Thursday, 6 September 2012

cookbook review: vietnamese street food

For my birthday last year, I received a bunch of cookbooks from a Hardie Grant sale (thanks Simon!), and as befitting my nature, I've had fun reading them but have barely taken the time to follow any of the recipes.

They are interesting books, though, so today we'll talk about Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, which is a very pleasant cookbook to look at. Spacious layout, attractive design, easy-to-read font, approachable photos.

Vietnamese Street Food, a cookbook by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl.

As is evident from the title, the subject is that of street cuisine in Vietnam. It is a stimulating mix - with some inclusions that are not typically served in the Vietnamese restaurants in Australia, such as duck rice porridge and eel salad, to name a couple. Some recipes call for more exotic ingredients that I imagine I would have difficulty procuring in Australia - green rice or frog's legs, for example; and I feel that in some cases, additional photos or clarification would've been helpful. But for the most part, I've found the recipes to look quite user-friendly - mind you, I do have an Asian background, which probably helps. I also like the handy reference pages on sauces and condiments - simple, basic recipes which form the luscious notes to so many Vietnamese dishes.

So far, I've tried two recipes from the book - one savoury, and one sweet. Both were easy, which, let's face it, is always a draw card for lazy ol' me.

Earlier this year, I tried the ca kho to - caramel fish with galangal. I knew from the moment I saw the photo that I wanted to try this. The beautiful, burnished caramel sauce looked simply amazing.

Ca kho to, caramel fish with galangal, as seen in the cookbook Vietnamese Street Food.

I have mixed feelings about the results, however. It was very tasty (reminiscent of a lighter version of Thai green curry, we thought), but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. The coconut milk called for in the recipe muted the intense caramelised flavour and appearance it might otherwise have had, and further research (i.e. looking up other ca kho to recipes online) suggests that, most likely, the recipe should've called for coconut water instead. I might try that next time.

A questionable ca kho to, as attempted with the recipe from the cookbook, Vietnamese Street Food.

Then, a few weeks ago, I tried out the tao pho - silken tofu in ginger syrup. This is a type of dessert I'm familiar with, as they are commonly sold in Malaysian markets and growing up I would often have them as a sweet breakfast on the weekends. The version in the book has an interesting difference, though - the addition of mandarin juice and jasmine flowers.

Tao pho, silken tofu in ginger syrup, as seen in the Vietnamese Street Food cookbook.

This imparts a fruity, floral dimension to the dessert, and a pretty fragrance. I did play with the recipe a little. Not having much of a sweet tooth, I greatly reduced the amount of sugar. I couldn't find jasmine flowers, either, so I substituted some good quality jasmine green tea instead. Not quite the same, but close enough. The end result was simple, comforting, and delicious.

A successfully adapted Vietnamese-style tao pho - silken tofu in ginger syrup, scented with mandarin and jasmine.

Despite the hiccup with the ca kho to, and a lack of a more comprehensive glossary to explain the ingredients that are not-so-familiar in the Western world, I have to say that I do still like Vietnamese Street Food as a cookbook. There's a leisurely, comfortable quality to it, with the recipe headnotes giving you happy ideas of what it would be like to live and eat in Vietnam. As someone with a keen curiosity towards regional cuisine, it's just the sort I enjoy flipping through, daydreaming about how good each dish would be. When I get around to it, I'll be trying more of the recipes - perhaps some of the more well-known Vietnamese favourites, like the pho, the spring rolls, and the banh mi... but you know, the barbecued pork and the fried rice cakes with egg are also calling out to me. We'll see!

You may purchase Vietnamese Street Food on Fishpond and also on Amazon.

41 comments:

  1. I'm not familiar with vietnamese cuisine, but that ca kho to looks delicious! ;-)

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    1. The one shown in the book, or the one that I made? ;)

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  2. Duck rice porridge! That's like congee? I want that!

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    1. Yes, that's it! It's common to call congee, porridge in Asia... I was confused when I came to Australia and realised here it was more likely to refer to the stuff with oats... ;)

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  3. Oh yeah - definitely coconut water! My mum put me on to that for a couple of dishes like this one http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipe/8167/Lemongrass_chilli_chicken_%28ga_xao_xa_ot%29/search/true and it is just the right flavour!

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    1. Yep! I did wonder if it was perhaps one of those things where recipes vary according to different regions in Vietnam, but the ca kho to recipes I found online, and the photograph of the one in the book itself, strongly suggests it was a mistake. Luckily it still tasted delicious.

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  4. Mmmm street food - that's where it's at! I love sweetened silken tofu and silly me never thought of making at home - will have to remedy this..!

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    1. Yeah, it's ridiculously easy to make at home! Just have to cook up some ginger syrup, and plonk in some silken tofu which is so available at the shops these days. I should do it more often.

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  5. I failed at leaving a comment earlier, so here goes attempt number 4.

    I love the font of the cookbook's title. I love the looks of both of these dishes, despite being fairly unfamiliar with this cuisine. &I love the idea of jasmine flowers, but SO doubt that I can find them anywhere near me!

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    1. Oh no! Maybe I should turn off that option. I've noticed the captcha things have become really ridiculous for Blogger recently. Thanks for making the effort! x

      I love Vietnamese cuisine - they're very popular in Australia, plenty of restaurants. Jasmine flowers have a very pretty scent, but I haven't found them easy to come by in these parts.

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  6. Owhh! I remember seeing that Vietnamese caramel fish when I was watching a clip from Masterchef USA with the blind contestant. (So inspiring). Anyway, glad to hear they have the recipe too. You do a very good product review. I honestly feel you're growing as a food writer and getting better at your craft. Good stuff!

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    1. Aww thanks, Winston! I do think more before I post, these days, and try to be as fair and balanced as possible.

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  7. I've seen this book around the traps so it's really nice to see your perspective on it. Admittedly the last few cookbooks I've tested out haven't been the very best... I still rely on my classics and twists on magazine clippings.

    I love your addition of green tea to the dessert. I'm intrigued by those flavors! Regarding the jasmine flowers, might I suggest you try a Middle Eastern market? They often just sell the flowers (mostly dried but sometimes fresh) for tea :)

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    1. If you like, since we're practically neighbours, I'm happy to lend this book to you for a month or two so you can give it a whirl!

      And if you could recommend some Middle Eastern markets/shops, that would be great! I'm pretty clueless in that aspect... x

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  8. I gotta say, this looks like a fabulous book! That is, except for the recipe mistake - kind of makes you lose a bit of trust, doesn't it? I mean, working through a recipe takes a reasonable amount of time, and as a cookbook author, you don't want to create disincentives like that too often, I imagine.

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    1. Yes, I did wonder about it for awhile. Lucky it still tasted good - if it had been a complete disaster my review would likely have been quite negative! Wasn't sure how to go about this post at first, as I did still feel mostly positive about the book, but was doubtful about that recipe, so I decided to just provide my take on it and let readers make up their own minds as to whether it is a deal-breaker.

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  9. I was initially skeptical about this book because the authors don't seem to be from Vietnamese backgrounds but I think I will still suss this book out because the pictures look so amazing!

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    1. Yeah, they have Australian and German origins but they've lived in Vietnam before (and may still be living there, in fact, I think they run a cooking school in Hanoi). Maybe flip through the book in the shops and see how you feel about it.

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  10. the photos from this book look incredible! I'm not sure I've ever tried Vietnamese food before but it looks so tempting!

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    1. Try it when you get the chance, Vietnamese food is delicious!

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  11. What I love about reading the descriptions of Asian cuisine is that everything is so foreign to me. I love that. I hope things stay foreign so that I can slowly untangle names, ingredients, combinations of these new-to-me ingredients. I worry that our global food culture will all become the same and there won't anymore surprises. thank you for a break down on those three dishes. They were all so new to learn about!

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    1. The unfamiliar can be so exciting and novel, indeed! One of the reasons why I eat so much when I travel... ;)

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  12. I'm always pro cook book's reviews. There's so many of them on the market and it's difficult to choose one. I also like pictures in this one. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. I like the pictures, too - they showcase the food very nicely and in a manner that actually looks attainable! ;)

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  13. My mum makes ca kho to all the time at home and what a shame the caramelised flavours were washed away by the coconut milk! That's the best bit :)

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    1. Truly. Any chance of you sharing your mum's ca kho to recipe? ;)

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  14. I have this book and it is so beautiful. I love all of the simple little snacks in it. I wish I could find all of the ingredients, but that isn't the books fault.

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    1. I suppose the exotic ingredients make it all the more authentic. ;) It might've been nice to have some substitution suggestions, though I guess it wouldn't be quite the same - some things just have such a unique taste.

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  15. This book has been on my list, mostly because it's so pretty. Thanks for the review!

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  16. YUMMMM :) I think you've a great job with these two recipes~ I've never made any Vietnamese food at home ~ all the herbs are a bit scary to me so I think you've done a great job! That tao pho looks so good! I love TOFU!

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    1. These two recipes don't require a long list of herbs nor much work! That's why I was attracted to them... ;)

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  17. gaaawd, love love love silken tofu based desserts. This looks amazin. I have a Filipino version called 'taho' made with brown sugar and vanilla syrup.

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    1. Love the sound of that Filipino version! Must try it sometime.

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  18. I love love love Vietnamese food! I've been cooking out of The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen for a few years now and it's great. I think your version of that tofu dessert looks incredible!

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    1. Thank you! You must be so good at cooking up Vietnamese food by now, with all that practice!

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  19. Ha, I just bought this book the other day.Busting to road test some of the recipes. Thank you for the recommendations ; D

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  20. How come i missed this book? The caramel fish looks delicious. I was shown how to make it in Saigon a few years ago and i took some messy notes at the time, but it never did turn out as well as it should have done. I will have to hunt down this book. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Yes - just note that this book's recipe for the caramel fish is probably not quite right! :p

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