Favorite Cookbooks: Andrea Nguyen

Favorite Cookbooks: Andrea Nguyen

Andrea and I have been friends for a few years now. She writes inspiring articles about people and their deep connections with food. And she writes books that dive head-first into the topic at hand, while remaining wonderfully accessible. Truth be told, when I first met her I was a bit intimidated. But that feeling didn't last long. She's light, with an easy smile, and a sense of humor that had me at go. On the culinary front, she up for anything. We got together for drinks at a friend's house recently and she showed up with jars of homemade Maraschino cherries, one jar made using one technique, the other jar using a different approach -an impromptu tasting ensued. Not long after that, I saw on her site she was reverse engineering her own Sriracha chile sauce (!). I don't see her as often as I'd like to, and I regret that she doesn't live just a little bit closer to me.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with her debut cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. It was among the finalists for a James Beard Foundation award (best Asian cookbook) and two International Association of Culinary Professionals awards (best first book and best international book). For all you dumpling fans out there, her second book, Asian Dumplings, tackles the subject spanning samosas, lumpia, pot stickers, momo, gyōza, wontons, bāo, and then some. She's a contributing editor to Saveur magazine, writes for newspapers like the Los Angeles Times and San Jose Mercury News, and teaches cooking classes regularly. When I asked Andrea to share some of her favorite cookbooks, she replied with the following...

A woman I know lost her entire cookbook collection in one of the recent Santa Barbara fires. I winced when I heard about it as I've often wondered what I'd grab or miss the most should disaster strike. My collection of cookbooks fills several seven-foot-tall bookshelves in my dining room and office. It is comprised of my mother's notebook of handwritten recipes that she carried from Vietnam when we fled, works that I perused during my youth, gems discovered overseas or hunted down at used bookstores, and many acquired online during late night shopping forays. I'd be heartbroken if I no longer had certain ones as they are special, irreplaceable artifacts of time and place. However, if my entire library of cookbooks were to vanish, I would find my bearing and seed a new collection with these works:


Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking (Knopf, 1977) was my first Chinese cookbook. After my family arrived in the U.S. in 1975, we started going to our local library to checkout cookbooks and then eventually joined Book-of-the-Month clubs to start our own cookbook collection. My three sisters and I read all the fine print and took turns joining so we could get multiple deals on cookbooks. Kuo's was among our family's favorites. She was spot on back in '77 and still is today. I own two copies, one with a broken spine and the other has hardly been cracked open as it waits for the first one to completely fall apart.

If I lost those copies, I'd track down a third copy. But I'd supplement Kuo's Chinese recipes with those by Grace Young in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen and The Breath of a Wok (Simon & Schuster, 1999 and 2004). All the recipes work in Grace's books, and she has a great palate.

For dreaming about and cooking the flavors of South and Southeast Asia, I'd get Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Hot Sour Salty Sweet and Beyond the Great Wall (Artisan, 2000 and 2008). Their books have fed my creativity, piqued my curiosity, and satisfied my hunger for Asian food and culture for years. The over-sized tomes are not merely for coffee table décor. They are books to cook and learn from.


I've lived in California for most of my life and Mexican food is a necessity. Rick Bayless has never failed me with his recipes for making uncommonly delicious Mexican Food. I can easily spend a day cooking from his books, especially Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen (Scribner, 1996). For the ultimate from-scratch cooking experience, I'd also pick up Diana Kennedy's From My Mexican Kitchen (Clarkson Potter, 2003).


Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is getting lots of press these days but frankly, I don't often use those volumes. If I want well-honed instructions on classic French and American dishes, I make a beeline for The Way to Cook (Knopf, 1993). She very clearly, and with her signature humor, tells you how to make terrific pate, meatloaf, and pumpkin pie. There's work involved but it's neither nervous making nor laborious seeming. Along with J.C. (and I'm not talking Jesus here), I'd pick up James Beard's American Cookery (Little Brown and Co., 1980). For Italian recipes, Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (Knopf, 1992) has been my kitchen companion since it came out in 1992 and I'd surely bring her back.

These cookbooks by Child, Beard, and Hazan all have an authoritative voice that is friendly, not motherly. (Who wants their mom hovering over them as they cook?) Their thoughtful and straight-ahead approach to home cooking inspires my writing and informs my understanding of American and European fare.


I'm a geek who LOVES reading cookbook glossaries. Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food is one of the books that I grab to look something up as I research and develop recipes; either the first or second edition would do. For Asian ingredients, Charmaine Solomon's Encyclopedia of Asian Food (Tuttle, 2008) and Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients (William Morrow, 2000) are my requisite reference works.

Finally, I would be disingenuous if I didn't say that I'd be quick to replenish copies of my own cookbooks. Truth be told, I regularly cook from them and follow my own instructions. The results are surprisingly good!

Cooking is a craft that I regularly practice and these are among the works that I cherish most. My personal and professional life would be incomplete without cookbooks around.

Here's where you can find Andrea:
- Andrea's newest book: Asian Dumplings
- Andrea's first book: Into the Vietnamese Kitchen
- Viet World Kitchen
- Asian Dumpling Tips
- Follow Andrea on Twitter

Photo by: Penny De Los Santos. You can follow Penny's blog here, or her twitter stream. My hope is that I can convince her to share her favorite cookbooks with us at some point too!


I send an email roughly once a week, sharing new recipes and cooking inspiration. - xo heidi
Heidi Swanson


I have been after the Charmaine Solomon book for a while now. I don't think it is currently in print but I didn't realise that Amazon were selling used copies. Even the used copies aren't that cheap which just goes to show you how popular this book is.

Paula from Only Cookware

I just met Andrea at the World Chef Showcase - I can see why you love her. She was fantastic - very friendly and a great source of knowledge (fantastic presenter too!). I also got her Asian Dumpling book and am drooling right now. That would be one of my new favourite cookbooks just on the pictures and reading the recipes alone! I can't wait to try it out


Great tips for cook books! I recently bought a used copy of Marcella Hazan's book and I love it: the basics, simple and written when 'fast food' was not invented yet ("simmer on the lowest simmer for 3h. 5h would be better"). Reading this post, I ordered the key to chinese cooking book, hopefully a similar revelation with regard to chinese cooking. Thanks again!


Oh this is wonderful to know - thank you!

Simply Life

Great list, thanks a lot. I am allways looking for a good read and new inputs.

tobias cooks!

Heidi thank you so much for showcasing the work of others. Your generosity is one of my favorite things about this site, and the way you connect your readers to others in your field is truly inspirational to me. I look forward to checking out these titles... and wish that all of you lived in my neighborhood. Ah well, it's getting a bit nippy here - correction: maybe I wish to live in yours.
All the best,

The Gardener's Eden

I love seeing lists of favorite cookbooks. Also, I just read Asian Dumplings and am putting together a post about it this morning. Hope Penny shares a list with you soon!


Thanks...I love reading new cookbooks and I am so NOT knowledgeable....but these 'interviews' surely help. Sounds all great as this is my current area I am pushing into with my cooking...all things Asian and Japanese is my current one..very very hard for a German by the way...grin...


I love dumplings so that is one cookbook I will definitely have to check out. I also enjoyed seeing your list of must have cookbooks. Many of those are among my favorites as well.


Loved reading this. Thank you.

My family and I live in an 800 sq. ft. house, so I have to keep my cookbook acquisition down. My mom has at least 500 volumes, though, so love of cookbooks is something I can't get away from.

After reading Andrea's picks, it looks like I'm on the right track with my mini-library.

The Leftoverist

Thanks for the info - I'll have to check out her book!

Tabitha (From Single to Married)

Thank you so much, I have been looking for a great vietnamese cookbook so I can start cooking food for my vietnamese exchange student. Yeah!


That sounds like a gorgeous book. I love the list you've outlined here; haven't got a Vietnamese cookbook in my collection. It sounds so good! Thank you for sharing this so beautifully!


I adore Andrea's writing (Saveur-subscriber) and her recipes. She is such a sincere, passionate, and knowledgable contributer to the food world. Andrea - you are so appreciated!

Thanks for sharing Heidi! James Beard's American Cookery has been on my "maybe" list for years now - seems like it is time to hit up Omnivore Books and make the purchase.


Inspiring. Reading this really makes me just want to spend a day with any of the cookbooks mentioned and get lost. I am new to using cookbooks and love it! (I used to always just cook what I knew how to make - and very simply). I love your site. Thanks.

Nora Lisman

Thanks for the great list of cookbooks! I found the suggestions for Asian cookbooks especially helpful as I've been working more Asian meals into our family menus. Thank you for your great work on the site, it's one of my favorites!

Jessica @ Demeter Made

While I have (too!) many cookbooks in general, our Asian section is woefully underserved. I have enjoyed Andrea's writings but have yet to plunge for the book - thanks for the nudge.

Sidenote: Bisquik as an advertiser here??


Heidi, I checked out Penny's site with her wonderful photos currently of sheep farming (ranching) in Idaho, I liked the lamb chops on the barbecue, a reasonably rare sight I believe in the US but part of our culture here in New Zealand. After all we do have about 40 million sheep. I think the US have 8 million

annie m

I have 4 Asian cookbooks that, long ago, I read cover-to-cover in the reading room (you know, that special room in every house). I forced myself to read EVERY recipe (both the ingredient list and the how-to-do-it section) so I'd have a basic idea about what to do in terms of Asian cooking. Some of the very best information was in the how-to section. There's still SO very much to learn! Thanks for the newest recommendations.

Like someone else said, I think I have way too many cookbooks, and since I've been cooking for over 45 years, I seldom dip into my collection of books -- but every now and then I pull out my 45-year-old Betty Crocker and a few others to reinforce proportions and cooking temperatures. I'm a little more nutritionally conscious than my Betty Crocker cookbook seems to be, but that's where the improvising fun comes into play along with the age-old advice from many of my favorite old-time cook books. It'd be hard to say which is the most favorite, but maybe the dust on the top edge would tell (oops -- I'm not the tidiest of homemakers you can probably tell, but, what the hey, I live way out in the country and we're not that way, way out here where everything's pretty natural).


I wish you had posted one of her recipes...


It was nice to know Andrea Nguyen. I am currently based here in Saigon, Vietnam. This post is very informative and helpful.

Thanks Heidi :)

The Artist Chef

I also lost all my cookbooks along with my home and everything in it, in the Black Saturday bushfires this year in Victoria, Australia... and though they are vital to any kitchen, cookbooks can't come first on a list of things that MUST be replaced quickly.... lucky christmas is coming up!

However, on a good note, looking for healthy, creative recipes online led me to your blog and posted recipes, and I am most grateful for that.
Thanks for your continuing and fabulous blog!


You've brought up an interesting thought about which cookbooks we couldn't live without or would miss dearly if something happened. I think I would miss The French Laundry Cookbook, because it goes into so much detail on the importance of accomplishing the basics well.

I admire Andrea's writing and her recipes as well. She's incredibly creative and talented!


Hi Heidi, I am a vegetarian and I thoroughly enjoy your blog. In fact, I have referred quite a few friends to it now and they share the same sentiments. Just wanted to correct an error in the above article: samosa is an Indian dish; in fact its an Indian snack, quite popular in North India. I have seen variations of it in Melbourne, (where I live presently) where a lot of Asian eateries have modified it and serve it regularly, but the snack has Indian origins.


Can't wait to check it out! I was just in Hanoi last week and loved the food! :)


Thanks, both of you, for this generous and thoughtful list--so helpful!


Wow, makes us realize how much we take for granted. Great post


You mentioned hand-written recipes....I suggest you scan them and turn them into PDFs and then email them to yourself to an email account (you could create a special email address just for that purpose on gmail) then you'll at least know that you will always have access to these treasures.
Love your blog.


Thank you for this info on Andrea Nguyen, however you mentioned her site and, I do not see the link mentioned. If you could post that I would appreciate it.
Thank you!
I really enjoy reading your blogs.


Wonderful list, but homemade maraschino cherries?! You're killing me! I will do anything for a hint on how to make these. Due to a love of Old Fashioneds, a jar of maraschinos are the last HFCS holdout in our house...


Thanks for this post! I'm always happy to find recs for savory cookbooks - left to my own devices, all I wind up buying are cake and cookie books.


This reminds me of "Cooking up a Storm" Edited by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker. After the federal levee failures devastated New Orleans thousands of people lost their recipes. The newspaper (Times Picayune) became a place where people would write in seeking to replace their recipes, and they wound up making it a cookbook with the personal stories.


It is so great to read a list of someones recommended cookbooks! Buying cookbooks can be a bit overwhelming at times so it is great to have someone share their favourites! Thanks, Emma.

emma. our kitchen.

This post makes me want to put all of my cookbooks and recipes into a fire-proof box! It reminds me that our recipes become like photographs and each one holds a precious memory. Thank you Heidi!

The Diary of an Epic Failure

I love your site. It is very inspiring. I have been cooking professionally for over 10 years, I live and work in Seattle. i hope one day to have a beautiful food journal like you and the means to travel and eat. My dream is to go to Italy and work/live/learn to cook authentic cuisine there. Nothing makes me happier than cooking/ feeding people beautiful delicious satisfying food.
Thank you for your site. I am a subscriber and think you do a bang up job. I would love to hear from yousometime.I will email you some of my recipes Ive found, etc. You have so many posters I would be suprised to hear from you! You must be a damn busy woman. And that I think is wonderful. Thank you again. Your site is eye candy, for sure.


Thanks for that "must-have" list! I have been wanting to get the Rick Bayless cookbook, but was afraid the recipes might be too demanding, but your endorsement just changed my mind!

Experimental Culinary Pursuits

Great interview. I'm not familiar with a few of the books mentioned so I look forward to researching them and reading through some of her favourites.

Mixing Bowl Mama

Wow, what a fantastic list of cookbooks! I am a fan of Marcella Hazan's books and am looking forward to perusing the others.

Cookin' Canuck

What a wonderful set of cookbook recommendations to start a collection.

I've never really stopped to consider what would happen if I lost my entire cookbook library (that feel's painful). If I had to start over again, where to begin?

Have to concur that the most valuable and maybe impossible to replace are the family cookbook heirlooms ... "mother's notebook of handwritten recipes that she carried from Vietnam when we fled"

Family Cookbook - Bob

This post makes me want to go shopping to buy all of these cookbooks :)


really lovely list of cookbooks. thank you, both.


these cookbooks sound like a must-have for any new cook to learn from. IWill be paying special attention for limited edition copies...and their authors!


Andrea should be declared a national treasure.


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