South East Asian cookbooks

Find culinary inspiration in recipes from Thailand, Indonesia, Burma and beyond

Balance & Harmony

Neil Perry

, Murdoch Books, £30

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This book wins full marks for presentation. It’s beautifully designed and made, with a padded cover, sumptuous photography by Earl Carter and striking imagery that conjures up 1930s Shanghai. Author Neil Perry is a respected chef, the owner of the Rockpool restaurant in Sydney, which is known for its Australia-meets-Asia style of cooking.

We question the validity of an ‘Asian’ cookery book containing recipes from countries as gastronomically diverse as China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea (as well as some recipes that seem to blur national boundaries). Imagine a similar book on ‘European’ cookery that presented recipes from Norway, through Scandinavia and the Baltic and from Portugal across the Mediterranean to Bulgaria. Asian food is such a vast and complex subject that it can’t help but seem oversimplified and somewhat diminished by such an approach.

That said, the book is presented with some semblance of logic. It starts off with basic techniques and recipes for steaming rice, making stocks and sauces, making salads, steaming, stir-frying and braising, etc. The braising section in particular has some wonderful-sounding recipes, such as sweet black vinegar pork belly and Shanghai-style salted duck. The idea is that cooks master these basic dishes before going on to more difficult ones in the second half of the book.

In reality, none of the recipes are that difficult; they’ve all been simplified enough to make them well within the reach of the averagely ambitious home cook and are well thought out. One word of caution, though: because it’s an Australian book, the finding some of the fish – such as blue-eye, Murray cod, mud crabs – would be impossible, and substitutions aren’t given. But if you love ‘Asian food’, give this book a go.

Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 1996: November 20-26 2008

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