Cookbook review: Love, war and family recipes immortalized

"Tasting Vietnam: Flavors and Memories from my Grandmother's Kitchen" by Anne-Solenne Hatte (Rizzoli, $37.50)
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"Tasting Vietnam: Flavors and Memories from my Grandmother's Kitchen" by Anne-Solenne Hatte (Rizzoli, $37.50)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

‘Tasting Vietnam: Flavors and Memories From My Grandmother’s Kitchen’ by Anne-Solenne Hatte (Rizzoli, $37.50)

Anne-Solenne Hatte is well aware of the value of family recipes. In seeking to better understand her Eurasian identity — her mother is Vietnamese, her father is French — the actress, model and journalist turned to her grandmother, Ba, who fled the Vietnam War and eventually opened a highly regarded family restaurant in France. Cooking alongside her and listening to her stories, Hatte began to fill the cultural voids of her own life.

In the midst of these lessons, Hatte teamed up with a Parisian chef to develop Franco-Vietnamese dishes based on her grandmother’s recipes. Their project caught the attention of Alain Ducasse, the renowned Michelin-starred chef, who published a cookbook in French based on it. He writes the preface in its newly published English translation: “Tasting Vietnam: Flavors and Memories From My Grandmother’s Kitchen” (Rizzoli, $37.50).

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Ba chronicles her life journey in her own words, grandmother to granddaughter, beginning on a rice farm near Hanoi, continuing on to Hue and Saigon as the wife of a politician, and immigrating to Washington, D.C., before settling in France. Family photos and uncomplicated, gorgeously photographed recipes bring these memories to life.

Chao, the rice porridge Ba made daily in huge pots to feed orphans during the Great Famine, is refined to include bits of beef tenderloin, shallots and herbs. A recipe for duck breast with bamboo shoots signifies a meal she made for U.S. government members on Connecticut Avenue as tensions in Vietnam worsened. A fresh rendition of pan-fried shrimp and rice noodles recounts the house specialty of the family restaurant she opened in France that won the hearts of their new neighbors and paid for her nine children’s education.

Had it not been for the war and loss that led them to their adopted home, Hatte observes, “I never would have been born.”

With these heartfelt recipes and stories, she may motivate us to dig through our own family recipe collections to see what we can learn about ourselves.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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