I used to love reading through cookbooks, but for some reason, I just don’t seem to have as much time doing that anymore. So, I’ve decided that I am going to start reviewing more cookbooks on my blog that teach me about cuisines that I’m interested in learning more about, as well as books with Food as Medicine as the theme.
Today, I’m reviewing Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking cookbook. Charles Phan is the chef-owner of the Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, known for its modern Vietnamese cuisine. I’ve never been to Slanted Door, but it’s on my bucket list. In the meantime, I am satisfying my dream by learning more about Vietnamese cuisine.
My first exposure to Vietnamese food was when I was growing up – my mom had a Vietnamese friend who would send home steamed Vietnamese meat rolls. And then, about six years ago, I became friends with a Vietnamese woman in my town who had stomach cancer. As our friendship developed, I discovered that we both loved food, and she introduced me to some of her favorite Vietnamese dishes – pho, banh mi, and bun rice noodle salad bowls. She had immigrated to the U.S. as a young girl but still craved the Vietnamese foods from her childhood.
I have to admit that when I first flipped through this cookbook, I was a bit confused – there were Vietnamese recipes and Chinese recipes intertwined, authentic recipes and more modern twists. As it turns out, Vietnamese Home Cooking is a collection of recipes for the home cook that Charles Phan has culled together from various places. Some recipes were adapted for his restaurant from his childhood memories, other recipes were recreated from his visits to Vietnam using American ingredients. In addition, there are recipes he has adapted from his restaurant for the home kitchen, perhaps prepared slightly differently than traditional methods, using local ingredients. Finally, there are recipes for some of his favorite foods he grew up eating.
There is beautiful photography peppered throughout the book, including photos of modern Vietnam, Charles in the kitchen, step-by-step instructions for making rice crepes, and the ingredients needed to prepare the recipes.
Although Charles Phan’s mother is Vietnamese (whose cooking style was French/Vietnamese), his father is actually Chinese (from Canton) so a number of the recipes in his cookbook are Chinese or heavily influenced by Chinese cooking. There are apparently a lot of ethnic Chinese that emigrated to Vietnam, so Vietnamese ingredients, cooking techniques and dishes can resemble Chinese cuisine. So, while at first glance, Charles Phan’s new cookbook might not resemble an authentic Vietnamese cookbook, it mirrors the fusion of Asian food that is eaten in Vietnam and in Charles’ home growing up. Phan, himself, left Vietnam in 1975 at the age of 12, and went to Guam before settling in the U.S., and eventually married a Thai woman, which also helps explain the diversity of recipes in his cookbook.
While the cookbook starts out with chapters on Soup and Street Food, the rest of the cookbook is organized by cooking method (Steaming, Braising, Stir-Frying, Grilling and Frying). Mr. Phan suggests that the home cook choose a cooking technique and an ingredient that they feel like eating and go from there. For example, if you’re in the mood for something braised, and feel like having fish, try Braised Branzino with Tomatoes and Pickled Mustard Greens. Although this might not be the typical format for a cookbook, I found it interesting.
With its mix of restaurant-style meals and home-cooking, Vietnamese and Chinese recipes, Vietnamese Home Cooking gives a glimpse into Mr. Phan’s ethnic roots, while documenting the recipes that have become part of his assimilation into the American culture. All the ingredients are easily purchased in supermarkets. Like so many immigrants who come to the United States, Mr. Phan has adapted recipes that he grew up eating in Vietnam to fit today’s tastes, and adopted American ingredients into his Vietnamese-American kitchen.
I find Mr. Phan’s story inspiring, like so many immigrants (including my own parents) – fleeing his homeland during a time of war to the U.S. in hopes of building a dream, and succeeding through a lot of sweat and hard work. At the age of 15, he cooked out of necessity for his family of ten (while his parents each worked two jobs), and took the lead trying to assimilate his family to living in the U.S. Though he never formally trained as a chef (he actually studied Architecture), he is now the successful owner of The Slanted Door, a renowned restaurant in California that has been in business for the past 15 years, showcasing modern Vietnamese using local produce fresh ingredients. Bravo Charles!
And now for the Giveaway! I have one copy of Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking cookbook to giveaway.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Vietnamese Home Cooking; my opinions are my own.