Award-winning author Andrew X. Pham will be in Iowa City this week for two events centered around his latest cookbook/memoir, A Culinary Odyssey: My Cookbook Diary of Travels, Flavors, and Memories of Southeast Asia.
On Thursday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m., the UI Vietnamese Student Association will host an “interactive talk, taste and learn event” at Public Space One (120 N. Dubuque St.). Then, on Friday, Oct. 10 at 11 a.m., Pham will read from A Culinary Odyssey and answer questions about the book at Prairie Lights. These events are part of the University of Iowa’s Food for Thought campaign.
Pham was born in Vietnam and grew up during the Vietnam War. His family escaped to the United States, and later Pham went on to graduate from UCLA with a degree in aerospace engineering. After a short time, he decided to quit his job as an aircraft engineer and ended up writing and working as a restaurant critic. Later, he spent a year touring Vietnam on a bicycle to explore his roots, which became the subject of his 2000 book Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam.
During this bike trip, Pham was able to explore not only the physical landscape of Vietnam, but the culinary landscape as well. This piqued his interest in Southeast Asia’s food culture and was the start of A Culinary Odyssey.
“I’ve always wanted to write a ‘true cookbook,’ by which I mean a book that celebrates not just food, but everything that surrounds it,” Pham said in an interview with diaCRITICS.
A Culinary Odyssey is a combination cookbook and memoir based on Pham’s experience growing up in Vietnam, living in the United States and then returning to Southeast Asia for the last decade. The recipes — both from his own family and collected during his extensive travels — are framed by stories and recollections from growing up and traveling in Southeast Asia.
“Food is about being in the present,” Pham said. “Food, for me, is also about remembering all that is worth remembering.”