Jacqueline Pham Talks Vietnamese Food Culture, Banh Mi’s, and Where to Eat in Paris

Jacqueline Pham - Banh Mi Cook Book AuthorIn her latest book, Bánh Mì, blogger and cookbook author Jacqueline Pham shares with readers her life and experiences growing up in Paris. French foods, crusty loaves of bread, and croissants were part of a daily life, and the scents and aroma of a freshly baked baguette bring back fond memories of her childhood in a Vietnamese community in France. This week, Jacqueline shared her thoughts on food culture, ethnic dining trends with Crave Local, as well as recommendations on where to eat when you stay in Paris, France.

Crave Local Interview

CL: There is an uprising of noodle bowl dishes (“the rise of ramen”) happening right now. How do you think Vietnamese food culture may have contributed to this food trend?

JP: There are a lot of noodle dishes in Vietnamese cuisine, ranging from egg noodles to rice noodles. However, I think their contribution to “ramen” culture is minimal. People love phở and other noodle soups and they tend to be served at strictly Vietnamese restaurants, where you typically don’t find ramen noodles.

CL: What is the Vietnamese food culture like in Europe?

JP: There’s a small Vietnamese community in Paris. You see the occasional phở restaurant around town, but the go-to place for great Vietnamese food is the 13th arrondissement, home to the city’s quartier chinois (Chinatown). My family would make regular pilgrimages to the supermarket, Tang Frères, which is located in that district, for fresh Vietnamese ingredients.

CL: Where did you eat together as a family when you lived in Paris?

JP: Every weekend, my father’s large family would gather at home and we would have a typical family-style, home-cooked Vietnamese meal.

CL: Where do you like to eat when you visit there now?

JP: My husband is a vegetarian, so it’s difficult to find a meat-free menu. We make it a point to go to our favorite boulangeries and pâtisseries around the city, and we enjoy the open-air markets as well. The panini shops near Sacré Coeur are great and we always stop at the supermarkets. The products are so different from the US;  I would recommend that everyone try Danao milk and juice drink, for instance. Editors note: (Danao is a tropical juice, generally made with oranges, mangoes, pineapple, passion fruit, and combined with milk)

CL: If someone were to have only a night or two in Paris, where would you recommend they eat?

JP: I would definitely recommend “Aux Lyonnais” at 32, rue Saint Marc, in the 2nd arrondissement. The food is exquisite yet affordable and the staff was nice enough to make a special, delicious mushroom and truffle velouté for my vegetarian husband. I also love the croissants at Le Moulin De La Vierge in the Saint Germain Des Prés area-they are absolutely to die for! They also have to try a panini and a poulet rôti with fat-cooked potatoes before leaving. Yum! I wrote a guide the last time I was in Paris that might be helpful-you can find it here.

CL: What are your top 5 Vietnamese recipes that you think people should try? What about traditional French recipes? Any personal favorites?

JP: Vietnamese recipes: phở, tamarind crab (cua rang me), beef carpaccio (bò tái chanh), eggrolls (chả giò), and Vietnamese meatballs (xíu mại). All incredibly delicious! If we’re talking French recipes, then I would say: gratin dauphinois (recipe available in my first cookbook “Haute Potato”), French beef stew (boeuf bourguignon), roasted chicken (poulet rôti). My personal all time favorites? I adore phở! My family loves vegetarian larb (bì chay), Vietnamese crêpes (bánh xèo) and Vietnamese iced coffee (cà phê sữa đá). But not before bedtime!

CL: You recommend fresh rice flour in your book. What is the easiest way for someone to make that?

JP: Rice flour adds a crispy crust to the bread. Vietnamese cuisine calls for rice flour for many food items for the texture. You can find jasmine rice flour in most Asian stores, but I prefer grinding my own. I get a finer flour using the Nutrimill brand mill. I bought it a few years ago and it’s very useful for making any kind of flour.

CL: Your bánh mì recipes were all quite delicious looking in your new book. What are your favorite ingredients or toppings?

JP: My favorite ingredients are the pickles. I think they make Vietnamese sandwiches unique. Đồ chua (pickled carrots and daikon), in my opinion, is the signature element in bánh mì. After the colonial period, only wealthy people could afford imported goods, so Asian ingredients replaced them. Đồ chua is the substitute for cornichons (tiny French gherkin pickles). I also love using pickled white asparagus when they’re in season. All the pickles are boldly flavored and give the sandwiches soul.

CL: Name 5 pantry staples in your kitchen that you just couldn’t live without.

JP: I love versatile ingredients, so I would have to say cardamom, ginger, chocolate, saffron and pistachio are flavors I just can’t live without. They work great with meats, drinks and desserts alike! If I were to venture out of the pantry, I would also include citrus.

Thanks to Jacqueline for sharing her tips and thoughts with us. If you’d like to try making a traditional Vietnamese bánh mì sandwich, check out her latest book, Banh Mi: 75 Recipes for Authentic and Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches on Amazon, and please let us know what you liked the best!

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