For many Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is best known for its food and for its cultural diversity of cuisine that acts as a sort of fusion melting pot for the greater-regions's varying food styles.
Often eating authentic street food - food that the locals themselves eat daily - is the best way to really get the most from a given cuisine. Of course, you can have good and bad experiences - but the same can happen at a top restaurant or hotel.
This book manages a good degree of fusion in its own right: it introduces the reader to typical street food that can be found in Hanoi (and of course around in Vietnam) and also shows them how to make many dishes at home. Many cookbooks focussing on a specific region or food style tend to forget that not every reader is so familiar with every type of food, with the often tragic outcome that they only try the recipes they already know due to "fear of the unknown."
Essentially the book is split into different categories of food - noodles; cakes, breads & doughs; salads, wraps and pouches; rice; shellfish; sweets; dips, dressings and oils and finally drinks. Each section gives a fairly comprehensive primer in a relatively small space about the different food types, their origins, styles and general development. It might feel at times like information overload but the information is of quality and certainly not full of padding.
The recipes themselves are easy to follow, well written and laid out and the photography is of a general high quality, although at times the soft focus, arty-style tends to irritate. It is important to remember that this is not a plain cookbook though so some excuses are begrudgingly given. As the recipes are intertwined with other information such as tourist tips and other culinary-culture fusions the reader is best advised not to just dive in at first, but savour this as you might a good wine. Slowly, indulgently and considerately.
The book itself ends with a very basic language glossary and functional index. In many ways this book might appear off-putting to the novice who is not sure about Asiatic/Vietnamese food, but they should review any prejudices as this could, in fact, be a much better "hand holder" and introduction. Practical and theoretical knowledge together - perfectly-balanced just like an Asian meal should be. The only niggle is a highly personal one. This reviewer doesn't have the youngest set of eyes and thus some of the fonts were a wee bit small and lightweight - it didn't affect its enjoyment though.