Delicious Vietnam #1 – My favourite Vietnamese cookbooks.

Sword Lake - Hanoi Vietnam
{Sword Lake – Hanoi}

For my contribution to Delicious Vietnam – May edition, I have decided towrite about my favourite Viet cookbooks. For a cookbook addict like myself, surprisingly, I don’t own a lot of Viet cookbooks (in either English or Vietnamese). Only the best books stay on my shelf. And these serve as inspirations and ways of connecting myself to my root.

Up until 2006-2007, Viet cookbooks were so few and hard to understand. I guess before Asian cuisines become popular in the western world, describing native Vietnamese ingredients was not easy. Now, things have changed for the better! There are more ingredients available, and some excellent cookbooks on Vietnamese cuisine have been published.

Before proceeding, it’s worth noting that most of the following cookbooks are written in a way so that you can cook a good Vietnamese meal using readily available ingredients in the West. While some of the dishes may not be 100% authentic, they still capture the soul of the cuisine.

My major complaint is those books focus mostly on Southern Vietnamese cooking. The need for a more complete work on Central and Northern Viet cuisines is still there. And I’m patiently waiting.

It’s not easy to pick out which books are the best. But these are my personal favourites. You may spot the obvious Australian bias. After all, I live in the country!

In no particular order,

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen – Andrea Nguyen

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavours

I dare say this is a classic book on modern Vietnamese cuisine. A milestone and a must have. Author Andrea Nguyen put much care into writing the recipes and techniques, which is fantastic for novice home cooks. Recipes include those popular ones at Viet restaurants and other home-cooking favourites.

The Songs of Sapa – Luke Nguyen

The Songs of Sapa: Stories and Recipes from Vietnam

Adorable and gorgeous! Sapa is a fantastic travel-cookbook, which detail Luke Nguyen’s experience in his home country. Compared to other Viet cookbooks, Sapa is more adventurous. The recipes are those Luke learned during his journey, so they carry a bit more authentic and local sense. I haven’t tried any recipes in the book, but the photos alone make me really homesick.

(My MIL said that Luke Nguyen was the most handsome young chef in Oz TV. Ha! Asian bias!! You, go, mom!)

Secrets of the Red Lantern – Pauline Nguyen, Luke Nguyen, Mark Jensen

Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Recipes from the Heart

(The name sounds more like a novel than a cookbook, doesn’t it?)

An interesting read, accompanied by fantastic and solid recipes for modern Viet cooking.

I love Red Lantern restaurant. I do. To this date, it remains one of the best Viet restaurants in Australia. It is not pretentious but focuses on the vibrancy of South Vietnamese cooking – fresh, lots of herbs and undeniably sweet.

This book, for me, is more than a cookbook though. It tells the story of Australian immigrant family, from the first generation arrived after the war until now. I enjoy the book immensely since it gives me much deeper understanding about the life and struggle of those Vietnamese living overseas. Another point of view, and I do feel moved.

Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table – Mai Pham

Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table

Quite a basic book, full of familiar recipes. Published before ‘Into the Vietnamese kitchen’. No glossy photos, just plain text and illustration. The explanation was inadequate at points, but the recipes were good and solid.

This is my first ever Vietnamese cookbook in English and I love it still. The chicken pho is a must-try.

Wild, Wild East – Bobby Chinn

Wild, Wild East: Recipes and Stories from Vietnam

Bobby Chin is quite a character, isn’t he? A highly respected chef in Asia, true. But for some reasons his restaurant is not very popular among the local in Hanoi. (Oh, because it’s expensive. First reason!)

Regardless, I LOVE his cookbook (and it’s not because he shares the same name as my husband). Of all the cookbooks I have seen, this cookbook has the most Northern influenced dishes, the kind of food I grew up with. There are some lovely Hanoi-style recipes there with some local knowledge. What’s more? Some personal Bobby Chinn’s style twist on the dishes, which I totally approve. The photography is stunning, too.

Authentic Recipes from Vietnam – Trieu Thi Choi and others

Authentic Recipes from Vietnam

A few years back Trieu Thi Choi (with Trieu being the surname) was like the Martha Stewart of Vietnam. She wrote a lot of books on cooking, sewing and flowers arrangement (Basically, how to be a Vietamese domestic goddess?) I don’t like her recipes much since they fall into the ‘formal’ Viet cooking category, which is heavily Chinese-influenced.

That’s said, this cookbook is a gem. There are a lot of good and authentic recipes. Not much insight and detailed explanation to the cuisine, ingredients and techniques though. It is more suitable for those who are already familiar with South East Asian cooking. Side note: the beef stew recipe is a winner!

Honourable mention Vietnam chapter in “Fire” by Christine Manfield

Fire: A World of Flavour

The secret is out. I adore Ms. Manfield’s cookbooks. I have all of her books, back to the Paramount era. Every single one of them is fascinating to read.

Anyway, Fire is also a travel-cookbook with C. Manfield’s personal touch. She displays an insightful knowledge about Vietnamese cuisines, with some advice on travelling and where to eat. The recipes are no where near traditional. Rather, these dishes are C. Manfield’s interpretation of Vietnamese flavours. C. Manfield’s book requires some basic cooking knowledge and the recipes are more complicated.

***

I hope this small Viet cookbook review will be of help for those who loves this cuisine. There are a few days left for Delicious Vietnam (deadline is May 10th). So join us if to celebrate the love for Viet cuisine!

Information about Delicious Vietnam – May edition can be found here.

Note: Photos of cookbooks are from fishpond.com.au

32 Responses to Delicious Vietnam #1 – My favourite Vietnamese cookbooks.

  1. thepassionatecook says:

    i have a wonderful vietnames cookbook called lemongrass and lime. it's a sort of modernised version, but i just adore the photography and so far, the recipes haven't disappointed. of course, i am just a lover, not an expert of vietnames cooking, so i couldn't judge the authenticity!

  2. Faith says:

    These books sound fantastic, I will have to check them out! I'm especially interested in Secrets of the Red Lantern!

  3. Mark @ Cafe Campana says:

    These books look delicious. I need to hold myself back not to buy all of them.

  4. cookingpractice says:

    It is easily noticed that there are very rare qualified Vietnamese cook books in Vietnamese :( I have a very old one, and i don't really agree much with the recipes :(

  5. Cherrie Pie says:

    I love Vietnamese food but rarely cook it at home. Thanks for sharing these cookbooks. I need to get my hands on some of them.

  6. penny aka jeroxie says:

    I must get hold of Fire. Will try my best for the 10th. No promise but will try my best. :)

  7. Tangled Noodle says:

    Fabulous list! I'm already a huge fan of Andrea Nguyen but all the others are new to me. Except for Filipino cookbooks, I don't have others that specifically focus on a single Asian cuisine; instead, I have a few compilations that cover the whole region. But there's a lot missing when trying to cover such a wide and diverse array of cuisines. I'm going to look for these books!

  8. Phuoc'n Delicious says:

    Great books Anh, I have the first three. Andrea's was the first Viet cook book I own and the first time I saw it I was so excited because I have never seen a Viet cook book on the shelves before. I made Banh Xeo from her book and this was the first time I exposed this dish to my italian bf (who now loves the dish).

  9. Rosa's Yummy Yums says:

    A nice selection of books! I have been looking for a Vietnamese cookery book since long… I love that country's food!

  10. Wandering Chopsticks says:

    I've never heard of the last one. The first Vietnamese cookbook I ever saw was Nicole Routhier's "The Foods of Vietnam," published in 1989. It had a lot of substitutions such as grape leaves for la lot, but for its time, I thought it was pretty amazing.

  11. Heavenly Housewife says:

    What a fantastic selection of cook books. I've seen a couple of them in the book stores, but I'll have to keep my eyes open for some more. I do have to be careful nowadays, as I am collecting way too many.

  12. Su-Lin says:

    Thanks for the recommendations! I've only cooked out of Mai Pham's and it is indeed excellent. Definitely going to check out the rest.

  13. Ravenous Couple says:

    fantastic first entry and great insight to the books…it's sad but we own none. Ate once at Bobby Chinn's and have the same feeling as the locals :)

  14. La Pham Nikita says:

    Wow, nice book review! I didn't know there were so many Vietnamese cookbooks out there. I lived in Hanoi and I must say that Bobby Chinn's restaurant was appreciated there among the expats (it's no longer there, unfortunately). My friends and I often went there for special occasions to enjoy the cozy ambience, warm chocolate pudding, and sheeshas. It's not a restaurant for the

  15. Anh says:

    thepassionatecook, I´m checking out that book you mention. I own more Viet cookbooks, but those listed here are more solid and inspiring IMHO.

  16. maninas says:

    Thanks very much for this excellent introduction to Vietnamese cookbooks. It's very helpful, too, especially to novices like me.

  17. FFichiban says:

    Wahhh looking at this makes me want to go out and buy more cookbooks! I should really try some of the recipes from Songs of Sapa first though hmmm

  18. tigerfish says:

    Thanks for the introduction to Viet cookbooks. Vietnamese food is very popular (and common) in California but I admit I am lousy at cooking Vietnamese food at home. I seriously need a cookbook like one of these.

  19. thecoffeesnob says:

    Hi Anh. I love vietnamese food and actually have a copy of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen but have yet to cook out of it. Is there any recipe in there you'll recommend for a complete newbie in the culinary world of Vietnamese cuisine?

  20. Anh says:

    thecoffeesnob, I'd say to start with the chicken and cabbage salad. Or the fresh spring rolls (goi cuon). The pho recipes are a bit daunting, but worth the effort. I'll take a look at the book again. It's with my MIL, so I will do so when I visit her!

  21. shaz says:

    Great review Anh! I just realised I don't own ANY vietnamese cookbooks. Need to remedy that ASAP…now to decide where to start.

  22. Little Corner of Mine says:

    You have some nice collection of Vietnamese cookbooks there. :)

  23. Ms Baklover says:

    Thanks for the reviews, Anh! I have "Secrets of the Red Lantern" and loved the story woven through it. Good to know you rate the recipes too :)

  24. simauma says:

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  25. Y says:

    Great to be able to get some recommendations. I only have Luke Nguyen's books, which I love, but I'd be interested in looking at the other ones you've mentioned too.

  26. Ellie (Almost Bourdain) says:

    Anh, Thanks for sharing all your favourite Vietnamese cookbooks. I have a few but only have tried a few dishes from Luke Nguyen. Love Vietnamese cuisine and hope to learn more from you.

  27. Tammy says:

    Hi Anh,

  28. Gattina says:

    Anh, i am actually dreaming of one day, you are going to have your own cookbook, maybe then the one abt central/ northern crusine :)

  29. 3 hungry tummies says:

    Pleasures of the Vietnamese table is one of my very favourite. It is my bible to good Vietnamese food, have been for almost 10 years now :)

  30. Anonymous says:

    I also like Quick and Easy Vietnamese, by Nancy McDermott (Chronicle books). I am an American, and it gave me the entree to start cooking Vietnamese. I had looked at Mai Pham's book but felt too intimidated. Quick and Easy was so good that my husband, who spends his time moving cookbooks out of the way in all corners of our house, encouraged me to buy it after I had checked it out of the

  31. cait says:

    You can see a good collection of Vietnamese cookbooks in English here for your reference:

  32. Store says:

    my favorite viet restaurant is the one in my kitchen! making viet food with my mom is fun and a lot easier than everyone thinks! but there is one place in boston's chinatown that the regulars formally know as DK, also called dong khanh, and it is wicked good there.

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