Vietnamese dishes can be done at home
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Sour, spicy, sweet, bitter and salty, Vietnamese food has the power to hit all your taste buds. Ella Walker finds out how to make it at home.
The first pancake is always a dud. It doesn’t matter how smooth your batter, how hot and Teflonned your pan; the debut is always a crumpled mess that flops sadly onto the plate.
This is true whether it’s an English pancake destined for lemon or sugar, or, as in this case, a turmeric-spiked rice flour and coconut milk crepe, laden with plump prawns and a forest floor’s worth of coriander. Impaled by rogue bean sprouts and soggy rather than crisp, I have utterly massacred food writer Uyen Luu’s sizzling crepes. I hope she will forgive me.
I order in Vietnamese food every chance I get: fragrant chicken pho (‘fuh’); coarsely shredded papaya salads; golden spring rolls and enticingly translucent summer ones; pork-prawn wontons with sesame and chilli oil; chargrilled, fish sauce-drenched aubergines… but until now, I’d never attempted to cook it myself.
Why even try when the depth of flavour seems unfathomable to achieve? When every dish is so zingy and bold, fresh and sprightly? Who has such lightness of touch? Luu, that’s who. And me, it turns out, when armed with Luu’s new recipe collection, Vietnamese.
The dishes are designed to “demystify Vietnamese cooking”, promises Luu, who reckons the most common mistake people make when approaching the cuisine, is “they think it’s more complicated than it is”.
You can’t really blame them (OK, me) when the “flavours feel and taste complex”. However, to hit those key Vietnamese flavours – sweet, sour, salty, umami, hot and bitter – it’s just a matter of combining ingredients, Luu insists.
As a general rule, the dishes we cook at home on autopilot are the ones we grew up eating. It turns out the act of learning something new, or mastering a flavour combination that once seemed daunting, can make your brain turn to the person who taught you way back in the beginning.
Vietnamese by Uyen Luu is published by Hardie Grant, priced £22. Photography by Uyen Luu.