For September, I got to ask a few questions of Victoria Giang, creator of HowDaily.com. With emphasis on healthy Vietnamese and Japanese recipes, the site has become a regular haunt for me. I never fail to come away from a visit feeling ready to tackle some newly discovered dish or learn more about some kitchen appliance or tool examined there, and skilled author Victoria presents her content in an easy-digestible tone that makes every entry feel like a quick read that is over too soon. We discussed things like who has had the greatest influence on her cooking, popular misconceptions about healthy eating, using recipes to observe holidays, and more.
Flavorful World: Your site shares a variety of recipes rooted in Vietnamese and Japanese cuisine. Tell us what were some of your favorite childhood comfort foods, and what foods currently hold that distinction.
Victoria Giang: Living in the prosperous Southern [part] of Vietnam where all kinds of food gather, my favorites are mostly cakes, dumplings and street foods – to name a few: wonton noodle, steam fern cake (banh beo), fried rice flour cake (bot chien), sizzling cake (banh xeo), thin rice pancake (banh uot), Saigon rice noodle (hu tieu), grilled pork vermicelli (bun thit nuong), beef wrapped Betel leaf (bo cuon la lot), beef noodle soup (bun bo Hue), Vietnamese Pho… and the list goes on. I’m the girl of food and enjoyed just about everything. Currently, I have a crush on sushi and kimchi…so much to customize and play with!
FW: Tell us about your greatest cooking influence(s) in terms of technique and how you view food and meal preparation.
VG: My influence came mostly from my grandmother. She cooked everything just so “naturally.” It’s hard to describe literally: it’s like she would never follow any specific recipes, just cook depending on her mood, her surroundings, what’s available on hand, and use raw ingredients as much as possible. Still, her food always tasted excellent and carried unforgettable purity and passion. For example, she would pick a coconut, use its juice to boil the fish with some raw papaya, sea salt, and basil, and later serve with shredded green mango over smashed ginger fish sauce. Everything used (coconut, ginger, papaya, fish, mango) was fresh, raw ingredients organically grown from her backyard. So, nothing special per se; just carefully selected fresh and raw goodness before preparing them to your heart’s content. Food preparation should be joyful and adventurous. Be creative, even wild, and keep an open mind for new things.
FW: In a recent post, you created temarizushi to observe the Japanese celebration Girls’ Day. Pick a holiday not commonly observed in the U.S., then tell us what dish you would prepare to celebrate it, and why you chose that recipe.
VG: Another favorite holiday of mine is the Mid-Autumn or Moon festival. This used to be a festivity event to celebrate after harvest season, but now, it is an event to gather the whole family. The kids can enjoy marching around town with their colorful lanterns in various shapes, singing songs, playing with edible toy figurines (Tò he), watching dragon and lion dances… are all my beautiful memories.
Moon cakes would be the best food to celebrate this event. They are available in many forms, shapes, sizes, and flavors, so anyone can enjoy them. Moon cake is a general name for baked moon cake, sticky rice cake, pia cake, seal cake and the new popular cold cake made from agar & jelly powder and soft filling that are eaten during moon festival. The flavors can be anything, from ten mixed flavors (jambon, sweet sausage, winter melon jam, pickle fat) to a single flavor of lotus seeds, mung bean, caramel flan, durian, taro, red bean, green tea, or cold milk. These bring joy and cultural experience to my son.
FW: Tell us about the best restaurant meal you ever ate. Where was it and what made it the best?
VG: I would say Ginza in Tokyo. It was a sushi conveyor belt type of restaurant, where you can see and choose what you want to eat. The variety and quality are great, plus it’s quite affordable for a large group, too. Quite relaxing and fun if you come in a large party.
FW: Your site also feature a number of vegan recipes. If asked to recommend one of those dishes to someone who has never eaten vegan, but seeks an introduction to vegan dining, which would you choose, and why?
VG: I would say start with a simple Tofu stir-fry with vegetable. This dish is easy to make, fully customizable, and can be served over rice, noodle, pasta or as is (salad style). Ingredients are your vegetable of choice plus high protein tofu that will guarantee your body enough daily nutrition.
FW: On your site, you place significant emphasis on healthy eating. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about adopting more healthy eating habits, and how can we change that misconception?
VG: I believe in healthy diets that contain the balance of everything (protein, fat, fiber, sugar…). Eating too much or too little of anything would lead to health issues at some points in the future.
Many I’ve known are very conscious about these in their diet to the point of banning anything suspicious in their meals. While in some cases this might be necessary (i.e. medical required), others might lead to nutrition. Things like avocado, nuts, chocolate, fishes, etc. are all good source of fat/sweet/etc., so don’t be afraid to eat them, but in reasonable amounts. We should, when developing our recipes, think of all the healthy ingredients and vary the menu from days to days.
FW: Tell us what kitchen tool or appliance you consider indispensable when you cook, and why. Tell us what kitchen tool or appliance you feel is the most overrated, and why.
VG: My Rice cooker. Since our Vietnamese diet’s base is rice, we cook rice almost every day. Having a rice cooker saves me tons of time [that I can] use for other meals/dishes prepping. Mine was a Tiger that could cook rice, steam veggies, slow cook, congee, etc.
Overrated? I would say a banana slicer. I mean, who would need to spend money on a piece of plastic for cutting banana? All you need is a spoon, fork, toothpick, etc…anything with a thin edge would cut banana right into your serving bowl/jar/blender without the need for washing an extra gadget. Same goes for most other slicers. too.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
VG: “Art of Food Around the World”.
FW: When you aren’t cooking/eating delicious things, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
VG: Reading stories and fiction.
Note to readers: Whether you’re trying to decide what to have for dinner, or looking for info on the latest kitchen gadgets, you can pick up great tips and insights at HowDaily.com. Its talented creator is as active on social media as she is in the kitchen, so look to Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter to keep up with her latest culinary creations.
This article first appeared on FlavorfulWorld.com.