Recipes for discovering a country's heart

  • Food News
  • Wednesday, 13 Sep 2017

River Cottage chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall offers a back-to-basics cookbook that teaches creative cooking. Photo:

This month's Cooking the Books column offers books with elaborate recipes that impart lessons as well as a back-to-basics one that teaches the fundamentals of creative cooking.

Bangkok: Recipes And Stories From The Heart Of Thailand

Author: Leela Punyaratabandhu

Publisher: Ten Speed Press NY

Price: RM169.90

Recipes for Bangkok street foodIf you already have a collection of Thai cookbooks in your library, you don’t need another. But this book will sway you, as it offers something a little different: Well-hidden secrets of Bangkok fare plus great food styling and photography, and writing that digs deep and tells intimate tales of street vendors the author knows by name and habit.

Bangkok is unique, and so is its food. The two key factors shaping its cuisine is geography – the Chao Phraya River cuts through the city so freshwater fish and river prawns feature prominently – and history. Bangkok has been influenced by foreign cultures through both visitors and settlers, and they have shaped its cuisine at every level.

For the recipe hunter, this book offers a store of recipes pushed to extreme deliciousness and something a little different from the usual Thai fare. Be warned, however: The recipes are not easy and entail such hard-to-find ingredients like fresh shrimp tomalley that is used in quite a few dishes – author Leela Punyaratabandhu gives a recipe to fake it but making that is a labour of love in itself.

You get the idea that making great Thai street fare is no different from what chefs do in a Michelin-starred kitchen – that’s why the vendor specialises in making just one awesome dish. So you’ll need a ton of determination and yards of patience to attempt the recipes – the Hainanese Thai chicken rice (khao man kai) recipe runs into four pages, that’s how much detail goes into it, each step meticulously explained, but you are grateful for it.

With history, memories, characters, places, streets, and obsessions intertwined with recipes and cooking techniques, you could just keep this book by your bedside, if not in the kitchen, for a rich, riveting bedtime read. – Julie Wong

From The Source – Mexico: Authentic Recipes From The People That Know Them The Best 

Author: Lonely Planet

Publisher: Lonely Planet Global

Price: RM137.50

Recipes for authentic cuisine from MexicoIf you want to understand the people of a country, you need to understand their food; conversely, this also works in reverse. To understand a national cuisine is to explore the bigger picture within which it resides.

This includes regional diversifications and peculiarities, the historical and cultural influences that shape a nuanced cuisine – but most of all, the people who embody a food culture, creating it anew every day via their practices.

That’s what Lonely Planet’s From The Source series is all about: Exploring the food of different countries via recipes from its people, from street food vendors and home cooks to professional chefs.

In Mexico, explore the melting pot of Mexico City, the unique dishes of Oaxaca – where chocolate and chillies can meet in a mole – seafood dishes on the Pacific Coast, exciting, sophisticated dishes from Baja California, and the Yucatan Peninsula’s unique mix of Caribbean and Mayan influences.

Each recipe comes with its own story, which will help you explore a facet of Mexico. For instance, with the recipe for pastel de elote (corn cakes) from home cook Dona Lourdes Escobedo Banda from Oaxaca City, corn’s great significance is explored – Mexico is the birthplace of maize, and the Mayans believed that people were created from corn.

There are 60 recipes, each tempting and easy to follow, from the traditional to the contemporary. They range from simple, beloved and character-filled habanero salsa to the citrus-perfumed sopa de lima, which showcases the distinctive limes of the Yucatan peninsula, to a modish, modern dish of sea urchin creme brulee with beef bone marrow.

This is a fascinating book, revolving around a fascinating food culture. – Suzanne Lazaroo

From The Source – France: Authentic Recipes From The People That Know Them The Best 

Author: Lonely Planet

Publisher: Lonely Planet Global

Price: RM137.50

Recipes for authentic cuisine from MexicoReal food from real people – it’s not hard to fall in love with Lonely Planet’s From The Source series.

Its value lies not only in the appealing recipes but also in the larger sense of place, an introduction to the characters that people the various countries, and the clever contextualisation of food within the larger cultural landscape.

You’ll come away with cravings, but also with that satisfied sense of having heard a myriad stories, and having got to know a particular country.

The French instalment of the series will take you from the famed fishing ports and apple orchards of Brittany and Normandy to the vineyards of Burgundy via a stop at some of Paris’ many bistros.

The singular cooking found in Basque country is explored, as are the Mediterranean flavours of Provence.

Explore the cheeses of Normandy with a melting combination of three baked in ramekins, learn how to make a classic baguette or fish in a white wine and butter sauce form the Loire Region, a tarte tatin from central France, or a recipe lesser-known beyond French borders, such as the socca, or chickpea pancake, which is well-known in Nice.

Solid writing, easy-to-follow recipes, and genuinely interesting stories make this yet another must-have in the series. – SL

River Cottage Easy

Author: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Price: RM139.90

River Cottage chef offers back to basics bookThis could be Fearnley-Whittingstall’s best back-to-basics book yet. And he promises it’s as simple as one, two, three.

Three good things on a plate.

In his quest for food that’s as easy as it is delicious, he realises that it’s this simple pattern that underpins many well-loved dishes. Like tomato, mozzarella, and basil. Ham, egg, and chips. Or sole, lemon, potato.

That’s the underlining tripartite principle, but it’s not about just throwing three ingredients together, of course.

It’s also about the contrasts among them. Combining flavours and textures so that each ingredient shines and somehow tastes more of itself is something that most of us do instinctively, he says.

A tip is to hack a successful recipe that you have tasted at some fancy dinner perhaps, and break it down to its three core adjectives – creamy, sweet, crisp – and build a dish around that. It’s the interplay that makes the whole so much more than the sum of its parts.

He reminds you that simple dishes demand raw ingredients of top-notch quality. So vegetables and fruits need to be in their season and at their freshest or ripest, and cheeses, fish and meat need to be the best that you can find or afford.

If you’re in doubt, listen to what your taste buds are telling you.

“It’s not about what you ought to cook, what you’ve perhaps been taught, or come to expect, or what you imagine other people might cook. It’s all about exactly what you want to eat – what your appetite and experience tell you is going to be delicious.”

Crab, mayonnaise, bread. Rice, saffron, tomatoes. Chicken, plums, soy. Gooseberries, custard, honey. These are the surprising recipes you will find in the book. Yum. – JW

Cooking The Books is a monthly column featuring interesting publications about anything and everything food-related. If you’ve come across a good book or want us to review a book, write to us at

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