Vietnamese food streets ahead
  • | VOV, Timeout | October 29, 2011 03:54 PM

Tracey Lister, the Australian chef and co-director of the Hanoi Cooking Centre, has co-authored a new book offering insights and recipes for Vietnamese street food, which will delight both foodies and home cooks.

After 15 years on the Melbourne restaurant scene, Tracey Lister needed a change of scene, so when her husband Andreas Pohl accepted a position with AusAid in Hanoi back in 2000, she was grateful for the opportunity to start a new chapter. She began her life in Hanoi as a chef trainer at a vocational centre for street kids called KOTO, a role which would eventually lead to Tracey and Andreas penning their first cookbook, ‘KOTO: A Culinary Journey through Vietnam, which celebrates the culinary diversity of the country’s much-lauded cuisine.

Now, as co-director of the Hanoi Cooking Centre (44 Chau Long), she is helping introduce tourists and expats to Vietnamese food on a day-to-day basis through cooking classes and food tours, while finding time to co-author he second tome with Andreas, Vietnamese Street Food, which includes insights into Vietnamese cuisine as well as recipes.

“I am a chef by profession and have worked in Australia, Europe, and the Middle East. It was natural for me to explore Vietnamese food when we moved here,” says Tracey. “I feel like I’ve been undertaking a second apprenticeship in Vietnamese cuisine. I love Vietnamese food, talking about it, preparing and eating it, and hanging out at the local markets.

“As a guest or tourist in Vietnam I think exploring the cuisine, its food customs and traditions is a great way to gain some understanding of the place you are visiting.”

Following Tracey and her husband’s decisions to relocate to Hanoi, Tracey only knew she didn’t want to work in an international hotel. She was looking for something different to be involved in. She soon heard about Jimmy Pham and decided to chase him down.

It was in 1999, three years before Jamie Oliver dragged disadvantaged British youth through his first turbulent Fifteen Foundation program – when Jimmy Pham opened the doors on a small sandwich shop in Hanoi to provide training and employment to a group of street kids. This was the genesis of KOTO – Know One, Teach One – one of the country’s most successful grassroots programs for kids from disadvantaged circumstances.

“I wanted to contribute in some way and I heard what Jimmy was doing and thought that sounded really exciting, so I tracked him down and met with him and he told me about his vision,” recalls Tracey. “He had a small, nine seat sandwich bar at that stage and he wanted to open up a larger restaurant and formalize the training. Five or six months later we opened an 80 seat restaurant in Hanoi just across the road from the Temple of Literature, which is one of the main cultural sites in Hanoi.”

The cookbook KOTO, a Culinary Journey through Vietnam, was born from a fundraising project organized by a photographer called Michael Foutoulakis in 2003. He donated images for an exhibition and proceeds went into the project. Along with Tracey, he devised the theme for a cookbook, which was released by Harie Grant. Books in October 2008, Andreas provided the cultural and travel text for the book, which explores the regions of Vietnam from the Northern Highlands to the Mekong Delta. The authors’ royalties from sales all go back into the KOTO charity.

In 2009, Tracey teamed up with Dinh Phung Linh to open the Hanoi Cooking Centre, a cooking school, retail outlet and café all rolled into one in the picturesque Truc Bach area. The centre offers hands-on cooking classes, food tours and short courses in a relaxed atmosphere. It also serves as a cozy café with a courtyard and upstairs dining areas, where cooking class groups can feast on their own culinary creations at the end of the lesson.

Now, Tracey and Andreas’ new book, Vietnamese Street Food ($39.95), will further celebrate this country’s marvelous cuisine with recipes and on-location photographs from the street stalls that are still very much a high-light of modern day Vietnam.

“We wanted to write a book solely on spring rolls, but our publishers, Hardie Grant Australia, thought it was too much of a niche market,” says Tracey. “They suggested we expand it to include different types of street food. We were very happy to be able to write about Vietnamese food again, so accepted their suggestion and included a chapter in the new book dedicated to the spring rolls.”

With ‘Vietnamese Street Food’, residents and guests of Vietnam can take on some of the classic dishes that they may have sampled across the country. With over 60 recipes, you can find staples such as pho, bun cha, Banh tom Tay Ho, and many more. Tracey and Andreas introduce all this astounding food while providing a little history along the way.

Street food in Vietnam has become part of the country’s national culture. A trip to Vietnam is less exciting without tasting the street food such as pho bo, cha gio (fresh spring rolls), xoi (sticky rice), banh cuon (rice flour crepes stuffed with woodear mushrooms and pork). With vivid descriptions and stunning food photography of every dish, complemented by evocative location photography, Vietnamese Street Food offers invaluable insight into Vietnam’s street food and culture that will inspire both the home chef and the armchair traveler to hit the market and cook up a storm.

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