Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam

Kim Fay grew up in Washington State and attended Washington State University in Pullman, where she studied broadcast journalism and won the Presidential Award for Fiction, judged by Ursula Hegi. After WSU she spent five years working in one of the best independent bookstores in the Northwest, Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.

In 1991 she traveled to Vietnam for the first time and fell in love with the country, its people, and its cuisine. She lived in Vietnam for four years, teaching English and writing, and has traveled back there frequently. While living in Vietnam, Kim did not learn to cook a single Vietnamese dish, despite her passion for the food: "It wasn't for lack of interest. It's just that my mind and heart were preoccupied. I was writing a novel. I was navigating a relationship. I was building friendships. I was torturing myself with unsuccessful stop-and-start efforts to learn the language. I was discovering myself as an entirely new person living in a foreign land. Also, I could just walk out my front door at any hour of the day and trade a few cents for an amazing bowl of beef noodle soup spiked with cinnamon and star anise, or wander around the corner for the best home cooking in Vietnam."

Learning to prepare the food herself was not a high priority while she was living in Vietnam. But after Kim returned to the states, settling into the LA area where she now lives, she realized that she was going to have to learn to make the food for herself. In learning to do so she became "fascinated with Vietnam's culinary past: -- the way that the country's food reflected its complex history -- and curious about its future. Through its food, I realized that I could understand more than just the country's flavors. I could understand its cultures, traditions, geography, and people. I wanted to gather everything I was discovering and put it all in a book."

So she plotted out a return trip to Vietnam, beginning in the north and winding down to her former home in Saigon in the south, contacting chefs, arranging culinary classes, and making lists of markets and farms and fisheries and "must eats." She was accompanied on her trip by her sister, Julie Fay Ashborn, a photographer, and her good friend Nguyen thi Lan Huong, who served a translator. The three of them set off to taste as much as possible while exploring Vietnamese rituals and traditions, street cafes and haute cuisine. Together they discovered a society shaped by its ever-changing relationship with food.

The result of this trip is the gorgeous new book, Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, published by ThingsAsian Press. Communion is a travel book of the best kind and a collection of delicious and exciting recipes, with beautiful color photographs. On Wednesday, September 22, Kim and Julie will be here to talk about the book and show photographs Julie took in Vietnam. Rumor has it they will be bringing some Vietnamese nibbles for us to sample as well! Please join us Wednesday at 7 pm for what is sure to be an educational, entertaining, and decidedly delicious evening!

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