This book is great for beginners because it's very detailed and comprehensive. It has informative background information about Vietnamese culinary culture. Other Vietnamese cookbooks (i.e. Andre Nguyen's "Quick & Easy Vietnamese Home Cooking For Everyone, Diana My Tran's "The Vietnamese Cookbook") are also good for beginners because the recipes have been simplified, but they do not have detailed explanations of the ingredients and they do not include a wealth of information about the Vietnamese cuisine. On the other hand, this book is different because it guides the beginners through everything from selecting the best rice brands to selecting the best fish sauce brands. If you want a good understanding of the Vietnamese cuisine, then this book is a must. Then, you can add other Vietnamese cookbooks to your collection later. The author has a wealth of knowledge about Vietnamese cooking, and she sprinkles her pearls of wisdom throughout this book. If you're serious about cooking Vietnamese food, then you have to buy this book and Mai Pham's "Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table". The reasons I like this book are:
1) "Guide To Ingredients" at the back of the book. The names of the ingredients are both in English & Vietnamese so that you can read labels on jars/bottles/packages that have been written in Vietnamese. Detailed descriptions of all the common ingredients used in Vietnamese cooking are included, including how best to use them and which brands are the best. There is a great section about the difference between rice papers that are made from 100% rice flour and rice papers that are made from a combination of rice flour and tapioca flour. This author tells you which type of rice paper is better...very helpful information. Other Vietnamese cookbooks do not give their readers advice on how to select rice paper, which is an important Vietnamese ingredient. This author knows the difference between yellow rock sugar and white rock sugar, and she makes sure her readers do not make the mistake of buying white rock sugar because they're usually sold side by side on store shelves. Other Vietnamese cookbooks do not take pains to differentiate between these two types of rock sugar; this is important information to have. This author offers so many useful advices such as these. This book has the most detailed and helpful "Guide To Ingredients" of all the Vietnamese cookbooks out there, and I should know because I own several Vietnamese cookbooks.
2) "Note" sections at the end of recipes that give more instructions on how to store food or how to turn the recipe(s) into vegetarian dishes. It also gives advice about how to select, use, and prepare certain ingredients such as chestnuts.
3) This book is beautifully presented in color and is very organized. It's easy to follow and understand. Too bad not every recipe is accompanied by a photograph to encourage readers to try making the recipe, but this is a minor issue, I suppose. I think only 50% of the recipes are accompanied by a photo.
4) Good pork steamed buns recipe ("banh bao").
5) The charcuterie chapter so you can make your favorite Vietnamese cold cuts at home and modify the amount of fat you want in your cold cuts.
If I were you, I would buy this book before buying other Vietnamese cookbooks later on. After buying this book, I would buy Mai Pham's "Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table", which has fantastic and authentic recipes. Even though I'm recommending that you buy this book before buying Mai Pham's "Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table", Mai Pham's "Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table" is still my favorite Vietnamese cookbook on the market today. The recipes in Mai Pham's "Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table" are more authentic because they are based on those of street vendors and home cooks in Vietnam. This book is geared toward the American kitchens and adjustments to the recipes are made accordingly (i.e. ingredient substitutions for convenience). The only reason I'm recommending that you buy this book before buying Mai Pham's "Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table" is that this book has a great "Guide To Ingredients", which all beginners really need. One negative thing about this book is that its binding is not at all durable, and readers will have to baby this book if they want the pages to remain intact.