The Songs of Sapa

I have always been drawn to the vibrant flavours of Vietnamese food. Not unlike the cuisines of other South East Asian countries, Vietnamese cuisine is also a play on balancing sweet, hot, sour and salty flavours. What sets it apart is the profuse use of different fresh herbs and the interplay of the many diverse cultures that have had an influence on Vietnamese culture and food.

We recently received copies of The Songs of Sapa: Stories and Recipes from Vietnam by Luke Nguyen. It was one of those stunning books that I had to read from cover to cover. Nguyen, owner of Red Lantern Restaurant in Sydney and author of Secrets of the Red Lantern, takes readers on a personal and culinary tour of Vietnam. Starting in the northwest of Vietnam, in the villages and hills around Sapa, he explores the roots of traditional cooking as well as the many regional cuisines influenced by various cultures that make up Vietnam.

The vibrant photography, engaging tales and delicious recipes will keep me reading this book over and over.

Cho Lon's Lemongrass Chilli Chicken

1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) chicken Marylands (chicken leg quarters), chopped through the bone into 3 x 4 cm pieces
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lemongrass stem, white part only, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bird's eye chillies, thinly sliced
125 mL (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) young coconut water
1 small onion, cut into thin wedges
2 spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 bird's eye chilli, sliced

In a bowl, combine the fish sauce, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground pepper, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the chicken pieces and turn them to coat in the marinade. Cover the bowl and place in the fridge to marinate for 30 minutes.
Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the oil and fry the lemongrass until brown, then add the garlic and chilli, stirring until fragrant. Now add the undrained chicken and stir-fry for 10 minutes. Pour in the coconut water and bring to the boil. Add the onion, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by half. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with the spring onions and chilli. Serve with jasmine rice.

Serves 4 to 6 as part of a shared meal

From The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen