By Ann Lee
Photography by Julie Fay
Insiders' Guide -- 2006
Buy it on Amazon
Though exotic cuisines may be daunting endeavors for many cooks due to foreign and sometimes costly ingredients, "The Little Saigon Cookbook" is a clear, straightforward cookbook that sheds light on the culture while making its cuisine approachable and delectable.
Interspersed with interesting stories about Vietnamese culture and traditions, the book is a well-thought out tribute to Vietnamese foodways -- with delicious recipes to boot, ranging from the obvious dishes to lesser-known exciting ones like the Shaking Beef Salad with Watercress and Tomatoes or Pork Braised in Caramel Sauce.
See what we tested and find out whether the book's worth buying after the jump.
Takeaway tips: Though some ingredient lists may be long and include items not necessarily stocked in the average American kitchen, many of the required ingredients (fish sauce and oyster sauce, Sriracha and star anise) are repeatedly used in these incredibly high-flavor, low-fuss recipes.
Quality of pictures: Disappointing -- for a cuisine largely unfamiliar to the American eater beyond its popularized beef pho or Vietnamese spring rolls, revealing photos of the lesser-known dishes would have been useful, even if somewhat helpful explanations attempt to compensate. The photos of Vietnamese culture both in California's Little Saigon and abroad are interesting, but their black-and-white depictions fail to pique the interest their contents merit.
We tested: Goi Ga (Traditional Shredded Chicken and Cabbage Salad)
Regarded as the "coleslaw of Vietnam," this salad combines shredded chicken with a colorful vegetable medley of carrots, cucumber and cabbage, and tops it with a briny sauce -- but the highlights are ample smatterings of freshly chopped cilantro, coriander and mint.
The vibrant salad is deliciously sweet, tangy and spicy -- but the fish sauce was slightly overpowering. We ended up doubling the herb content to discount the fish flavoring and were thoroughly impressed with the results -- which were even better the next day, as the flavor evenly permeated the dish.
Worth the investment: This cookbook serves the amateur cook attempting a new cuisine as aptly as it serves enthusiasts of Vietnamese cuisine, with a range of interesting, complex and satisfying recipes. It's an artful ode, bringing the local Little Saigon to the public at large.