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Andrea Nguyen
San Francisco Bay Area
I'm a cookbook author, food writer, and cooking teacher based in the San Francisco Bay Area. My publications include "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" (2006), "Asian Dumplings" (2009), "Asian Tofu" (2012), and "The Banh Mi Handbook" (July 2014) all published by Ten Speed Press. Additionally, I developed the "Asian Market Shopper" iPhone app with Chronicle Books. A contributing editor to SAVEUR, I also write for the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and other publications..
Interests: food, wine, history, art, cooking, travel
Recent Activity
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At a party a few weeks ago, I was introduced to Ricardo Cervantes, the CEO and founder of La Monarca, a small chain of Mexican bakeries in the Los Angeles area. I revealed to him that I’m somewhat obsessed with bolillo rolls because they’re great for banh mi. He was not fully familiar with banh mi so I described them as la torta Vietnamita. Does La Monarca make and sell bolillo rolls? Yes, Ricardo said. Then just add mayonesa, jugo de Maggi, carne, escabeche, jalapeño, pepino, y cilantro. We giggle and he asked what kind of carne should they use. Many kinds of meat would work. I’ve made banh mi with carnitas and carne asada. Since Mexicans also share a love of leche condensada, make... Continue reading
Posted 2 days ago at Viet World Kitchen
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Buying Asian ingredients can be a challenging experience. You have to negotiate foreign languages, poor and/or awkward English translations, labels that look nearly identical to find something that will work for your cooking needs. Between my family and friends, we’re always discussing what to buy. My parents often send oddball stories from Vietnam about dishonest food product manufacturing. Skepticism abounds but I always manage to keep moving forward. A couple weeks ago on the Chinese beef and black pepper stir-fry recipe, Biki wrote,“I'd like to have your opinion on the safety of food items from China please. One hears so many contradictory information that I'm afraid to buy any food with a Made in China label.” Funny Biki should ask because I was thinking about... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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I haven’t baked a coffee cake in years but over the past four days, I’ve baked this apple and walnut coffee cake twice. I was inspired by my mom’s steal on a bunch of black walnuts and the need for something sweet as I push through the pho cookbook copyediting process. She found them in the bargain area of her supermarket, marked down to a ridiculously low price. Black walnuts are relatively hard to find, probably because they have very hard shells that make them tough nuts to crack (ha!). Compared to regular English walnuts, black walnuts have a winey, big flavor. In raw and cooked state, they exude a remarkable fragrance. Mom gave me several bags of her black walnuts because at 55 cents... Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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Many cookbooks are produced to be timely and of-the-moment. They inspire people to dive into trendy dishes or a celebrity’s personal recipe collection. In the publishing world, those are categorized as “frontlist” works that sell well upon release. Then there are “backlist” cookbooks that are crafted to stick around for years and sell steadily. Some cookbooks may straddle both categories if they’re constructed well. I’m a fan of both but my shelves tend to favor backlist books that I intend to keep forever. Kian Lam Kho’s Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees is a backlist book that’s written and designed to inform you on a lifetime’s worth of Chinese cooking. It’s gentle and quiet, like Kian is in person. There is a ton of information to... Continue reading
Posted Apr 7, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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Last month I spied a sweetened condense milk recipe embedded in a Food & Wine magazine recipe for lemon meringue pie. It was a chef recipe and I decided to give it a try. It was simply whole (full fat) milk and sugar with a touch of vanilla plus a lot of time — about 2 hours of slow cooking on the stove. I wondered if it would be worth the trouble. Would it make my Vietnamese coffee sing brilliantly? Since I mostly drink soy milk, I ‘borrowed’ some of my husband’s Whole Foods organic milk and made a batch while we read the Sunday New York Times. The F&W recipe called for less sugar than my prior attempt at DIY sweetened condensed milk. This... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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It’s not like I have a huge amount of time right now (we’re gearing up for The Pho Cookbook photo shoot) but it suddenly dawned upon me that seaweed could possibility be used to make a faux fish sauce. Our recent discussion on Facebook about umami-laden Shitake mushroom seasoning granules (bot nam dong co in Vietnamese) also got me thinking about making non-fish fish sauce. As a result, I spent about 36 hours seeing if I could make a fishless fish sauce and what we may learn from my experience. There are vegetarian fish sauces sold at Viet markets. I’ve only tried one brand and it was a long time ago. It was lacking in dimension. Since then, I’ve come up with workarounds in my... Continue reading
Posted Mar 17, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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One of my best friends in junior high and high school was a kid named Greg Cohen. He was a water polo player, not much of a food person, but one day he skipped school and talked his mom into making latkes with him. He brought them to class and we gobbled them up. That was the first Jewish food I tasted. Aside from occasionally eating at Jewish delis and one time working a Passover catering event with my friend Kathy, I know very little about Jewish foodways. I’ve seen the Kosher symbol on food products but never paid them too much attention. But a couple years ago, when visiting Cuong Pham at his Red Boat facilities on Phu Quoc island, he told me about... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to share this cookie recipe with you. It’s been a favorite of mine for many years. The recipe comes from the China Moon cookbook by the late Barbara Tropp, a Bay Area chef and restaurateur who also spoke Mandarin Chinese. She was one of the leading voices and scholars on Chinese cooking, author of The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (which I own 2 copies of). Tropp knew traditional techniques and explained Chinese ingredients super well. She also created modern dishes for her restaurant, China Moon, that were really doable for home cooks. She was funny and friendly too, calling me one time after I sent her a thank you note. Food was fun to her,... Continue reading
Posted Mar 3, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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One of the most overlooked part of a cookbook is the section of sauces and seasonings. It’s often placed in the back with few or no photos, in a chapter that’s unceremoniously titled “Sauces” or “Basics”. If you’re a cookbook reader who only goes for recipes with pretty pictures, you’re likely missing out on a treasure trove of secret recipes. I always look at that section of the book because that’s where a cookbook writer or chef stores key and oft-used recipes that they rely upon. It’s not a discard section of the book but rather chock full of ideas and techniques that will help you master the recipes in the book and perhaps use to tweak your regular repertoire. That’s how I ended up... Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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When I’m far from my favorite Asian snack shops, I make the noshes myself. Last week on Lunar New Year, I took the day off and tinkered in the kitchen, preparing traditional Viet eats and these northern Chinese dumplings. I was replicating panfried savory pastries that we’d enjoyed at the Beijing Pie House in the San Gabriel Valley, a mega-hub for excellent Chinese food in America located east of Los Angeles. Since it’s a good 6-hour drive from my house to the café, I figured I should make the meat pies! These kinds of filled pastries are called xian bing (“she-ann bing”) in Mandarin Chinese. Bing is the Chinese term for a broad category of cakes, dumplings, and other doughstuffs – much like the term... Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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Stephanie emailed weeks ago seeking advice on how to plan her upcoming wedding party menu. She’s marrying a Vietnamese person and had several of my books. Rory and I got married years ago so I didn’t know whether or not what we did was appropriate for 2016. This morning, I pulled out our two wedding scrapbooks (noticed the "scrap book" misspelling), took a stroll down memory lane, and responded to Stephanie. Rory and I began dating in 1989 and when he officially asked for my hand in marriage several years later, he had to do it in front of my parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. It wasn’t an intimate man-to-man discussion. There was a video camera rolling. My dad made a speech (my dad... Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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A couple of weekends ago while I was still fuzzy from having just finished the pho cookbook manuscript, I received an urgent email from Barbara in Florida. She was embarking on a Vietnamese cooking adventure and needed help. Barbara was about to make banh chung, square shaped sticky rice cakes that are a must-have food for Vietnamese Tet Lunar New Year. The cakes require just a handful of ingredients but they come together in an ingenious fashion to not just look beautiful (think a low square box wrapped in banana and bamboo leaves) but also taste magnificent (fatty pork, buttery mung beans, and sticky rice flavored by the chlorophyll brightness of the leaves). Barbara is not Vietnamese (you don’t have to be Viet too cook... Continue reading
Posted Feb 1, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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The first dumplings I ever made were wontons. I reckon that there were also among the first dumplings that I ate too. Wontons are Chinese in origin and they are super popular in the Vietnamese kitchen, where they’re called hoanh thanh. My family often fried them for a party appetizer. My mom makes wontons in broth for my nieces and nephews. I like to fry wontons for a TGIF snack with drinks to celebrate the end of the week. Wontons seeded my love and appreciation for Asian dumplings. I didn’t participate in afternoon sports or other activities because they were costly and foreign to my parents. Instead I did homework, watched TV, and learned to sew, knit, crochet, and cook. Among the domestic skills, cooking... Continue reading
Posted Jan 26, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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I turned in the first draft of the Pho Cookbook last Sunday and then went on a business trip to Las Vegas. Things have been fuzzy this week but the fact that the book is in process (it won't be out for good year because that's how long things take), it's time for celebration. Something easy and fun is in order and I thought of crab Rangoon. Despite its name, crab Rangoon has little to do with Burma and Asia itself. However, many people love the fun, crispy deep-fried wontons filled with cream cheese. Most of what we’ve tasted inside the Chinese restaurant version of these wontons is unfortunately cream cheese. As a lactose-intolerant Asian, I’m disappointed by such a fried morsel. Where’s the crabbiness?... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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Book designer Betsy Stromberg at Ten Speed Press has worked nearly all of my cookbooks. She’s the quiet type but fierce in her creativity. She’s craft-oriented too. Over the years, Betsy has asked me a couple of questions about char siu bao, steamed Cantonese buns filled with barbecue pork. Their a personal favorite, she’s told me. As a book designer, Betsy examines an author’s manuscript and figures out how to present it in a manner that informs and inspires. She has to pay attention to the recipe details themselves because she goes into the files and manipulates design elements to help things stand out. We collaborate on art direction and she’s present at the photo shoots. She goes the extra mile for me too. For... Continue reading
Posted Jan 13, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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Gearing up for Chinese New Year, which falls on February 8, I’ve been fielding emails about dumpling making. If you need insights or refresher on how to roll out dumpling wrappers from scratch or fold dumplings, I have video tutorials to assist you. They were made several years ago to go with my book, Asian Dumplings, published in 2009. When I set out to write that cookbook, I didn’t know if people would be into taking a from-scratch approach to filling, shaping and cooking pot stickers. They are and they’re happier eaters for it! Nothing has changed since 2009 since the techniques have been around for centuries. Dumplings are easy to make from scratch. As I recently wrote to a recipe tester, “Aim to get... Continue reading
Posted Jan 6, 2016 at Viet World Kitchen
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In the 1990s, when Rory and I were not yet married and living in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, CA, we drank a lot of inexpensive liquor from Trader Joe’s. When the store’s supply of a favorite tangerine aquavit ran out, I decided to make my own by infusing vodka. We had some lemons purchased very inexpensively from a nearby Middle Eastern market and a bottle of vodka from where else but Trader Joe’s. I used a vegetable peeler to obtain strips of lemon peel and then dropped them in the vodka bottle. We went out for an hour-long walk and upon our return home, the vodka was pale yellow and eventually, it turned practically florescent yellow with a nice lemony flavor. I can't... Continue reading
Posted Dec 30, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen
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I was deep in the details of my pho manuscript last Sunday when my phone flashed an email of cookie panic from Wesley. He had gathered all the ingredients for Belinda’s amazing almond cookies and was ready to go when he noticed that I had some incorrect metric measurements. He was about to proceed until I clarified and confirmed the ingredient list. Ai-ya, some big goofs were made when I published the recipe and tried to be helpful with metric measurements but was working too fast. I took a break from my work and checked the recipe, making edits where appropriate. Wesley went forward to make his cookies. That got me thinking about a lovely holiday cookie platter with just 3 delicious, easy items of... Continue reading
Posted Dec 21, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen
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After reading my recent post on eating street food in Hanoi, Jessica Cym asked a pointed, very practical question: “We are going to VN during Christmas. Can't wait!!! Andrea, do you have any tips on handling street food so we won't get the runs?” I’ve had my fair share of traveler’s diarrhea but over the years, don’t have a bulletproof answer. Before a trip, I make sure that my immune system is strong. The flights are long and I make sure to get some amount of sleep on the plane via ear plugs, Sleepy Time or valerian tea, and an awesome travel pillow. On the ground, I fortify myself with Citricidal, Airborne, and my regular daily multivitamin. I carry Tums and Pepto-Bismol. On this trip,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen
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What to do when life hands you an extremely large quantity of leafy greens? Cook them up to arrest them at their peak and then enjoy them over the course of many days. That was my situation last weekend. We’d just done a photo shoot for the Unforgettable biographical cookbook project on Paula Wolfert. The shoot focus was her 1995 book, Grains and Greens. I bought a bunch of gorgeous, locally-grown organic greens so that photographer Eric Wolfinger would have lots to consider for his photo compositions. Plus, Emily Thelin couldn’t find decent red Russian kale at her local grocers. Needless to say, I came home with a lot of vegetables. On Saturday, cooked up the melange of greens, which included several kinds of kale,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 9, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen
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When Karen Shinto and I arrived in Hanoi, it was close to noon. After the hour or so ride to our hotel in the Old Quarter, we were famished for lunch. By the time we got into our room it was around 1:30pm. I was somewhat skeptical about finding a good lunch because people take early lunches in Vietnam and it’s easy to get lost in the Old Quarter. The streets are crowded, laid out like a maze, and their names change every few blocks. I had visions of us getting lost and being hangry. Karen had been to Hanoi before, right before she styled my first cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. She hadn’t been back since 2005 and was eager to go with me.... Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen
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There is so much food made during the holidays that I always plan on re-purposing leftovers before the meal is ever set on the table. My family does not eat turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Instead we roast chickens, ducks, game hens, or pork and serve them with Vietnamese and American sides. There’s usually a sticky rice stuffing similar to this one. We roast sweet potatoes or winter squash. Green beans or Brussels sprouts are simply treated, boiled and quickly sauteed or stir-fried. There is a lot of prepping that goes on and the table groans with food. In the days following the meal, leftovers are naturally the stars. Reheating and repeating the holiday meal can only happen so many times so I turn to... Continue reading
Posted Nov 24, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen
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There is a lot to eat on the streets of Vietnam but one can’t eat standing up or on the sidewalk and in alleyways for every meal of the day. When I’m traveling in Vietnam, I need the occasional restaurant meal. That’s to say, in an establishment with printed menus and a trained wait staff. Customers usually have to walk through an actual door. There’s likely air conditioning and the furniture is not all plastic tables and baby chairs or stools. (If I had my druthers, I’d eat home cooked meals while traveling too, but that is a random occurrence. ) Gail emailed asking for restaurant and cafe recommendations from my October trip to Vietnam. Her brother is visiting next month so I thought I’d... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen
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I cannot remember when I last ordered kung pao anything at a restaurant. I gave up on it because the restaurant-style sauce was either super sweet or indistinct and there were often few peanuts. Peanuts are cheap and I’ve not known why some restaurants skimp or skip it. I love the peanuts in kung pao because they offer texture and richness. The ideal kung pao sauce is hearty, spicy, tangy. A well-made kung pao stir-fry is serious tasting food – with blistered dried chiles and numbing Sichuan peppercorns. What I’ve described is the kung pao stir-fry that I make at home. It’s not rocket science and I typically use chicken. While I was in Vietnam, Rory decided to eat less animal protein, shunning his weekly... Continue reading
Posted Nov 11, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen
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My recent trip to Vietnam was to check in with Red Boat fish sauce on Phu Quoc island and go on a little pho expedition for the book. But along the way, my travel buddy and stylist Karen Shinto and I could not help but take part in the local banh mi scene. I posted some photos along the way on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter but here’s a more thorough recap of what we tried and learned. Do you want to eat banh mi inside at a cafe or at the hotel breakfast buffet or do you want to hit the street? I sampled all options to see. If you’re starting out with Viet food or just starting out your day, it’s fun to compose... Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2015 at Viet World Kitchen