I'm an author, freelance writer and cooking teacher based in Northern California. A contributing editor to SAVEUR magazine, my work also appears in the Los Angeles Times and San Jose Mercury News. I've led a tour of Orange County's Little Saigon for Epicurious TV, which airs on the Travel Channel. A cooking teacher for years, I've taught classes at Sur la Table in San Francisco, the Institute for Culinary Education in New York, Ramekins in Sonoma, Draeger's in San Mateo, and Let's Get Cookin' in Los Angeles.
Into the Vietnamese KitchenThe first comprehensive full-color cookbook devoted to Vietnamese food in the English language. I work to demystify Vietnamese cuisine while bridging culinary traditions with contemporary practices. In 2007, the book was among the select finalists for a James Beard Foundation award (best Asian cookbook) and two International Association of Culinary Professionals awards (best first book and best international book).
Asian Dumplings-- I launched a site called Asian Dumpling Tips as a companion to the book. Since June 2010, new information on Asian dumplings has resided on Viet World Kitchen -- which has evolved into in an exploration and conversation on Asian food, cooking and culture.
Kuala Lumpur vendor - Asia is diverse. We don't look and cook the same.
Food Mafia had the opportunity to talk with Andrea and get her take on Asian food in the kitchen, in restaurants, and around the world!
FM: Tell me about Viet World Kitchen and why you decided to write the blog.
AN: Food is universal and what you do in your kitchen is different from what I do in my kitchen. But at the end of the day, it is still cooking and it is still food. Sharing our ideas adds value to the food we make. I started the blog about Vietnamese foodways and so many other people were interested. They brought their insights from different cuisines. I wanted to connect the dots in terms of what everyone is doing, what is going on abroad, what are people in the US are doing. So from being just Vietnamese, the blog has morphed into a more pan-Asian, global animal.
FM: Tell us about the Tofu book that you wrote.
AN: In terms of my writing, I wanted to look at how to preserve our heritage through food. I travel overseas and try to make what I see on my trips relevant to what I see here at home. I want to avoid making Asian food and the culture exotic.
Asian Tofu is about presenting in its original culture and context as well as showing how it is evolving. What does tofu mean to people? For some it is survival and for others it is their family legacy. I met a fifth 5th generation tofu maker in Taiwan whose family had been making tofu in the same spot since the 1800s! I also interviewed people who are doing really fabulous modern things with tofu in the US. Tofu is such an important food in the Asian mindset. Really good tofu is like eating fresh mozzarella vs. the stuff you buy in the packages. People in Asia eat a lot of tofu and really appreciate it. In America, you can buy great tofu at a local Asian market or small shops. Most of the soy eaten in Asia is minimally processed but here, soy appears in overly processed forms in our food.
Shaomai stuffed with sticky rice - a Shanghai speciality
FM: How do you find great sticky rice?
AN: In Vietnam, you go out in to the street and there is a sticky rice vendor. They will have 2 or 3 different kinds of sticky rice and you can add different toppings. To get the most basic sticky rice, you soak the rice and then steam it, then you can add different things to it. You don’t cook it in a pot or it gets really mushy. You can add things to the sticky rice like leftover shredded chicken with scallion oil which is great because it brings out the saltiness, fattiness, and natural sweetness of the rice. To make sweet sticky rice, you can add coconut milk and make it very fragrant. Oh, you can also blend in shredded coconut, then dip the sticky rice in a variety of things like sesame salt with sugar.
FM: As a cooking teacher, what is the most important advice you can give to someone that wants to learn how to cook Asian food?
AN: Don’t be afraid. When I teach a dumpling class I say “just close it up, then you can try and make it look good.” It is okay to mess up. Eat your mistakes and move on.
Singapore - Sticky rice and food coloring in full play
FM: Tell me about your app – the Asian Market Shopper.
AN: Lots of Asian foods, such as dumplings, can be made with ingredients found at regular supermarkets. However, there are certain ingredients that require a trip to an Asian market. Trouble is, at an Asian market, there are many different languages and labels can be hard to decipher. All you need is to find the best ingredients. That is one of the major challenges for people making Asian food.
The app is basically a glossary of 100 ingredients of Asian staples. There is a break down in each ingredient entry to tell you what the item is, how it’s used, how to select it, where it is typically found in a market, and how to store it.
To make the entries more robust, there is an audio file to help you say the ingredient in a foreign language and a photo. It’s all about helping you find what you need. For the photo, I tried to find a high quality brand that is most commonly carried. To communicate with a store clerk, show the ingredient picture or play the audio file.
There are also recipes in the app as well as instructional videos on how you make a pot of rice, how you pick fresh fish, etc. Helpful basic skills. The app is helpful to a lot of different kinds of people whether you are Asian or not. It will also help you make friends at the market! Things are shelved differently and not standardized in terms of how they are organized and the app helps you navigate that.
Be sure to stay tuned to part II of Food Mafia's conversation with Andrea! Coming Soon!
All photos courtesy of Andrea Nguyen
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