A culinary journey through Vietnam
So, what does Koto mean? Is it Vietnamese for Brussels sprouts? No, it stands for Know One, to Teach One. This is a grass-roots charity that sets out to help street kids in Hanoi. It provides them with vocational training in cooking and hospitality. These children will hopefully find employment as chefs and waiters in the now-blossoming tourist industry. The royalties from this book will go to the Koto organisation.
OK, so you have contributed to a noble cause but then you are stuck with the book. Is it going to be left on the coffee table as a conversation piece? Will it replace the missing foot of your grannie’s old sideboard or will it be a cookbook that will hold your attention? You, dear reader, will be pleased to know that it’s the latter.
There are relatively few cookbooks about the food of Vietnam. The country has had many problems over many decades including a war that you might have heard about. Promotion of the national cuisine has been towards the bottom of the agenda. These days however, there are many visitors to the country and there is more interest in the culture, art and cooking.
Koto is an attractive cookbook but it is also a charming introduction to Vietnam. The photographs by Michael Fountoulakis show tempting food, and faces that in themselves tell stories. There are 80 or so recipes that will still further add to your armchair adventure.
The authors, Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, take us on a journey through the regions of Vietnam. They introduce us to the people, we glimpse their lives and we enjoy the food. The dishes are traditional and they have endured for a reason: they are delicious. The Spring Rolls of Hue are light and refreshing with the flavour of aromatic herbs. Braised Oxtail with Five Spice is rich and warming for these cold winter days. The ingredients are all easily found in every supermarket and the cooking techniques are simple.
My favourite recipe is perhaps Squid filled with Pork and Noodles. This is not a spicy dish but rather relies on the freshness of the meat, seafood and herbs. Serve with the classic dipping sauce (recipe in this book) for a taste of authentic but accessible food from this little-known food haven.
Koto is a book for the would-be traveller, the recently-returned trekker and those who have a passion for good food. It’s a marvellous invitation to visit this new long-haul destination.
Cookbook review: Koto – A culinary journey through Vietnam
Authors: Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl
Published by: Hardie Grant Books
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018