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For His Love of Vietnam: Muc Nhoi Thit and Cà Phê Trứng #CooktheBooks


For the June-July selection of Cook the Books, Claudia from Honey from Rock invited the group to read A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain. Read her invitation and join the fun, if you wish, because you still have more than a month before the deadline. Four years ago this month he committed suicide and the world lost a poignant, candid voice about food, about cooks, and about the often detrimental effect America has had on countries and cultures around the world. 

This #CooktheBooks assignment has launched me down the Tony Bourdain rabbit hole this month. In years past I read and posted about Kitchen Confidential and Medium RawBut this was my first time reading this book. Jake and I just watched Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. And I just started streaming the series he was filming as he wrote this month's book selection! His life was simultaneously inspiring and tragic. 

On the Page

Let's just start with this: if you are easily offended, his opinions, while articulate, might leave you fuming. If you are vegan, your stomach will likely turn as he slaughters a pig in Portugal and hunts bunnies in Scotland. However, if you can overlook the profanity and more, this book delivers in spades...from Pueblo, Mexico (from where, he claims, all Mexican cooks in America hail) to a geisha-attended dinner in Japan, from Khmer Rouge-occupied Cambodia to frigid Russia. 

Bourdain, in his search for the perfect meal, eschews the expensive, Westernized, Michelin star-rated spots that might easily delivery such a meal. Instead he seeks out local, authentic, hole-in-the-wall or even on-the-street deliciousness.

Many of his meals are far from perfect. Thinking about the hotel mascot iguana made into tamales just for the show or the vegan potluck in Berkeley that inspired me to read it aloud to my boys over lunch one day. They laughed and laughed as much as I did.

But I appreciated A Cook's Tour with every fiber of my being. I loved how he weaved food, culture, politics, and history into his narrative. Here's a passage about his quest for magic in food. "When is food magic? What are the common denominators? Certainly, when food is the result of a brilliant and obsessive personal vision, it can take on mystical, magical aspects. At their best, chefs like to consider themselves alchemists, and some of them, particularly the French, have a long and glorious tradition of turning lead into gold. For what is a humble shoulder or shank or strip of gut if not leaden and unlovely, and what is daube of beef Provençale or osso buco – when every bit of flavor and texture has been coaxed gently by skilled hands – but pure gold? And it’s not just magic for the person eating. It can be magic for the chef as well, seeing that tough, veiny, uncooked hunk of meat and bone going into the oven, swimming in purplish and not very distinguished red table wine, then seeing it, smelling it, tasting it only a few hours later, the sauce reduced, a hearty, thick, mellowed, and wonderful witches’ brew – transformed."

While I have never wanted to try natto, since I first heard about it in college and friends were headed off to teach English in Japan, this passage cemented that I will avoid it at all costs: "What I was not ready for, and never will be, was natto. The Japanese love natto, an unbelievably foul, rank, slimy, glutenous, and stringy goop of fermented soybeans. It’s the Vegemite of Japan, dearly loved by everyone there, for reasons no outsider can understand. There were two kinds of natto for me that morning: the traditional soy variety, and an even scarier black bean natto. If the taste wasn’t bad enough, there’s the texture. There’s just no way to eat the stuff. I dug in my chopsticks and dragged a small bit to my mouth. Viscous long strands of mucuslike material followed, leaving numerous ugly and unmanageable strands running from my lips to the bowl. I tried severing the strands with my chopsticks, but to no avail."

His prose makes you feel like you're right there with him...except without the need for Lomotil, an antidiarrheal. His conclusion about the perfect meal rings true: "The whole concept of the ‘perfect meal’ is ludicrous. ‘Perfect,’ like ‘happy,’ tends to sneak up on you. Once you find it – like Thomas Keller says – it’s gone. It’s a fleeting thing, ‘perfect,’ and, if you’re anything like me, it’s often better in retrospect. When you’re shivering under four blankets in a Moroccan hotel room, the perfect meal can be something no more exotic than breakfast at Barney Greengrass back in New York – the one you had four months ago. Your last Papaya King hot dog takes on golden, even mythic, proportions when remembered from a distance." But there are certainly better meals than other!

Muc Nhoi Thit and Cà Phê Trứng
me with my Cà Phê Trứng

In the end, it is his passion for Vietnam that inspired me into the kitchen. He writes, "I’ve gone goofy on Vietnam, fallen hopelessly, helplessly in love with the place. I’m now accustomed to bowls of spicy pho for breakfast, strong cups of iced expresso over crushed ice with condensed milk at Trung Nguyen (sort of a Vietnamese version of Starbucks – only better), lunch at the coms, cheap eateries where I’d have bowls of rice with fish, chicken, or meat. I’ve come to rely on the smells of jasmine, frangipani, the durian and fish-sauce aromas at the markets...."

Muc Nhoi Thit
Vietnamese Stuffed Squid

Though this dish isn't specifically mentioned, I could envision him dining on this at Madame Ngoc's restaurant. And it's one that is always a hit on my table.


  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon organic granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced lemongrass
Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham
  • 3 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 Tablespoon organic granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 ½ Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced, optional (though garlic is never optional in my mind!)
  • 1 or 2 Thai chilis, thinly sliced 
Also needed: toothpicks, grill pan


Note: the Nuoc Cham can be made a day ahead of time

Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham
Whisk together the lime juice, sugar, and water. Completely dissolve the sugar. Add the fish sauce, garlic, and chilis. If making this ahead of time, place in a jar and refrigerate. Makes approximately 3/4 cup of sauce.

In mixing bowl, blend all of the ingredients together until well-combined. Set aside.

Carefully stuff the pork mixture into the cleaned squids. Be gentle and don't overstuff them. "Stitch" the open ends together with a toothpick.

Bring a large, flat bottom pot full of water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Gently lower the stuffed squid into the water and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes to precook the meat filling. While the squid simmers, heat your grill or grill pan and keep it at a medium temperature. Grease your pan or grill.

Cook the squid on the grill to finish cooking the meat and to get nice grill marks on the squid, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from the grill and serve immediately.

You can serve them whole or slice them into 1" pieces to show off the filling.

Serve with the dipping sauce and a light salad - I made an Asian-inspired purple cabbage slaw. Muc nhoi thit has a wonderful charred flavor; we loved the crisped tentacles along with the flavorful stuffing. I will definitely be making these again soon.

Cà Phê Trứng
Vietnamese Egg Coffee

This is a really fun way to serve coffee though, since I don't have a very strong sweet tooth, I would never drink this for my morning jolt. But it's a great dessert after a delicious Vietnamese lunch or dinner.

Ingredients makes 2 servings
  • 2 egg yolks 
  • 6 Tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 Tablespoons ground coffee 
  • 2 cups boiling water, divided


In a small mixing bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk until thickened and airy. The mixture should produce ribbons when you lift the beaters out of the bowl.

Bring the water to a boil, then pour it into a mixing cup or something that doesn't pour a lot of water at a time. I used my gooseneck kettle that I use for making pourover coffee.

Place 1-1/2 Tablespoon of ground coffee in the filter. Gently tamp down with the press, and place over the mug.

Pour in 1cup of the boiling water.

Cover the phin and allow to drip.

Once it's done, discard the grounds, and rinse the filter. Repeat the process for the second mug of coffee.

Top each cup of coffee with the beaten egg yolk-sweetened condensed milk mixture. Serve immediately. I have to admit that I was dubious that the beaten egg would sit on top of the coffee, but it did!

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In addition to submitting this to #CooktheBooks, I am adding it to #FoodieReads.
Click to see what everyone else read in June 2022: here.


  1. Thanks for the splendid review Camilla. You are a lot more adventurous with your meals than I can be. Bob barely puts put with some of my creations as it is. He's never happier than when some ground beef is involved, and I don't think stuffing squid with it would work.:)

  2. What a great review. This is one of the few books by him I have NOT read. I can't wait to dive in!

  3. I am only about halfway through....I waver between loving it and hating it. He certainly did have his demons and I find myself wishing that someone, anyone could have offered him the help he so desperately needed. What a collosal loss.


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