From the pages of Eatstreets

Author: Luke Nguyen

Publisher: Murdoch Books

RRP: $69.95

The Songs of Sapa

06 January 2010.
Reviewed by Kerry Boyne

Open this book and you will relive your Vietnam trip (if you’ve been lucky enough to do one) through the words and recipes by Luke Nguyen (of Red Lantern, Surry Hills, fame) and the beautiful, atmospheric photographs taken by his partner, Suzanna Boyd (food photos by Alan Benson) as they travelled the country.

One of my favourite dishes while I was in Vietnam — one I haven’t been able to find in Sydney restaurants — was the wonderfully simple but absolutely delicious tofu in tomato sauce. Mind you, tofu is a whole different story in Vietnam, where it is always freshly made by hand — artisanal you might say.

So I went straight to T in the index and there it was: Crisp Silken Tofu in a Tomato and Black Pepper Sauce, page 30. To my delight, it tastes just like the best example of the dish I had in Vietnam — in Sapa, as I recall. Or was it better in Hanoi? Anyway, the second time I made it I confess to using tinned (organic) tomatoes instead of fresh and it still tasted great. Now, even the family member who calls tofu “the tripe of the vegetable world” looks forward to this dish.

As with many food tomes these days, this as much a travel book as a cookbook, each destination evoked by the dishes of the region. And anyone who enjoyed Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam shown on SBS over 10 weeks (I hung on every word) will find it an engaging read — even those who haven’t yet visited this beautiful country — that’s full of warmth and enthusiasm for the people, the food and the places. There’s also the occasional toe-curling account of experiences like swallowing whole a still-beating snake heart...

As for the recipes, there’s one for the Vietnamese classic, Lemongrass Chilli Chicken, that differs a little from the way he cooked it in the SBS series, which I have made a number of times, so I’ll need to make the comparison. I also want to try the Beef Wok-Tossed With Betel Leaves (Hoi An chapter) and Pork Hock Braised with Lotus Root (Hue). Then there’s Silken Tofu Stewed with Shiitake Mushrooms. Now, if only I could find some artisanal tofu in Sydney.

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