The response to the new book has been fabulous, more than I expected actually. Banh mi buzz and fervor, as my friend and cookbook author Elizabeth Andoh emailed, can be felt all the way in Tokyo where she lives! Along with media inquiries, I’ve been fielding reader questions from folks who’d received and perused their pre-ordered copies of The Banh Mi Handbook. They asked terrific questions that I wanted to share with you. Maybe you’re wondering about the same stuff. In some cases below, I expanded on my original answer.
@SMTucker asked about pate: “Book arrived today…… LOVE that there is a bread formula. Less thrilled with the two pate options. If I want a complex pate, should I make a standard French pate de campagne?”
There are a lot of people who dislike pate for its livery association. If you’re trying to convert or persuade, take a cue from Candace, one of the banh mi recipe testers, who described it to a reluctant friend as “meat mayonnaise". @SMTucker is not in that boat of pate-phobes.
The two livery options in The Banh Mi Handbook are terrific and quick to prepare; I’ve served them to my family as guests. For something more old school, look to the liver pate recipe in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, page 168. It has a mixture of meat, liver and nice amount of fatback. I love that recipe and can taste it as I type, but it makes three pounds and requires a steam bath baking and aging. For the banh mi book, I wanted to offer cooks a simple pate option that’s tastes good and can be accomplished in a small batch. If you my first Vietnamese cookbook (or get it from the library), that pate recipe is the bomb.
David B. on Facebook inquired about the banh mi pantry: “I got the book today. Looks like a lot of fun. I need to get my pantry in order first. I ordered Maggi online. Time to toss old toasted sesame oil. I have Squid brand fish sauce. Hope that's ok. I don't know one from the other.”
Yup, sometimes you have to clean out the cupboard. I should speak. I’m the one who unearthed a nearly 2-year-old block of headcheese from the freezer earlier this week. Ordering Maggi is a great idea if it’s not stocked at your local market. There’s a workaround using Bragg Amino Acids in the book. Check that out if you’re pressed for time and have access to a health food market, where it tends to be stocked.
Ah, the fish sauce. Squid is not high on my list of good fish sauce but I’ve seen it used at some Asian restaurants. The flavor is flat and lacking in depth. However, David should be not feel shamed into getting a replacement. The recipes in The Banh Mi Handbook are not highly dependent on fish sauce. However, if the opportunity to try a premium fish sauce presents itself, do it to taste how it impacts your food! Jump to this page for a discussion of quality fish sauce.
Rex H. commented on Facebook about the bread recipe: “Reading over the bread recipe and wondering about the difference between adding vital wheat gluten and high gluten flour. I have a lot of it, but if there is difference I'll follow your recipe.”
High-gluten flour — it depends on the amount of gluten/protein count that’s in the flour. In the recipe headnote (introduction), I write about using King Arthur all-purpose flour. I haven't experimented with high-gluten flour because it's somewhat of an anomaly for most home cooks. Gauge the dough. I suppose you could buy a small amount of regular AP to see what happens then tinker with your high-gluten to match it. That's what I would do.
Rex then revealed that he was making bagels and ended up with a 25-pound bag of high-gluten flour purchased from Smart & Final. Well, that is an amazing stash of flour to keep around the house. The bread recipe is relatively fast. I often made it twice a day when I was developing the recipe. Yes, that was a lot of bread coming out of my lovin’ oven. But it was fun. Really!
Then there were the first reviews of the book. I’ve never had this happen before but a couple of people posted their reviews on Amazon on publication day. Wherever you are out there Jack and Thuong, thank you for the 5-star vote of confidence!
Reader/user reviews go a long way to helping people understand what the book offers. Lord knows I use product reviews as cross-reference before buying things these days. I appreciate all reviews that people write about my work. If you are inclined to post a review, I thank you in advance.
Canada-based food editor and critic Peter Hum was probably among the first to cook from The Banh Mi Handbook. He made the lemongrass pork banh mi and published a review in the Ottawa Citizen on July 9. His pithy comments included, “While store-bought banh mi (pronounced bun me) are cheap — $3 or so, usually — their quality can vary, and the range of sandwiches is often pretty basic. Why not make superior banh mi at home?” Exactly. You can really have it your way at home.
Yesterday also included Alexi Wall’s thoughtful review in the San Francisco Weekly. Her lead sentence summarized my Viet cookbook writing career: ”Bay Area author Andrea Nguyen, who wrote the classic Into the Vietnamese Kitchen is back with a much smaller tome, a manual of sorts, on how to construct the perfect Vietnamese sandwich.”
What I also appreciated was the next paragraph: “If you're one of those thinking, ‘A cookbook for a sandwich? Slap some deli meat and sliced cheese on some bread with lettuce and tomato, mustard and mayo and you're done,’ you might want to investigate further.” Alexi writes with humor. I dig that.
Another amazing shout out came from PBS Food. Yes, the station that many of us look to for reliable food knowledge. They do a monthly list of top new cookbooks and for July, they included The Banh Mi Handbook. Scroll down this page to see it. My friend Ivy Manning’s book was picked too, as well as Eric Asimov’s new wine book.
The extra extra cool thing is that the page includes a display ad on the page for episodes of Julia Child, Jacque Pepin and Lidia Bastianich shows – ‘culinary masterpieces’. I clicked on it and it went to the PBS online bookshop. There was the book. I grew up watching tons of cooking shows on PBS so this slim association is a big deal to me.
To have my work recognized and appreciated on so many levels by a broad range of people is totally rad. It’s been a fantastic banh mi week.
Related post: sample content from The Banh Mi Handbook