Vietnamese street food a gourmet's delight

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Australian couple's second book on Vietnamese cuisine praises the wonders of local street food


Tracey Lister at
Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi on a photo shoot promoting her Vietnamese Street Food book

Vietnamese cuisine has won the hearts of many foreigners, but it has moved an Australian couple enough to publish two books about it and decide to settle down in the country.

Tracey Lister, a Melbourne chef, and her journalist husband Andreas Pohl, published "KOTO: A Culinary Journey through Vietnam" in 2008.

The book was named after Koto, which stands for Know One Teach One, a project that helps street children in Hanoi pick up new skills and find jobs. The couple started teaching cooking classes there in 2000, as a way to pay back for the food they had enjoyed during their visit to Vietnam.

The book is a collection of more than 80 recipes the couple has learned from locals. They are arranged according to regions, accompanied with stunning photos. Pohl provided the cultural and travel text for the book, which explores the regions across Vietnam from the northern highlands to Mekong Delta.

All proceeds from sales of the book were donated to Koto.

Coming to the country first in 1994 as tourists, the Australians were impressed by the diversity in Vietnamese cuisine, Lister said in a Hanoi Moi (New Hanoi) report last month.

The diversity lies in the ingredients, which are mostly vegetables, roots, fruits, and seeds, with much less meat than in European dishes, less fatty than Chinese and less spicy than Thai, said Lister, who has worked for more than 20 years as a chef at restaurants in Melbourne, Australia.

She said the floral ingredients make it easy to decorate Vietnamese.

"I like Vietnamese dishes"¦ They're light, elegant and have distinctive tastes and smells."

Lister said every region in Vietnam has its specialties and each of them goes with a special sauce.

She said she visits local markets across the country and tastes foods sold on the streets to learn about local cuisine and culinary customs, which is "an amazing way to understand the places."

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The experienced chef recalled that she had the best taste of a boiled egg when she tried a quail egg with pepper, salt and beer at a sidewalk in Ho Chi Minh City.

According to her, Vietnamese street food has given many people a new perspective on cuisine.

"Street food is a very special characteristic of Vietnamese culture, an amazing pleasure," she said.

A visit to Vietnam would never be complete, Lister said, without the taste of food on the street, including phở - beef noodle soup, fried spring rolls, sticky rice and rolled steamed rice.

The love for street food inspired the couple to write another book, "Vietnamese Street Food," published in September last year.

It introduces readers to where the locals eat, featuring more than 60 well-loved and authentic recipes of street food, including the popular prawn rice paper rolls and the tangy, crunchy peanut-studded rice balls favored by snacking students. Vietnam's unique street life is also described in detail.

Both books were published in Australia.

Lister said the books will help the world understand more about Vietnamese culture and bring foreigners closer to Vietnamese food.

In 2008, she opened Hanoi Cooking Center, a cooking school in Hanoi that teaches Vietnamese cooking to tourists.

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