Whether you’ve been in Vietnam for years, or are just finding your feet, there is one thing we can all agree on. This country is a dream destination for food lovers! On every street corner your can grab a delicious banh mi, sip a cà phê sữa đá, or tuck into a piping hot bowl of phở at any hour of the day. Or at least we could until the dreaded ‘C Word’ forced our favourite street food sellers, restaurants and cafes to close their doors.
So now what do we do? If you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering how you can transform a bunch of wilting cilantro and a pack of rice noodles into a delicious meal that not only fills your belly, but satisfies your cravings for a serving of Vietnamese cuisine. Also like me, you might be wondering ‘how’ to cook Vietnamese food, seeing as I usually nip down to the street and pick up something so tasty and affordable that I’ve never really bothered to learn how to cook Vietnamese food before now.
Luckily for us all, Vietnamese cuisine is the perfect place to start for the novice chef. Versatile and often simple to make, the flavours of Vietnamese food gain complexity through the expert combining of fresh herbs, sauces and spices rather than difficult cooking processes or the use of a million ingredients.
With a quick peek inside this selection of the best Vietnamese cookbooks around (each one is available as an e-book too!) you’ll be sure to find inspiration to try these easy recipes that are destined to make your palate sing!
Christine Ha’s, “Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food from the Winner of MasterChef” will tell you everything you’ve wanted to know about The Blind Cook’s life and cooking style.
Is the author legit? Yes! Christine Ha wowed the world in Season 3 of MasterChef America by beating out the competition with her Vietnamese-American influenced dishes, despite being legally blind. Ha became a symbol of strength and inspiration in both Vietnam and America after her surprise win, but don’t be fooled into thinking she became famous just for overcoming great odds. According to the back cover of the cookbook, Chef Gordon Ramsey says, “The lady has an extraordinary palate, a palate of incredible finesse.” Judging from Ramsey’s famously televised temper tantrums, this type of compliment doesn’t come easily.
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Skill level? Basic to moderate cooking aptitude is required depending on the recipe. Home cooks living in Asia may find some of the American ingredients hard to find and vice versa. However, Ha does a great job of describing the techniques needed to successfully craft a delicious meal.
Are the recipes traditional or westernised? Ha was born and raised in Los Angeles after her parents immigrated to the US from Vietnam. The recipes in the book reflect Ha’s dual heritage. Within the pages of the cookbook you’ll find all types of comfort foods ranging from catfish cooked in claypot to American-style fried chicken. This is a cookbook for those who love food of all types and want to invigorate dishes with new twists on the classics.
What’s special about this book? “Recipes from My Home Kitchen” will appeal to both Asian and Western aspiring cooks. Christine Ha became an icon in both Vietnam and the US with her astonishing rise to fame. Ha has a degree in creative writing and her skillful essays about her life will inspire, as much as her recipes excite.
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Where can you get it? “Recipes from My Home Kitchen” is available through Ha’s website The Blind Cook, or you can get the Kindle edition here. You can also follow Ha on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Australia’s most famous Vietnamese chef, Luke Nguyen, will take you on a culinary journey from the street food of Saigon to the seafood specialities of the Vietnamese coast, all while giving the reader an intimate peek into Nguyen’s unique life and heritage in “The Food of Vietnam”.
Is the author legit? Definitely! Luke Nguyen’s parents were part of the wave of “boat-people” who fled Saigon in 1978. They landed in Sydney, where Nguyen’s parents opened up a restaurant in Cabramatta, a Sydney suburb mainly populated with Vietnamese immigrants. Nguyen’s parents were obsessed with food and they passed that quality on to two of their children. Pauline and Luke Nguyen opened up the Red Lantern in South Sydney in 2002, and it quickly took the culinary world by storm. According to the website, the Red Lantern is “the world’s most awarded Vietnamese restaurant”.
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Following his restaurant’s success, Luke Nguyen became a household name due to his television series “Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam”, “Luke Nguyen’s France” and “Luke Nguyen’s Street Food Asia” as well as his eight subsequent cookbooks.
Skill level? Moderate. Nguyen sometimes refers to ingredients by their Australian names, so you may need to Google a few words. However, Nguyen takes care to mostly include ingredients that can be found in your local market.
Are the recipes traditional or westernised? Traditional. The cookbook is separated into sections based on different locations in Vietnam. Nguyen shares a short anecdote about each area and then dives into telling the reader how to prepare the region-specific dishes.
What’s special about this book? More than just a cookbook, “The Food of Vietnam” is also a travelogue about the country that influenced Sydney’s culinary movement towards high-class Vietnamese cuisine. Full-colour, National Geographic-style photographs will seduce you to try your hand at the recipes.
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Where can you get it? “The Food of Vietnam” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the Kindle edition here. You can also watch Nguyen’s culinary adventures in “Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam” on his YouTube Channel, or follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Travel vicariously through the traditional food markets of Vietnam with British-Vietnamese chefs Anh Vu and Vanh Tran in “Vietnamese Market Cookbook - Spicy, Sour, Sweet”.
Are the authors legit? Yes. Despite having no formal chef training, Vu and Tran are definitely the real deal. The duo became famous after opening their bánh mì stand, Bánh mì 11, in East London’s Broadway market. The Oxford educated grads had originally gone into the corporate world of finance but ended up scrapping all that stress for a foray into street eats. What could have been a misadventure in less capable hands has turned into a success story.
Skill level? Easy. This cookbook is perfect for the home chef who wants to try his/her hand at Vietnamese cooking but doesn’t want to delve into specially ordered ingredients and hard to find spices. The recipes are praised for being easy to follow and delightful in their simplicity. Each section is divided into three sections: everyday cooking, festive cooking, and social cooking.
Are the recipes traditional or westernised? The recipes remain traditional despite some added panache in the preparation. The bánh mì recipes, such as “pork massaged in lemongrass”, are not the only stars of the book. Be prepared for more than 70 other recipes that are sure to inspire.
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What’s special about this book? Due to the exodus after the American War, many of the Vietnamese chefs who have become famous outside of Vietnam hail from the South, and their cooking styles reflect that. Anh Vu and Vanh Tran grew up in Hanoi and they bring their signature flare to the tastes of Northern Vietnam. Each chapter explores one of the five essential Vietnamese flavours: spicy, sour, sweet, salty and bitter.
Where can you get it? “Vietnamese Market Cookbook” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the ebook here.
“Vegetarian Viet Nam” by Cameron Stauch is a must for those who want healthy, delicious, and environmentally friendly food. The recipes within the book are adapted from centuries of research into the vegetarian cuisine of the Mahayana Buddhist monks.
Is the author legit? Yes! Even though Cameron Stauch is the only non-Vietnamese chef on this list, he knows his stuff. Former member of the cooking staff for the Governor General, Queen Elizabeth’s representative in Canada, Stauch has also worked in restaurants all over Asia.
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Skill level? Easy. Most of the difficulty will stem from trying to find specific ingredients but once that is done recipes such as, “curried vegetable stew with baguette”, are both simple enough for the home cook to recreate and hearty enough to satisfy even the largest appetites. It isn’t hard to eat well when the food is both delectable and sustainable.
Are the recipes traditional or westernised? The book focuses on traditional Vietnamese recipes for cơm cháy (vegetarian food).
What’s special about this book? The only vegetarian book on our list, “Vegetarian Viet Nam” is also beautiful to look at. 70 full-colour photographs sit alongside an easy-going writing style. Plus, this is the only cookbook that has a glowing review from the first fully ordained monastic disciple of Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh.
Sister Chan Khong writes, “This beautiful book of delicious Vietnamese vegetarian cuisine shows how we can all contribute to protecting and healing ourselves and our precious planet by eating vegan. Being vegan is a simple, non-violent and effective way to bring about change for our world”.
Where can you get it? “Vegetarian Viet Nam” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the eBook here. To learn more about Stauch check out his website here, Twitter here, or Instagram here.
The last cookbook on the list is a culinary love letter to Vietnam. Andrea Nguyen’s, “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors” dives headfirst into the nostalgia Nguyen feels for the classic recipes of her late mother, and the cultural heritage her parents brought with them when they immigrated to America in 1975.
Is the author legit? Definitely. This book is probably the most decorated of all of the cookbooks on our list. “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” was a finalist for the 2007 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence, which is America’s top culinary award. In addition, Nguyen’s cookbook was awarded two International Association of Culinary Professional prizes for best first book and best international cookbook. The Chicago Tribune goes so far as to say that “Andrea Nguyen may be to Vietnamese food what Julia Child was to French fare and Barbara Tropp to Chinese cuisine”.
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Skill level? Easy to Difficult. There is something for everyone in this opus. With more than 175 recipes ranging from Master Chef level to the tier just above pack-o’-ramen, aspiring cooks just have to sift through the recipes and full-color photographs to find their pleasure.
Are the recipes traditional or westernised? Traditional. To make these classic Vietnamese dishes, Nguyen also directs readers on how to shop for important ingredients, which are surprisingly easy to find if you know where to look.
What’s special about this book? On her website, Nguyen writes that “When my family was airlifted out of Saigon in 1975, one of the few belongings that my mother hurriedly packed for the journey was her small orange notebook of recipes.”
More than 30 years later, Nguyen has added to that treasured culinary heritage. Part cookbook, part memoir, part encyclopedia of Vietnam’s diverse food traditions, “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” is a creation that is as enjoyable as a stunning coffee table book as it is a cooking manual. With recipes such as, “Beef Flank and Ginger Simmered in Caramel Sauce” and “Grilled Bananas with Coconut Sticky Rice and Lemongrass Ice Cream”, the content will inspire and educate the reader about the culinary mecca that is Vietnam.
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Where can you get it? “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” is available with free shipping worldwide at The Book Depository, or you can get the eBook here. To learn more about Andrea Nguyen check out her website here, Facebook here, Twitter here, Pinterest here, or Instagram here.
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