Asia is on the rise and Vietnamese food is hip and hot. More and more Vietnamese crossover restaurants are opening up outside of traditional enclaves, introducing Vietnamese flavors to non-Viet people and creating ‘modern’ Vietnamese food. Huy Fong’s Rooster brand of Vietnamese chili-garlic and Sriracha sauce are becoming ubiquitous. After all these years, I finally get to say that my people are popular!
Anything trendy is bound to be misrepresented. Popularity comes with its burdens as people capitalize on what Vietnam and Vietnamese means.
During the past couple of weeks, we’ve been having a spirited discussion on an episode of Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade, a show that airs on the Food Network channel. In early August, they aired a show called "Indochine Brunch" that was quite a sight to see, with the show host sporting a pink kimono.
Mastery of any cuisine is not a birthright, but rather an acquisition. (As many of you know, you don’t have to be Vietnamese to cook Vietnamese food!) Sandra Lee and her producers could have done more homework to understand what Indochine is. Instead, theirs was a mishmash of flavors and bad cooking techniques. Catch up and voice your opinion on the "Indochine Brunch".
A company that may be doing a better job at capitalizing on the Indochine exoticism is making Canton liqueur. Simon Bao emailed this morning about the re-released Canton — made from French cognac, Vietnamese baby ginger, Provencal honey, and vanilla. Years ago, I tried the original version that was made in Guangdong province in China. It was terribly sweet but not bad tasting, though it was discontinued in 1997. The revived and new
formula for Canton is looking to cash in on the cachet of being Vietnamese-French, or rather, Indochine. I haven’t had a taste since the limited release late last month, but this description from their website captures their strategy: ". . . discover a rare union of tropical romance and continental sophistication."
Fast Food Vietnam
Vietnam may be one of the poorest countries in the world, but that doesn’t stop fast food companies from storming in. There’s a growing class of urbanites with money to spend. And so the number of clean, convenient, and mono-culture eateries is steadily increasing. McDonald’s is coming soon. But should we be concerned? What do such businesses mean for Vietnam? Read and comment on fast food restaurants in Saigon.
But hey, corporations don’t have to be the only ones making fast food. Home cooks can too. All you need is freezer space. If you want to make your own convenience food at home, make a batch or two of salmon cakes with dill and garlic and coconut waffles. Both can be made ahead and kept frozen for whenever the urge strikes you.
Speaking of TV, tune in this Wednesday night to watch the new episode of Top Chef, which airs on Bravo. Among the finalists in Season 3 is Hung Huynh, a Vietnamese-American sous chef in Las Vegas. Sara Nguyen, his fellow contestant, was eliminated earlier.
Asian Grandmas Cookbook Project
This isn’t my next book. It belongs to Pat Tanumihardja, a friend of mine who lives in Seattle. She just won the book contract and is looking for recipe contributions. It promises to be a great publication that honors the women who taught many of us how to cook, eat, and enjoy. Details and contact information are in Pat’s call for recipes.
By the way, a few weeks ago, we visited Seattle and Pat invited us to lunch at her mom’s new Indonesian restaurant. We practically ran over there as soon as we arrived! Pat is pictured here with her mom at Julia’s Indonesian Kitchen, a charming restaurant located in a small home in the Roosevelt neighborhood. I hope some of Julia’s well-crafted Indo home cooking gets into Pat’s book!
Cooking demonstrations, classes and panels will be taking me to various places in Southern California, the Bay Area, and New York. Hope to meet you on one of those occasions.