Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table

Graham Holliday's first encounter with the "real" Vietnam was in the form of a tough and spongy pig's uterus, plunked down upon a blue plastic table and served with a pint of beer. A student/friend goaded him with an open, chewing mouth, and thus begins Holliday's visceral, witty, snarky and altogether revelatory exploration and deconstruction of Vietnamese street food, going beyond bánh mì and pho to get at the atomic heart of its cuisine and its culture.

Holliday's love of Vietnam begins with a photograph of Hanoi he finds in a travel book in 1991. Dissatisfied with life as a corporate paper-pusher, he decides to leave the dead-end job in his hometown of Rugby, England, and depart for Vietnam (by way of Korea) as an English teacher in 1996. When Holliday finds himself standing at the same exact spot of the photo, drinking in a food scene that sends his "nasal dials juddering into the red-zone," he is hooked. Armed with a rusted red bicycle nicknamed "the Chinese piece of sh*t," Holliday embarks on his own personal food safari, following his nose through the hidden alleyways of Hanoi and Saigon, tasting testicles and entrails, devilish moonshine from cobras, bears and lizards, along with more sedate fare like iced coffees and teas, relishing the sensational bursts of flavor from bun cha, hu tieu and bánh tráng phơi sương. Along the way he elaborates on the subtle differences between North (austere) and South (earthy, herb-rich and sweet), coaxes food-prep tidbits from suspicious food vendors and falls in love with a beautiful and equally adventurous Vietnamese expat.

Holliday's sensible, down-to-earth advocacy of street food will no doubt draw comparisons with Anthony Bourdain (whose imprint at Ecco is this book's publisher); but as the guy who started it all with his Vietnam-focused blog, Noodlepie, Holliday is an original. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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