Cookbook Review: Street Food Vietnam, by Jerry Mai

Celebrate the diverse, beloved recipes found across Vietnam through the eyes (and taste buds) of Vietnamese-Australian chef/restaurateur Jerry Mai.

By
A fun and easy-to-use introduction to simple Vietnamese treats.
Overall
4

Jerry Mai knows Vietnamese food better than most. Born in Vietnam and raised in Australia, she has worked in eateries around the world, including the famous Japanese restaurant Zuma, in London. She currently owns two of her own restaurants in Melbourne: Pho Nom and Annam. Combining her mother’s recipes, her own creations, and new ideas she brings back from regular trips to her homeland, Mai brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her subject-matter.

Street Food Vietnam collates the quick, comforting food that most of us associate with Vietnamese cuisine. All the expected recipes are there: Banh Mi, Pho and rice paper rolls, along with new takes on traditional dishes.

The book itself is a delight to read: bright, funky and well laid-out, every recipe includes a full-page colour photograph. There is a list of commonly used ingredients at the front, and at the back are recipes for some of the basics such as flavoured oils, dipping sauces, and the chicken liver pate essential to authentic banh mi. As well as some desserts, there are also instructions for making delicious Vietnamese coffees: the only time I like a sweetened coffee!

As a big fan of noodle soups of any kind, I decided to tackle one of the pho recipes.

Pho Ga (chicken pho) p 154

Pho is a lighter style of noodle soup than others such as laksa. It is based on a flavoursome, spiced broth. Getting the broth right is clearly the key to a good pho. This recipe gives simple instructions for boiling up a chicken into the basis of a heart-warming soup. If you follow the instructions to the letter, this will take all day (although it can be cooking while you’re doing other things). For a quicker version you could buy a good quality ready-made chicken stock and then go from step 4, reducing the cooking time to about an hour.

The only ingredient substitution I made was to use palm sugar instead of caster sugar.

Mai’s pho ga is delicious, spicy and filling, and will be part of my regular repertoire from now on.

Bap Nuong Pho Mai (grilled sweet corn with Laughing Cow cheese) p 90

I wanted to tackle one of the more unusual dishes as well and I could eat sweet corn until it’s coming out of my ears, so any new way to serve it is welcome in my kitchen. This recipe also caught my eye because it sounds so unusual: corn dipped in soft cheese and mayonnaise, topped with fried Chinese sausage and spring onion oil. This one really is a case of “stay with me”!

According to Mai, sweet corn is a common Vietnamese street food snack, and this is her recipe. I’m not sure how she came up with this particular combination, but it is utterly delicious. More than a snack, a couple of cobs of this would make a perfectly respectable lunch or supper. If you have left-over spring onion oil, you can always use it for cooking, or as a salad dressing, but within the same day.

There is much more from this gorgeous book which I am keen to try, including some beautiful sweet dishes such as coffee crème caramel, attesting to the French influence on Vietnam.

Vietnamese food and culture has played a significant role in shaping modern Australia, since the first major wave of migration in the early 70s. Most of us have eaten, if not cooked, some of these dishes, and we certainly have easy access to the ingredients, almost all of which are quite economical.  

Street Food Vietnam is the perfect addition to the Australian household, where noodles, banh mi and dumplings regularly appear on the menu, or on the take-away order. A delight to read and to use, this is sure to become a classic.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster Australia
Released: May 2019
RRP: $35.00

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