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Books capture style and substance of Vietnamese cuisine

April 28, 2000
Web posted at: 5:52 p.m. EDT (2152 GMT)

(CNN) -- In a sea of Italian, Chinese and backyard grilling cookbooks, Vietnamese culinary guides offer something fresh and intriguing.

'World Food Vietnam'

Heavy on information but small enough to cradle in your hand, "World Food Vietnam" is a complete reference for Vietnamese food, both for the traveler and the cook.

There are several recipes for defining dishes (Happy Crepes from Hue, Clay Pot Pork from South Vietnam), but the bulk of the book is when, what and how to eat.

Richard Sterling lays down the ingredients (pickled shallots, lotus seeds) and explains dining habits and cultural considerations for eating Vietnamese at home or abroad. There are quick tips on regional beer, vegetarian dining and chopstick do's and don'ts.

He joyfully takes readers on eating tours of the country's restaurants, floating markets and family homes. And he gives suggestions for recreating your own Vietnamese feast for family and friends.

  • Recipe: Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese fish sauce)

    'Authentic Vietnamese Cooking: Food from a Family Table'

    Corinne Trang, a former director of the test kitchen for Saveur magazine, has streamlined traditional recipes and gracefully holds the home cook's hand in "Authentic Vietnamese Cooking."

    There are few photos, but Trang is thorough in explaining recipes in their historical and practical context even before listing the ingredients. Exotic ingredients and equipment needs are explained in full.

    Her seasonal menu suggestions are easy to incorporate -- gently westernized into manageable courses instead of following the Vietnamese tradition of serving everything at once.

    Trang, who was raised in France, seems to carry that influence into many recipes, including Spicy Beef and Carrot Stew, Vietnamese Coffee, and Saigon Baguette, a bread made with both wheat and rice flour.

  • Recipe: Banh Mi (Saigon Baguette)

    'The Vietnamese Cookbook'

    This is the first book for Diana My Tran, a designer and dressmaker in Washington, D.C., who was raised in Vietnam.

    My Tran is quick to note that she has "transformed" traditional dishes for her Americanized family. She often drops exotic ingredients, trying to stay with what most people can find in a standard supermarket.

    Recipes are practical, utilizing modern conveniences -- mung bean cakes are steamed on small squares of aluminum foil and egg roll wrappers can be substituted for the traditional rice paper in spring rolls.

    It's a small, but charming book for beginners.

    Photos of Vietnam and finished dishes are by Steve Raymer, a National Geographic photographer who has been to Vietnam several times.

  • Recipe: Cha Gio (Spring Rolls)

    'The Foods of Vietnam'

    An award-winning book originally published in 1989, "The Foods of Vietnam" has recently been re-released in paperback.

    Routhier, a Houston author of several cookbooks, grew up in Vietnam and Laos.

    The book has beautiful color photography and suggested menus that make the food thrilling. Many dishes have long ingredient lists or can be complicated, but there's no doubt they're authentic.

    Routhier's mother's recipe for pho bo, the famed beef stew of Vietnam, includes directions for a long-cooked, rich beef broth of oxtails and beef bone marrow, flavored with star anise and cinnamon. The broth alone takes hours -- you can almost smell it cooking.

    Recipe: Pho Bac (Hanoi Beef and Rice-Noodle Soup)

    Light and aromatic: Take a trip into Vietnamese cuisine
    April 28, 2000
    Vietnam's street food
    April 28, 2000

    Lonely Planet Online
    Simon and Schuster

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