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Every time I see a Vietnamese cookbook at my library, I have to pick it up. The Vietnamese Market Cookbook by Van Tran and Anh Vu was no exception. A quick flip through the gorgeous photographs, and I had to take it home for a test drive.
I’ve been collecting Vietnamese cookbooks since my college days, when I joined a cookbook of the month club. Back then, there were very few available. Most of them were written by white folks. For better or worse, Vietnamese food is becoming popular and trendy (blech), which means publishers are releasing more Vietnamese books written by actual Vietnamese people. Imagine that!
What is more amazing is that I’m seeing cookbooks featuring regional recipes! Van Tran and Anh Vu were born in Hanoi, the northern end of the country–opposite from my parents’ birthplaces. The two women grew up in Vietnam and traveled to the US and UK as students. In 2009, they opened Banhmi11 in a food stall in London’s Broadway Market.
Flipping through cookbook’s glossy pages, it’s fascinating to see the western influences in their Vietnamese dishes. For example:
- Shrimp Summer Rolls in Sweetheart Cabbage uses cabbage instead of a traditional rice wrapper.
- Salmon with Ginger Caramel reminds me of the catfish version my mom makes.
- Papaya Salad with Crispy Anchovies is a twist on the green papaya salad that’s often topped with dried beef or shrimp
The chapters inThe Vietnamese Market Cookbookare broken down into moods: Sweet & Happiness or Spiciness & Adventures to name a couple. Within each chapter, the dishes are further categorized by when/how the dishes would traditionally be served: Everyday Cooking, Festive Cooking, and Social Cooking.
The social indicators brought back memories of running around my aunt’s house while the adults sat and ate small plates with drinks in hand as they caught up on gossip. The everyday cooking dishes are comfort foods that remind me of dinner with my family.
I didn’t try out all the recipes, not because the dishes didn’t look good. They all sounded amazing, but I didn’t have the time. Also, I am not a follow the recipe exactly kind of cook. I use them as inspiration and starting point for my food.
However, I did make their Caramelized Braised Pork Belly. In my early twenties, I remember calling my mom and asking for her recipe for this dish. It’s pure comfort food. Salty, sweet, tender pork eaten over steamed white rice and pickled mustard greens. It’s not pretty to look at, but I loved this dish. I make it often for my family–usually with the addition of hard boiled eggs–and they love it as much as I do.
My mom uses dark soy sauce and sugar (in the old days it was chunks of MSG) as a timesaving shortcut. I’ve been on a search for a made-from-scratch version that tasted like my childhood version. So far, I haven’t found it.
Tran and Vu’s version calls for caramelizing sugar right in the pot. It’s much sweeter than I’m used to and with much less fish sauce. I did make the recipe as they wrote it, but ended up doctoring it for a better balance between sweet and salty.
I’m sad that I have to return the book to my library. There’s many more recipes I want to try, but haven’t had the time. I will definitely add The Vietnamese Market Cookbook to my cookbook collection.