"We heard the plane coming in low and I was scared." In that first spare sentence about her family's last days in Vietnam in 1975, Andrea Nguyen grabs the reader and maintains her hold throughout this lovely book. You will feel her warm presence in every anecdote, and in every recipe.
That approach is welcome in a book of more than 175 recipes designed to introduce a cuisine likely unfamiliar to many cooks. The journey starts with ingredients, of course, and in Vietnam the ingredient list starts with pungent fish sauce. Nguyen reminds us that many important ingredients are, initially, strange when not from our culture: "If fish sauce seems alien to you, take a whiff of dried porcini mushrooms and then sniff the condiment. The aromas are remarkably similar, and, like good aged cheese, fish sauce smells stronger than it actually tastes."