Vietnamese Market Cookbook

Spicy Sour Sweet


By Van Tran

By Anh Vu

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Bring the Flavor of Vietnam to Your Kitchen

Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and spicy: these are the flavorful tenets of Vietnamese cuisine. This exhilarating culinary culture is rich but light, deeply flavorful but made with simple ingredients, and filling while also easy to prepare. That’s the message that authors Van Tran and Anh Vu wanted to bring to a hungry crowd when they opened their banh mi stall in London, an international city that surprisingly lacked the tastes of the authors’ childhoods in Hanoi. As their business expanded, The Vietnamese Market Cookbook followed. The recipes are simpler than you might think but explode with the purest flavors of vegetables, seafood, lean meats, spices, chiles, and treasured Vietnamese condiments like fish sauce. Old and new favorites collide: Asparagus and Crabmeat Soup, Papaya Salad with Crispy Anchovies, Claypot Chicken with Ginger, Sea Bass Carpaccio, Kumquat Jasmine Iced Tea, and Crè Caramel. From chapters like “Sweetness and Happiness” to “Spiciness and Adventure” and “Saltiness and Healing,” this lusciously filling book will bring a little bit of Vietnam into your home.



We were born in Vietnam, a land of bustlingly vibrant food markets. They come to life at dawn, with the clattering of footsteps, straw baskets full of local vegetables and seasonal herbs, wheelbarrows weighted down with meat, sacks of freshly baked baguettes, buckets with fish swimming inside, coops with chickens, bamboo presses with fresh tofu, hampers full of specialty mushrooms and spices, and food stalls everywhere. The markets are in the back alleys of Hanoi, in the shadow of high-rises in Saigon, in the misty valleys of Sapa, and on floating boats in the red waters of the Mekong Delta. Cooking, commerce, and community make up the rhythm of daily life in Vietnam, and the starting point is a morning visit to the market. . . .




Chapter 1

Everyday Cooking (An Com)

Shrimp and Vegetable Marrow Squash Soup

Asparagus and Crabmeat Soup

Artichoke and Pork Ribs Soup

Chicken, Cauliflower, and Spring Onion Soup

Pumpkin Braised with Coconut

Egg-glazed Eggplant Fritters

Caramelized Braised Pork Belly

Beef au Vin (Bo Sot Vang)

Festive Cooking (An Qua)

Imperial BBQ Pork

Basic Vietnamese Baguette (Banh Mi)

Imperial BBQ Pork Vietnamese Baguette (Banh Mi)

Imperial BBQ Pork Noodle Salad (Bun Cha)

Classic Beef Noodle Soup (Pho Bo)

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup (Pho Ga)

Stairway to Heaven Noodle Soup (Bun Thang)

Social Cooking (An Choi)

Shrimp Lollipops

Crab Cakes

Chinese Leaf Pork Dumplings

Pomegranate and Pear Sweet Pudding

Kumquat Jasmine Iced Tea

Crème Caramel


Sweetness is perhaps the most obviously pleasing of the five flavors. Its familiarity stretches back to childhood treats, like the colorful birthday cakes that marked our annual milestones.

By sweetness we don’t just mean the puddings and treats that would classify as a “sweet” on a Western menu. We mean the subtle notes that underpin certain dishes, be they savory or sweet. This chapter includes some obviously sweet ingredients like seductive soft fruits. But it also includes more unlikely candidates: vegetables such as pumpkin and squash, which add a sweet note to soup within minutes; and meat and seafood, which, when cooked the right way, release a deep and succulent sweetness.

The savory recipes in this chapter all have sweet qualities—for example, the pork belly, which is steeped in caramelized sugar and then slowly simmered to release a wonderfully honeyed flavor. In this chapter we include a classic Vietnamese noodle soup called pho. For us, pho is all about sweetness, despite being a main course. In the same way Western soups use stock, pho is based on a broth made from slowly boiled bones. This slow-cooked broth releases a delightful sweetness which is intrinsic to the dish.

Anh and I still believe that truly authentic pho noodle soup is only found in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. The Hanoian palate prefers a gentle sweetness, not the saccharine, MSG-laden offerings of ersatz versions. Hanoi’s pho is simple: a clear stock, tender meat, a fine sprinkling of fresh herbs, a couple of slices of fresh chile, a wedge of lime, and no cluttering with bean sprouts.

The soul of this pho is the broth: the fragrance is irresistible, with hints of cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, coriander seeds, and ginger. The sweetness of pho is deep: it doesn’t hit the tip of your tongue, but leaves a satisfying kick at the back of your throat.

The first time I had pho in Vietnam as a grown-up was on my first return visit after moving away, and it was then that I understood why my mother had always gone to the effort of making this dish during the years we lived outside Vietnam.

We sat on plastic stools in the heat of Hanoi in July and watched as steaming ladles of broth were poured into large white bowls that gleamed in the early morning sun. Here in Vietnam, street food is simply home cooking that has sprawled out onto the street. People open up their shop-front living rooms, put out more chairs and tables on the pavement, and serve from a stall set up by the entrance.

As we sipped the pho, my mother commented on how soft the fresh, hand-made noodles were. I had never seen her so content, so at home. For the first time, I saw her as a friend, as a person with her own life story, secrets, and dreams. And for the first time I understood the power of food to spark memories and make you feel at home. I saw how the cuisine carries the culture. Never again would I question why my mother went to such lengths to replicate Hanoian recipes abroad. Through her cooking she rooted us in family tradition.

That afternoon, my mother went to the hairdresser and got her hair done in the exact same style she wore in those old black and white photos of her hanging on the wall at home. Suddenly she seemed as youthful as me, in her twenties with everything ahead of her. The sweetness of that day still lingers.

Everyday Cooking (An Com)

The Vietnamese don’t eat their meals in the sequential order of starter, main course, and dessert. At mealtimes the dishes are laid out together and everyone is called to the table. However simple the meal, the trinity of a protein main course, a vegetable side, and a soup is honored. The nurturer of the family, whether it be the mother or the eldest son, is given the important task of serving everyone rice, and typically two bowls are mandatory. Fruits and tea are served afterward. This traditional Vietnamese format is designed for communal dining. But you can pick out any dish you fancy from the following recipes and enjoy it alone. Or pick any selection to enjoy together with friends and family.

Shrimp and Vegetable Marrow Squash Soup

Soup forms an indispensable part of the Vietnamese meal. It’s served together with the main course, usually poured over rice. We make easy, everyday soups from the simplest of ingredients: we boil a vegetable from the fridge, add a pinch of sea salt, muddle in a tomato or a few slices of ginger, and voila. The natural sweetness of many vegetables makes them the mainstay of a comforting soup. Vegetable marrow, a light green summer squash, is one of our favorite squashes, and one of the most dependable vegetables. We use it a chunk at a time, like a good piece of farmhouse Cheddar, and the squash lasts us a whole week. In this recipe, you can substitute zucchini just as well.


For the shrimp:

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fish sauce

½ teaspoon chopped garlic

7 ounces/200 g fresh peeled shrimp, coarsely chopped

For the soup:

1 (7-ounce/200-g) chunk of vegetable marrow squash (zucchini also works well)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon crushed garlic

3 cups/750 ml hot water

1 teaspoon gia vi (or a mix of 2 parts sugar, 1 part sea salt, 1 part ground black pepper, 1 part garlic powder)

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 spring onion, finely sliced, for serving

To prepare the shrimp: Combine the black pepper, fish sauce, and garlic in a medium bowl and toss with the shrimp. Cover and leave to marinate for a couple of minutes while you prepare the soup.

To prepare the soup: Peel the squash, cut it in half lengthways, and remove any seeds. Then use a vegetable peeler to slice the squash into paper-thin slices.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat, then stir in the garlic until the oil is fragrant. Pour in the marinated shrimp and stir quickly until they turn pink.

Pour in the hot water and bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that builds up. Season with the gia vi and the fish sauce, and add the squash slices. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the squash is soft.

Take the pot off the heat and sprinkle with the chopped spring onion before serving.

Note: If you want the broth to be extra-sweet, then buy unpeeled shrimp to peel yourself. Cook the shells separately in the hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain out the shells before adding the water to the sautéed shrimp.

Asparagus and Crabmeat Soup

We are big fans of asparagus. In late spring, when asparagus is plentiful at the market, we pick up a couple of bunches every week. It is so versatile: we boil it with a dash of ginger, make a stir-fry (page 178), or pan-fry it lightly with a smidgen of butter, a dash of lemon juice, and a sprinkling of sesame. Asparagus and crabmeat scream luxurious cooking, but the truth is that you need only use a modest amount of each to create a big splash.


6⅓ cups/1.5 L chicken broth (see page 211, or use store-bought)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon chopped shallot

3½ ounces/100 g fresh white crabmeat

1 teaspoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons corn flour

4 tablespoons cold water

1 bunch asparagus

1¾ ounces/50 g fresh shiitake mushrooms (or ¾ ounce/20 g dried)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

In a large pan, bring the chicken broth to a boil.

Meanwhile, prepare the components of the soup: In a separate, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat, then stir in the chopped shallot, stirring quickly until the oil is fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the crabmeat and flash-fry for a couple of minutes, before seasoning with the fish sauce; stir to incorporate. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a small bowl, dissolve the corn flour in the cold water.

Chop the asparagus into ½-inch/1-cm rounds. Slice the shiitake mushrooms thinly. (If using dried shiitake, soak them in hot water for about 15 minutes, drain, and then pat them dry with a paper towel before slicing.)

Once the chicken broth is boiling, add the seasoned crabmeat, along with the asparagus and shiitake mushrooms. Return the broth to a boil and stir in the corn flour mixture. Stir for a couple of minutes until the soup thickens, and then take the pot off the heat.

Grind some fresh pepper over the soup and sprinkle the chopped cilantro over top before serving.

Grind some more pepper over the individual servings before eating.

Artichoke and Pork Ribs Soup

When a vegetable as aristocratic as the artichoke is combined with something as common as pork ribs, the resulting sweetness is wonderfully ethereal.


10 ounces/300 g small pork loin ribs, cut into smallish pieces (see note)

6 whole fresh artichoke hearts

1 teaspoon gia vi (or a mix of 2 parts sugar, 1 part sea salt, 1 part ground black pepper, 1 part garlic powder)

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon chopped spring onion, for serving

1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

Bring a large pan of water to a boil and add the pork ribs. Boil for a couple of minutes only, then drain and discard the liquid. (This is to cleanse the ribs, so don’t cook for too long as they will lose their sweetness.)

Put the ribs back into the pan. Add enough water to come about 2 inches/5 cm above the ribs and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the ribs are tender.

Add the artichokes and cook until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the gia vi along with the fish sauce.

Sprinkle with the chopped spring onion and cilantro and serve hot

Note: Ask the butcher to chop the ribs into small chunks for easier eating.

Chicken, Cauliflower, and Spring Onion Soup

Often when we have a good chicken broth on hand we like to make a pho noodle soup (see page 46). On grey autumn evenings, however, we go for a really plain, clear soup. It is both simple and soothing.


6⅓ cups/1.5 L chicken broth (see page 211 or use store-bought)

½ head cauliflower

1 teaspoon gia vi (or a mix of 2 parts sugar, 1 part sea salt, 1 part ground black pepper, 1 part garlic powder)

2 teaspoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon chopped spring onion

1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pan, bring the chicken broth to the boil. Cut the cauliflower into florets, add them to the broth, and cook until they are soft. Season to taste with the gia vi and fish sauce.

Sprinkle the chopped spring onion and cilantro over the broth and serve hot.

Pumpkin Braised with Coconut

Throughout winter we always have pumpkins and winter squash in our vegetable box in the kitchen. We often slice them thinly and then stir-fry with lots of crushed garlic. But after they’ve been sitting in the vegetable box for some time their flesh begins to dry out, so we discovered that you could remedy that by cutting them into thick chunks and cooking them like a curry with coconut milk. Coconut milk injects the pumpkin with moisture and brings the flavors back to life.


1 9-ounce/250-g pumpkin or other winter squash, peeled and deseeded

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ tablespoon chopped shallot

2 tablespoons soy sauce

6 tablespoons/100 ml coconut milk

1 tablespoon chopped spring onion

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

Cut the pumpkin into bite-size chunks.

In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat and toss in the shallot. Cook for about 1 minute, until it starts to brown. Stir in the pumpkin and season with the soy sauce, then add just enough water to cover the pumpkin. Simmer over medium heat until the pumpkin is soft, which should take about 15 minutes. Pour in the coconut milk and simmer for another 15 minutes, to meld all the flavors.

Sprinkle the spring onion and cilantro on top before serving.

Egg-glazed Eggplant Fritters

On Saturday nights, after spending the whole day selling street food on Broadway Market, we are usually so tired and half-full from grazing on food we’ve swapped with the other traders, that all we want to cook is something simple like these eggplant fritters. We first thought of using tempura batter, which works for any vegetable, from cauliflower to zucchini slices, but then we made our batter even more simple by literally just cracking an egg, whisking with a fork, and dipping the thinly sliced eggplant into it. We munch on them as they come out of the pan, savoring the rich sweetness of the egg and the softness of the eggplant.


1 medium-size eggplant

1 egg

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise and then cut each half into very thin (¼-inch-/2- or 3-mm-thick) slices.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg and season it with the fish sauce.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.

Dip the eggplant slices in the egg, one at a time, and then immediately add the coated slices to the pan; fry until golden on both sides. Carefully remove the fried eggplant pieces to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Serve warm.

Caramelized Braised Pork Belly

My father was born in the countryside and although he’s now a scientist with two doctorates, he has retained a penchant for simple, country comfort food. He loves leftover rice fried with greens, or sticky rice with caramelized pork. As my father completed his studies in Germany, I didn’t meet him until I was three, but I inherited from him a love of caramelized pork. It’s a staple dish at our kitchen table, especially in the winter months. In this recipe, the slow simmering of the pork makes it deliciously sweet and tender.


2 thick slices peeled fresh ginger

10½ ounces/300 g pork belly

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon gia vi (or a mix of 2 parts sugar, 1 part sea salt, 1 part ground black pepper, 1 part garlic powder)

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon chopped shallot

For the caramel sauce:

4 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 scant cup/200 ml hot water

1 scant cup/200 ml canned coconut milk

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and throw in the ginger. Add the pork (don’t cut it into chunks at this stage or it will cook too quickly and lose its sweetness) and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes over a high heat to blanch the meat. Remove the pork belly from the pot and set it aside on a cutting board. Drain and discard the water and ginger.

For the marinade, mix together the gia vi, fish sauce, and shallot in a medium bowl. Slice the pork belly into bite-size chunks, add them to the marinade, and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.

To make the caramel sauce, pour the sugar into a heavy-bottomed braising pan or cast-iron casserole. Place the pan over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes without stirring, and then reduce the heat and stir constantly until the sugar is completely melted and begins to turn golden in color. This should take about 2 to 3 minutes. Pay attention to the color of the caramel underneath the bubbles: don’t allow it to get too dark. Add the hot water and cook until it boils, and then immediately reduce the heat to medium and add the pork belly to the pan. Don’t worry if the sugar hardens upon contact with the water; it will re-melt as it cooks, forming a sauce.

Stir the pork belly into the caramel sauce until it is well coated. Pour in the coconut milk, stir until it is incorporated, and cook the mixture for another minute to let the flavors meld. Taste and add more fish sauce or sugar if necessary, depending on whether it’s a little too sweet or too salty.

Reduce the heat to low, cover, and leave the meat to simmer for about 30 minutes, until the braising liquid has reduced and thickened. Add a bit of water if the sauce reduces too much.

This is best served with white rice and a sour salad like the Red Cabbage and Bean Sprout Salad on page 92, which cuts through its sweetness.

Beef au Vin (Bo Sot Vang)

Beef was not part of the Vietnamese diet until the French arrived in the late nineteenth century and started to import it. Although there were buffalos in Vietnam, they were work animals only and designated as holy.


  • “Take a tour through the five flavors of Vietnamese cuisine—sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, and salty—in this vibrant, educational cookbook created by Vietnamese-born sisters Tran and Vu. The two run several popular food stalls in London featuring their home cuisine, most notably the classic bánh mì sandwich (of which there are several variations in the book). But this cookbook, which is organized by flavor profile rather than standard classifications like soups and main dishes, showcases so much more than sandwiches. Adventurous cooks will delight at recipes for beef pho, Hanoi shrimp fritters, and papaya salad with crispy anchovies. The book's gorgeous photos pay homage to the abundance of fresh produce starring in these dishes. Also included is an extensive section of master recipes and Vietnamese pantry staples.”

On Sale
Sep 30, 2014
Page Count
256 pages
Running Press

Van Tran

About the Author

Van Tran and Ahn Vu are the owners of the popular market stalls Banhmi11 and two market cafes, No. 101 and No. 17, in London. Both born in Vietnam, they spent their childhoods in Hanoi. They had no professional training as chefs when they left their jobs in finance, but successfully filled a gap in London’s culinary scene with banh mi sandwiches, which led to their ever-expanding restaurant empire. Their book, The Vietnamese Market Cookbook, was first published in the UK in fall 2013 and was lauded in the Guardian, Time Out London, Zest, Jamie Magazine, the Sunday Telegraph, Top Sante Magazine, and Metro London, among others. They live in London.

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