Aspiring Vietnamese cookbook writer gets award


Aspiring Vietnamese cookbook writer gets award

10 September 2013

Asia House holds the Yan Kit So Memorial Award for Asian Food Writers. The Award provides funding for an aspiring food writer to travel to Asia to pursue a cookbook project.

In February 2013, Asia House presented the Yan Kit So Memorial Award to Mirabelle Ly Eliot for her proposed cookbook, Food from the Jade Cave, a Vietnamese vegetarian cookbook.

Since then Eliot has been busy doing research, taking Vietnamese classes and planning her trip to Vietnam. She sets off this week but she took the time to write a quick blog post for us on her recent foodie adventures:

Sin Chào Asia House fans!

It’s a couple of days now until my camera-wielding partner Luke and I set off on our three – month Vietnamese vegetarian food Odyssey, and I’m currently revising the vegetable names that my Vietnamese tutor Tra has taught me.

The last few months have been intense. Being awarded the Yan-kit So prize back in February put me in a dreamlike state, especially after meeting project originator Betty Yao and getting in touch with Fuchsia Dunlop, who is one of the several intimidatingly impressive (but very helpful) judges of the award and the star of Sichuanese cuisine here in the UK.

Thankfully, Freya at Asia House gracefully helped me to land with her ever excellent suggestions as to how to develop my project. In April she hooked me up with the supper club website, Grub Club, where I spent a vivid few nights volunteering in the kitchens at two innovative new East Asian pop up restaurants: Miss Manchu and Mama Wang’s kitchen.

This is where I gained my first taste of larger scale, professional cooking, and the key lessons I learnt were: precision, patience and mass dishwashing! And also that making good quality, affordable East Asian food is something you do for lots of love and not for lots of money, given the cost of key aromatics here in the UK.

This set me up for Lemongrass, my own Vietnamese Vegetarian supper club that I hosted with my half Italian friend Fran this August. At Luke’s handy suggestion, we named ourselves Jade and Verde to represent our different inherited foodways and shared enthusiasm for green vegetables.

We designed what turned out to be quite an ambitious three course menu – tested in the run up on Vietnamese cook pals – involving eight different dishes: Mini Summer Rolls Three Ways, Lemongrass and Chili Marinated Tofu Curry, Mango and Kohlrabi Salad and a dessert trio of Homemade Lemongrass Ice Cream, Tropical Fruit Cup and Glutinous Rice and Black Bean Pudding, all washed down with home-made Vietnamese pickled lemonade and ‘Bia Saigon’.

Happily, it all went well (apart from an accidentally destroyed first batch of the rice pudding), with some appraising and positive reviews from new guests. We were even oversubscribed with 26 covers, since at the last minute Chinese novelist Xiaolu Guo trekked down from Hackney to Vauxhall with her partner and baby Moon, claiming her VIP ticket. You can see some photos here.

And so now we’re in the last few stages getting ready to kick off our trip to Vietnam which was funded by the Yan Kit So Award. We’ll start in Hanoi where we’ll be staying with a Vietnamese vegetarian matriarch before meandering South, eating new dishes, interviewing chefs, and attending a Buddhist wedding along the way. I will be sure to keep you posted here and via my blog! Chào!

We wish Mirabelle and Luke a safe and happy trip and we’re looking forward to seeing Tales from the Jade Cave take shape.

To follow Mirabelle on Twitter click here. 

Our supper club events have featured Chinese, Indian and Burmese food. What would you like to see at Asia House next? Email us with your suggestions for our 2014 programme.