I have a love affair with Vietnam, at least, with the country's food. I remember the first time I ever tasted a proper nem (spring roll) in Hanoi, and how very different the wrapper was from those that I had tasted before at Vietnamese restaurants in San Francisco, Paris and Hong Kong. It was so thin and pliable it did not need to be soaked in water before being wrapped around ingredients.
I remember how delicious and varied the banh mi sandwiches could be, from those stuffed with the simplest fried egg and pork floss to the kinds with pate, cured meats and pickled vegetables. When I'm in Vietnam, I eat five or more small meals a day.
It seems that chef Tom Vandenberghe also has a love affair with the food of Vietnam. The influences of other countries have been so thoroughly incorporated into the cuisine that it is distinctly Vietnamese, and not a fusion. The banh mi has been called a Vietnamese baguette, but it is airier and more delicate than the French one. Soup noodles are flavoured with fish sauce, not soy sauce, and come with platters of fresh herbs, so each diner can personalise their bowl.
And nowhere is Vietnamese cuisine more glorious than on the street. Vandenberghe takes us into the kitchens (occasionally nothing more than a couple of charcoal-fuelled burners or grills set up on a street corner) and shows us how to make grilled beef in betel leaf; noodle soup with crab and escargots; Hanoi spring rolls; banana blossom and chicken salad; caramelised pork; and crème caramel with coconut milk.