes and some Chinese influenced recipes. And Charles did not explore those still covered aspects well enough.
I understand given his Chinese origin, it makes perfect sense for him to include the Cantonese version of his home food in the book. But it surprised me that he did not take the opportunity to introduce to the international audience the less popular but yet real authentic and good Vietnamese dishes. He also did not distinguish the popular Southern food with the food in the North (most famous in Hanoi, with an interesting twist of French cuisine) and the Central (most notably Hue, an imperial city with special dishes of its own). That was just a pity in my opinion, because Vietnamese cuisine is never complete without the unique taste of all regions, namely Northern, Central and Southern Vietnam.
Other readers may find my review a little harsh, but I would like to make my point clearly that, we already have plenty of cookbooks on Vietnamese food, with rather Western-adapted recipes. What we need now, is an authentic portrayal of the national cuisine, something I do not think Charles Phan managed to achieve in his work here.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2013
So, I bought this book because it covers Vietnamese home cooking - not just foods from restaurants and street eating but a wider range of everyday dishes. I'm not Vietnamese so I really have no idea what I'm talking about, but my sense is that the recipes contained do cover dishes on the simpler/family-style end of the range. Phan is also American, so I do notice that he goes pretty light on the French-inspired dishes that I have seen in other experiences of Vietnamese food (pate etc.).
The positives: This is a beautiful text, nicely bound, laid out, and photographed. The ingredient guide in the back alone is like eye candy. I like the fact that it is grouped by cooking style (e.g. steaming, stir frying), and that he will go into one style of cooking or one type of food (e.g. steamed buns or clay pot) and then teach you several varieties on that. As far as I can tell this is a great book for someone who really wants to get into Vietnamese cooking as an art, understanding the cuisine as a whole rather than dabbling in a few dishes. I find his advice pretty low-key/practical, and he really walks you through certain details of e.g. how to choose a cleaver, what the difference between using a clay pot and a dutch oven might be. The conclusion is not always "buy the most expensive/task-specific equipment" which I appreciate a lot.
The negatives: I do find the book frustration-, ingredient-, and labor-intensive, so you have to commit. I wouldn't recommend buying this book if you don't have access to a good food processor, a good butcher, and a well-stocked Asian grocery store. This is also really not for someone who wants to throw together an Asian-inspired dinner in 20 minutes after getting home from work (though both the lemongrass porkchop and lemongrass chicken are great quick recipes) - for the most part this is weekend cooking for which you have to plan ahead and acquire the ingredients over several trips to the store.
I also do feel like sometimes, the recipes are not written in the most logical way (e.g. pork steamed bun says FIRST to make the dough - which must rise over 2 hrs - and THEN to make the pork - which must marinate overnight) or they actively make things harder (e.g. the sweet potato shrimp fritters instructions have you cross-hatching sweet potato sticks in the frying oil - after a while I just gave up and threw a whole clump in the oil which worked just as well). Other things really do just take a few tries to get right. I feel like these are the types of recipes where you sort of find your way after the second or third time making them and then they're pretty good - but following the steps to the letter does not seem to be the optimal way to proceed.
For people with a Western palate, I'd add: Vietnamese cooking really does use a lot of sugar and salt, and while I thought this book might cut down on those ingredients given SF's health-crazed foodies, I do still find the recipes pretty sweet and salty so you may need to adjust accordingly. Also, it is quite common to combine meat and fish in the same dish, which takes some getting used to and is worth being prepared for (since that applies to a lot of the recipes).
Overall, I really do enjoy the food that has come out of this book and I give Phan credit for what I think is a truly unique/distinct cookbook - it clearly has a lot of his personal voice/work/knowledge wrapped in and I think it covers a different segment of Vietnamese cuisine than many other cookbooks might. It's also pretty region-agnostic which is cool (since many of the recipes he seems to have collected through travels around Vietnam, so it's not along the lines of those cookbooks that just display a list of specialties from a chef's grandmother's hometown). As it's my first Vietnamese cookbook, though, I might supplement it with another volume that's a bit easier to cook along with.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2012
I just purchased the book from the bookstore and loving it. I'm Vietnamese and after looking through the book I knew I need to buy it. I cooked Pho (beef noodle soup) and spring rolls from the book and it was very tasty. Can't wait to cook my way through this wonderful book. Thank you Mr. Phan!!
updated 10/2 I just cooked banh xeo (crepe with pork and shrimp), another tasty dish. I need to go shop for ingredients to cook the meatballs for banh mi (Sandwich filled with meat, pickled veggies).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2013
This is the first cookbook that I've purchased in a while and it's quite nice. The build quality is good, solid and doesn't seem like it would fall apart. The photos are wonderful and engaging. The recipes are good and easy to follow. He doesn't used a lot of hard-to-find ingredients. I wish he would list the Vietnamese names along with the English names, but that's a minor problem.
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I strongly dislike the layout of this book. The pages seem cramped and ugly. But, the content is good, and makes up for the poor aesthetics.
I've spent years trying to make Pho as good as I can get from a good Vietnamese restaurant. Last night, after reading this cookbooks thoughts on Pho, I made the best Pho I've ever made, and I think it finally compared to a good restaurant's Pho. I took their advice and used a variety of bones for the stock: marrow bones, bones, and oxtail. I also roasted my onions and ginger in my oven instead of on the grill. All in all, it worked out very well. The biggest failure was the rice noodles that are available locally.
There is a lot of good text in here about the recipes, and a lot of good recipes. My main interest is Pho, because it seems so deceptively simple, but it has proven to be quite hard. Now that I might be over my Pho hump, I will hopefully try out some of my other favorite Vietnamese recipes. But I haven't yet. They do look good though.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2014
I'm professional cook and I found this book very amusing. I love the pictures and his techniques of prepping for food. The way he approaches Vietnamese cooking is different from any other Viet-Chef cookbook. It's not only traditional way, maybe it's why I love it. He combined Western and Eastern techniques and explained them clearly. I tried almost half of the recipes and everything so far turned out really tasty and delicious.