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.
Sticky rice and black sesame seed dumplings. Perfect for warming me up on a very cold morning. Called tangyuan.
Making Shanghai Soup Dumplings. It's all that this shop serves so everyone gathers around a table to make them. Not much talking but some giggling.
FM: What is the biggest misconception people typically have about cooking Asian food?
AN: That it is difficult to make and it requires hard-to-find ingredients. People are so excited about Asian food with all of the different and bold ingredients and finding those ingredients at a supermarket and Asian market can be very hard.
Bao to go - Shanghai Bao are street food. Step right up and get a meat or vegetable stuff bao hot from the steamer. The cost is roughly 35 cents each. Seriously.
FM: What is currently in your fridge?
AN: A bunch of fermented tofu, different kinds of pickles, bread and butter pickles, leftover enchiladas, a container of dried tofu sheets, avocado, alfalfa sprouts, kimchi, different kinds of cheeses, prosciutto, dried shrimp paste (belancan), and other ingredients that are stinky so you want to keep them in your refrigerator.
FM: What items should everyone have in their pantry?
AN: If I only had 3 ingredients to choose from – Pearl River Bridge golden label light soy sauce, fish sauce, and Shaoxing rice wine .They’re really versatile.
Hue Vietnam - This is a little rice and shrimp dumpling, each wrapped in leaf. They are called banh la (leaf cake) or banh nam. I can eat a dozen at each sitting.
FM: What is a money saving tip you can give people cooking Asian food at home?
AN: It costs a lot just to drive somewhere these days so people should stock up when they go to save time and money. For example, if you are going to buy rice, buy 10 pounds rather than 1 or 5. It keeps for a long time. If you are going to buy soy sauce, buy two bottles. Get oyster sauce or hoisin sauce, they are the kind of ingredients used across cuisines.
Asian ingredients often cost more at mainstream supermarkets than they do at ethnic grocers. I buy a liter of sesame oil from a Chinese or Korean market. It costs less to buy it in a larger form from an Asian market rather than a small bottle from the supermarket. You can also look for bulk sizes and store your spices in the freezer if you aren’t using them for a while. If you are going to start making Asian foods, stock up on the staples!
In general, do things like buy a whole chicken, cut it up yourself, and freeze the bony parts for stock later. A free-range chicken might cost more but you can use for a number of meals over several days. Butchering is in right now!
Rock Sugar Indian stuffed flatbread - Chef Mohan Ismael recreates his favorite Singaporean street foods at Rock Sugar. This meat-filled flatbread is one of my favorites.
FM: When you aren’t cooking at home, what are some of your favorite Asian restaurants? Any recommended dishes at those places?
AN: In Saigon, I always hit 49A Dinh Cong Trang for banh xeo sizzling rice crepes and prime myself for the street food at Quan An Ngon. I love Taipei for its night markets. In LA I like RockSugar. RockSugar is an experimental Asian restaurant at the Century Center shopping mall. The chef Mohan Ismail is from Singapore and he does some fabulous dishes like laksa which I always order extra spicy. I also order whatever that he says is based on mother’s recipes. A-Frame by Roy Choi is also terrific. The kitchen fries with kimchi sour cream is killer is an example of how he is presenting food in a very modern urban way about his identity, culture, and his place. Mozza, Musha Izakaya. In the Bay Area I like what James Syhabout does at Commis in Oakland. His new Hawker Fare is more casual and affordable. I love the rice bowl with pork belly and pickled mustard greens for lunch. Daniel Patterson’s Plum in Oakland is also a favorite. In New York I like to walk around Chinatown and find these little dumpling places. I will also pop in to see what Eddie Huang is up to at BaoHaus in the Lower East Side. I haven’t been to Chicago in a while but Rick Bayless and Wow Bao are always memorable. I also really enjoy the food in Texas, it is very simple and the flavors are bright and deep at the same time. Vietnamese food in Houston was also really good. Some of the best pho I have had is in Houston.
Banh Xeo Dinh Cong Trang
If you missed it the first time, be sure to read part I of Food Mafia's conversation with Andrea!
All photos courtesy of Andrea Nguyen
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