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Cafe Vietnam (Conran Octopus "Cafe" Cookbook Series) Paperback – February, 1999
The Amazon Book Review
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"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
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Top Customer Reviews
I bought a selection of Vietnamese cookery books through Amazon and I can honestly say that having tried using all of them, "Cafe Vietnam" by Annabel Jackson comes top of my list for usability.
This book is by no means comprehensive (if you really want to sink your teeth into Vietnamese cookery, then you need to try other ones) but the selection of recipes, great photos and easy-to-follow instructions are ideal for beginners at Vietnamese cookery.
The thing that appealed to me the most is that the recipes are simplified and yet retain authenticity and originality. If you look at the same dishes in other Vietnamese cookery books, you will see that they are often considerably more complex and can therefore put you off from trying them.
I was concerned at first that the simplification of the recipes would diminish the authentic taste of the dishes but it doesn't. The concise paring down of the ingredient lists and handling instructions make the recipes more accessible (do-able), and makes one realise that some of the other cookery books, though lovely, are unnecessarily fussy. As always, the proof is in the eating, and I thought the results of my cookery experiments were not as good as the food I had in Vietnam but nevertheless highly satisfactory for an amateur.