South East Asian cookbooks
Find culinary inspiration in recipes from Thailand, Indonesia, Burma and beyond
Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey
Rick Stein, BBC Books, £25
There have been many other TV chefs who have brought Asian cooking to our screens, most notably Madhur Jaffrey, Ken Hom, and, er, Keith Floyd. But few can have done it as affably, as colourfully or with as much infectious enthusiasm as Rick Stein in his latest BBC TV series. As with the show, the accompanying book is a trip through Southeast Asia, taking in Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, as well as the less well known culinary destinations of Cambodia, Bangladesh and Bali.
As well as dishes we recognise from restaurant menus, such as pad thai noodles or satay skewers, there are many which will perhaps be unfamiliar to all but the seasoned traveller, such as the rich Bangladeshi beef shatkora or fragrant Cambodian steamed mussels.
Although there are a few quick 20-minute suppers in here (Vietnamese clams with beer, black beans and ginger stands out), there is also a lot of grinding of spices, preparation of pastes and masalas and slow cooking of aromatic stocks. Stein knows there are no shortcuts to a good curry or pho, as hard as some stir-in sauce manufacturers might try to persuade you otherwise. The many authentic ingredients require some planning, too: some may be hard to find for those outside metropolitan areas, though there is a list of online suppliers. But with strong Bangladeshi, Vietnamese and Sri Lankan communities in London, we’ve no excuse for not tracking down the elusive shatkora (bitter lime) or some asafoetida (the stinky, pungent spice used in Indian cookery).
This is not a compendium of Southeast Asian cooking in the way that, say, Charmaine Solomon’s ‘Complete Asian Cookbook’ is, but it doesn’t try to be. Instead, the veteran chef’s irrepressible on-screen geniality comes through in every little recollection or scene-setting story which accompanies the recipes, giving them a personality not always found in such endeavours. The design and photography is lively and vibrant, and, refreshingly for a celebrity chef project, the book only features one snap of Stein himself, focusing instead on the regions and dishes themselves. This quietly echoes the book’s sentiment: that food – through production, cooking and eating – is as central to life in the East as sleeping or breathing, and by trying some of these recipes at home we can hopefully experience some of this passion ourselves.
Euan Ferguson, Time Out London Issue 2038: September 10-16 2009