Thuy Diem Pham
The world has well and truly embraced Asian cooking, and books like this one are making it a lot easier to introduce Asian flavours and techniques into our own kitchens.
Thuy takes us on a voyage back through her childhood living in Vietnam, moving to the UK, the love of her parents and grandparents and the influences they have had on her life, Vietnamese food culture, and her own pantry food philosophy.
The chapters are broken down into Thuy’s larder, home comforts, broths, street food, small plates, the colours of Vietnam, Thuy’s creations, and sweet treats.
The book is filled with ancient photographs of her family from when she was a child and images of her parents in the kitchen, classic Vietnamese tables, and glorious old crockery and cooking pots. It’s also full of fresh and vibrant colours, and recipes; stews and healing soups, spring rolls and aromatic dipping sauces, squid stuffed with pork and garlic stir-fried vegetables.
Thuy tells us that Vietnamese food is all about contrasting textures and flavours, so she’s included recipes demonstrating how to create intricate layers in her Colours of Vietnam chapter. Recipes include a Tofu and Shiitake Dry Noodle Bowl, Sweet and Sour Squid Stir-fry, and Lemongrass Beef Noodles. Make sure you have a super-sharp knife on hand for these recipes, there’s a lot of super fine slicing involved!
Fast 5 with Thuy Diem Pham
1. What couldn’t you live without in the kitchen?
Chilli, garlic and lemongrass! Oh, and fish sauce is an absolute MUST!!
2. What is your most memorable meal and why?
It would have to be my last meal at my grandparents’ farm before leaving for London aged seven. It was such an emotional meal, that was probably a little too much for me to fully take in at that age, but I was definitely aware that everything was going to change and that was very scary but also very exciting. I can remember that meal so clearly today; we had “Canh chua ca kho to”, sweet and sour soup with caramelised clay pot fish accompanied with fresh herbs, salted pickles and fluffy steamed rice. It’s a classic combination from the Mekong Delta region, simple yet bursting with different flavours and textures, all at the same time. These days just cooking these recipes takes me back in time to Grandma’s kitchen, where she ran a tight ship preparing dinner; strict and methodical with wonderful aromas and constant noise and laughter. In Vietnam, we made the best of what we had; unsophisticated, honest yet delicious dishes filled with heart and love. Maybe that is the real secret after all!
3. What’s your worst kitchen disaster?
The one that still haunts me is from my very first supper-club in my home, back in 2013. Obviously, I was nervous as cooking for lots of people was fairly new to me and this time it would be for paying customers! I’d spent the whole day before prepping everything and making sure I had as much done as I possibly could. Then, when I went down to my kitchen in the morning, I found that my fridge had broken overnight and all the food had gone off! I ended up calling my sister over to help as I had to prep an entire 8-course meal for 12 in just a few hours. One of the most stressful days of my life but fortunately everything turned out well in the end and the supper-club guests never knew a thing. Little did I know that this was just a taster for what restaurant life will throw at you! Things like this happen all the time in hospitality and you simply have to get used to dealing with them.
4. What would you want to eat for your last meal?
It would have to be ‘Bun Bo Hue’, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup. The naughty little sister of pho is a slow-cooked broth using, ox-tail, brisket, bone marrow, lots of homemade lemongrass and chilli sauce for that signature kick. My goodness, if there’s one thing in a bowl that can fill you with joy and remind you that life is wonderful it’s Bun Bo Hue.
5. The great coriander debate – yes or no?
In Vietnam that debate was settled a thousand years ago. What would my grandma think if she heard such nonsense! Seriously though, coriander is an essential herb in Vietnamese cuisine, adding a fresh and aromatic touch to most dishes. From broths to salads it is an integral ingredient for me and I simply wouldn’t be happy without it!
We have three recipes to share with you from The Little Viet Kitchen:
Thuy Diem Phan’s The Little Viet Kitchen is published by Bloomsbury ($39.99) Out now!