Secrets of the Red Lantern

lanternIt's not often that a cookbook writer can make me cry - unless of course a recipe turns out really, really badly!

But that would never be the case with Pauline Nguyen's book Secrets of the Red Lantern. The recipes are provided by her brother and partner, both talented chefs, and much of the inspiration and heritage of these dishes is rooted deep and strong in Vietnamese family recipes.

The clue comes in the subtitle for the book "stories and Vietnamese recipes from the heart".

I was fortunate to share an evening with Pauline Nguyen earlier this year at the State Library when we both talked about our recently published books. As she spoke touchingly about her family's move as refugees to Australia, the stresses on each one of them, and the rifts it caused between them, it brought tears to my eyes.

The story of heartache and success would be almost enough to make this book worth buying, but of course it is richly nourished by the exquisite recipes which have made the family's Sydney restaurant, Red Lantern, an immediate and continuing success.

It is little wonder. The description of Pauline's and Luke's father patiently cooking noodle soup, talking to the broth coaxing it to 'open up' is poignant and inspiring. "For him it is a special ritual," she writes "requiring constant care and patience."

Better than any cookbook I have read, Secrets of the Red Lantern spells out the costs and dramas behind dishes that we now in this multicultural country take so much for granted. This precious 'luggage' of immigrants has entered this country, often at such cost and accompanied by so many bitter tears of homesickness and grief, that if this book causes some more tears then it has made its point.

Or rather its many points: that food, and the love of it, can help people find a new home; that it may become a panacea for homesickness; and in so doing it may open up new horizons and new visions for those who genuinely care about and faithfully recreate the foods of their homeland.

True secrets indeed.

Secrets of the Red Lantern, Pauline Nguyen, with recipes by Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen, Murdoch Books,  2007 rrp $59.95, 344pages, hardcover, beautifully illustrated.

 

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