Diwan bookstore in Zamalek held its first ever cooking session on Saturday with chef Bobby Chinn, who entertained the audience with his wit, jokes and perfect Arabic. The event was a cooking lesson, history lesson and book signing all in one.
Chinn grew up between Egypt, the United States and England. His mother is Egyptian, his father is Chinese, he was born in New Zealand, and he cooks…Vietnamese!
Chinn said the amazing thing about Vietnamese cuisine is that it’s impossible to go wrong. The ingredients at every Vietnamese street vendor may be the same but the measurements will be different.
"You can use as much or as little as you want of the ingredients. You can make it as sweet, as spicy or as sour as you want. This is the secret to Vietnamese food. In every part of Vietnam they make the same dish differently.
The session was as much about the cooking as it was about Chinn’s views on women and a sweet back-and-forth banter with his mother, who was seated in the front row. “If you’re going to be successful, always have a great woman behind you," Chinn declared, adding that he prefers to employ women because he believes that men "just don’t listen."
Chinn spent some time on the important topic of fish sauce. According to Chinn, most of the ingredients for Vietnamese food are made by the Thai. Thai fish sauce however is a little lighter in color than its Vietnamese counterpart. There is no other option than to buy the Thai version of the sauce when out of Vietnam though, because, as Chinn says, "You’re not allowed to travel out of Vietnam with fish sauce. They fear that if the bottle breaks on the plane, passengers will suffer from the strong smell."
Chinn has been filming his cooking show, World Cafe Asia, in Cairo for ten days now. When asked about moving from San Francisco to his "motherland" Egypt, Chinn laughed, “If you’ve been driving here for more than three years, the Ministry of Transportation should give you a medal."
Chinn believes Egyptian food is unique. “You can get good Chinese food anywhere in the world, but you can get good fuul and taameya only on the streets of Cairo,” he said. When Chinn comes to Egypt he always eats on the streets, to his mother’s displeasure.
Chinn is adamant that the street food here is so good because “those people have been making it for generations, and can go to work in their pyjamas. Why wouldn’t the food be good?” He added that people like to eat what their mothers and grandmothers used to feed them because memory is important when it comes to food.
Not surprisingly, the first Egyptian dish Chinn ever learned to make was fuul.
Chinn shared an easy recipe with the crowd that day:
Chinn’s Vietnamese Spring Rolls
· Cucumbers, thinly sliced
· Carrots, thinly sliced
· Mint leaves
· Any meat you want
· Rice paper
Place rice paper on a wet towel, to get moist. Add all the ingredients you want, and roll tightly. Kids can roll their own. The rolls are usually not fried and are ready to be eaten right away, but if you want you can fry them in a bit of oil or put them in the oven.
For dipping, you can use:
· Fish sauce
· Lemon juice
· A minced garlic clove
· As much chilli as you want
Mix the ingredients in a bowl with the measurements you want and the sauce is ready.