Graham Holliday: Eating Việt Nam

I didn’t realize the author of Eating Việt Nam is the same guy behind Noodlepie—a blog on Vietnamese food I frequented many years ago—until I read the foreword by Anthony Bourdain. I am glad that Graham Holliday recounted his experiences in a book, which offers mouth-watering introduction to the vibrant Vietnamese street food including bún chả, bún mắn, bánh mì, and mì hoành thánh. Furthermore, Holliday’s observation on Vietnamese culture is intriguing. I didn’t even know about the story behind the boiled chicken in the north.

For the food that Holliday didn’t like, I understand his sentiment about hột vịt lộn. Most Westerners feel the same way. I even heard the comparison of eating an aborted baby duck. On bánh mì phá lấu (pig’s organ), however, I beg to differ. The sauce that came from phá lấu is the secret ingredient for bánh mì. Without that sauce, bánh mì thịt would never taste superb. That’s why bánh mì thịt in the U.S. is nowhere near the one in Việt Nam. As for tiết canh, Holliday compares it to eating a nosebleed. What the fuck? I only had tiết canh once many years ago when I was in high school. Although I was a bit reluctant at first, I found it to be quite tantalizing and it tasted nothing like nosebleed. I would eat it again if I get the opportunity.

Nevertheless, Eating Việt Nam is a good read for people who are not familiar with Vietnamese authentic cuisine. Holliday’s detailed explanations, like his love for the the herbs, will draw you in. I am happy to see that he uses Vietnamese words with diacritics even though I spotted a handful of errors including “phổ” (in the foreword) instead of phở and chí (page 178) instead of chị. His editors obviously don’t know Vietnamese and didn’t bother to check.

For the design of the book, the text face is Myriad Pro. Even though I am not fond of a san serif typeface for reading—Minion Pro would be my preference—Myriad Pro holds up quite well. I didn’t mind it at all.