I sometimes think that part of the reason I cook is so that I can travel. How easy it is to be transported to a stone cottage and warm fire by a slice of bara brith or to renewing springtime by a perfect strawberry. So when a cookbook brings flavors into my kitchen across time or space, I’m happy.
These two books are designed for kitchen travelers and those with the wherewithal to visit the real place. For travelers, orienting maps are keyed to restaurants and markets, a pronunciation guide will get you through menu rudiments, and street food tips guide you through the culinary maze.
Traveler and tour guide Vanderberghe knows what to look for. He suggests looking first at the “hardware”—the tools and equipment used by the street cook—frying, steaming, grilling, etc. and then look at the “software” the foods you’ll be eating—noodles, meat, poultry, fish. He steps away from that system a bit in the Hanoi book, but still categorizes food by style—noodles, cakes and breads, salads, rice, shellfish, sweets, sauces, and drinks.
And he includes information that gives the food meaning. In Vietnam, he observes, the Tet new year festival is marked by Banh Chung—a glutinous rice cake mixed with pork bacon and mung beans, wrapped in a dong leaf—the recipe is on the next page.
In Bangkok, he describes his day through meals, starting with a strong espresso and Khanom Khlok—coconut puddings (recipe included). With a huge range of dishes in between from grilled chicken satay and fried fish to vegetable soup and crispy noodles, he finishes with a late night snack of grilled dried squid.
For the cooks, the recipes are arranged the same way, by cooking technique and then ingredient. Recipes include drinks and sauces that lend meals authenticity and, perhaps apart from dried squid, most of the ingredients are available or adaptable. Sidebars alert you to techniques that will add flavor. For example, the trinity of lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves is central to Tom Yam Kong—hot and sour soup with prawns—but like a French bouquet garni, is fished out before serving.
And the books, just like the food, are spiced with the atmosphere of the street. Photos include cinematic close-ups of steaming bowls, panning shots of curbside cafes, and action shots of motorbike vendors and street cooks at work.
Depending on your budget–a plane ticket or some lemongrass–and these books.