I just realized that I have close to 100 Asian cookbooks spanning much of the continent (with the odd exception of Korea — Iíll have to rectify that) and yet I only crack open a fraction of them on a regular basis. Every time I visit places like Malaysia, Singapore or Hong Kong, I sacrifice space for souvenirs in my overloaded suitcase for cookbooks instead. But itís not as if you canít find engaging Southeast Asian cookbooks in America. This list contains useful books that are easy to find in the United States because obscure doesnít always mean better.
by Naomi Duguid, Jeffrey Alford
Husband and wife duo Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid have created a name with their coffee table-quality cookbooks from all over Asia. This book, which focuses on the Mekong region is my favorite. They make recipes from lesser-known regions like China's Yunnan province and Burma's Shan state accessible while including simple favorites like Thai basil chicken as well. I still use a tattered paperback review copy with low resolution black and white photos, which is a testament considering half of the book's appeal comes from the vivid color photography.
by James Oseland
There are precious few nitty-gritty Malaysian/Singaporean/Indonesian cookbooks written from a western perspective that stay true to the cuisine. You just can't substitute anchovies for shrimp paste or cut down on the chiles. James Oseland's anecdotes, from his first trip to Indonesia in college to repeat visits over the years. add a personal touch to the wide-ranging recipes.
by David Thompson, photography by Earl Carter
Simply named but far from basic. A reader could get lost in this imposing 4.8-pound tome (I just weighed it) looking for a standby like green chicken curry. The book is encyclopedic, authentic and uses exotica like guinea fowl, rabbit and fish innards (if you consider rabbit exotic). Australian chef, David Thompson scoured countless Thai language books so you don't have to. Despite the labor-intensive nature of many recipes, I've still used this book on many occasions. It's nearly worth it for the muu grop warn (sweet crispy pork) alone.
by Christopher Tan, Edmond Ho, David Thompson, Terry Tan
Singaporean food is a hodgepodge cuisine borrowing primarily from China, India and Malaysia. This book focuses on "shiok" (a slang word akin to awesome) dishes unique to the city-state's identity like chili crab, Hainan chicken rice and roti prata.
by Romy Dorotan, Amy Besa
Written by the owners of Manhattan's Cendrillon, Amy Besa and Romy Doroton's book is as much memoir as a loving introduction to Filipino food, a style that hasn't found as much favor as other Southeast Asian cuisines in the United States. Regional specialties and background on the Chinese and Spanish influence on the islands' food is explained in detail.
by Kasma Loha-Unchit
Kasma Loha-unchit teaches Thai cookery in California and leads group tours of her home country so you know she is adept at making the fiery cuisine accessible. Through stories of her childhood you get a strong sense of Thai food, culture and folklore. She doesn't just list ingredients in rote recipes but goes deeper with notes and pointers for customizing. The experiment on flavor balance principles — the hot, sour, salty, sweet that's at the core of Thai cooking — is valuable.
Eurasian fare is the original fusion cuisine. Recipes in this slim book include kedgeree, British-Indian smoked fish and rice, Macanese feijoada that's way more Chinese than the Brazilian national dish (by way of Portugal) with its Chinese sausage and white radish and mustard-amped Curry Devil, a Malay-Portuguese stew traditionally eaten on Boxing Day.
by Fuchsia Dunlop
Here's the mainland Chinese oddball. There just aren't that many comprehensive English language books on Sichuan cuisine. In fact, I can't even think of another off the top of my head. Fuchsia Dunlop not only provides insight into the region's ingredients and how to use them, she charms with her story of being the first westerner allowed to take classes at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. I couldn't get past a beginners Mandarin language class in New York.
A note from Flashlight Worthy:
Krista also included a title called "Singapore Heritage Food: Yesterday's Recipes for Today's Cook" -- unfortunately it's not available on Amazon and therefore our website isn't capable of listing it. For those just dying for some Singaporean heritage food, here's what Krista had to say:
"Is it possible to be nostalgic for a past thatís not even your own? Itís fun finding about the jello molds and tuna casseroles of another countryís past. I never knew there was a Russian craze in Singapore in the†í70s (you can still find restaurants serving bastardized borscht there and in Hong Kong) or had heard of Maryland chicken, which is like nothing youíd find in America. Battered poultry pieces served with corn fritters bacon and fried bananas?"
Wow. Now I wish the book were available. It sounds really... interesting.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Krista Garcia
I’m a librarian by training though I don’t work with books (or the public). I do collect cookbooks, however, heavy on Southeast Asia and mid-century Americana. Goodies First is my NYC-centric outlet for writing about food and dining.
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