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David Thompson's Thai Street Food is Out!


Chris Amirault
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I agree completely with Mike:

Based on my relevant experience with Thompson's Thai Food, I am surprised that his book would fail to be substantively valuable. Thai Food is the most used book in my kitchen, and the effort and research obviously put into it leads me to believe that Thompson would not trend toward style over substance.

There are plenty of chefs who run high-quality restaurants and turn out coffee-table clunkers, and perhaps Thompson is someone who has a snazzy, unserious restaurant but managed to write one of the handful of essential cookbooks published in the last decade. Doesn't matter a bit to me: Thai Food set such a high bar because of Thompson's commitment to treating Thai food with the seriousness it deserves, and it'd be disappointing if this book doesn't approach that very high bar.

I've now taken a third look at the book.

Firstly, the recipes. There's going to be a fair few recipes in the book where you'll look at them and think, "so what?". As I mentioned before, he's put in a recipe for Chinese BBQ pork. But as someone with a bit more knowledge about Thai street food has posted earlier, there will be recipes that haven't appeared elsewhere. However, regardless of the dishes, the recipes themselves show the same eye for detail as Thompson showed in "Thai Food".

Secondly, and this is where the irritation starts, do we really need around 20 pages of photographs of Thai street life before we get to the inside title page? There can be up to 30 pages of photographs between the four or so main chapters? There just seems to be almost as many pages devoted to photography as there is to the recipes.

At a price of $AUS100.00, the questionable selection of dishes, and the amount of photographic filler, you can understand why the book has drawn such negative views.

Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"
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To be more precise, and prevent my innocuous posts from being unnecessarily dissected, I will try this again. What I meant was: based on my relevant experience with Thompson's Thai Food, I am surprised that his book would fail to be substantively valuable. Thai Food is the most used book in my kitchen, and the effort and research obviously put into it leads me to believe that Thompson would not trend toward style over substance. I, having never been to Nahm, know next to nothing about his involvement or how that relates to his general attitudes toward style or substance. My post merely reflects my personal feeling of surprise at this reaction to his new book. I apologize for apparently conveying the belief that I was well-enough versed in all aspects of Thompson personal and professional endeavors to have an opinion on this matter.

Understood.

About this book in particular, I read the Penguin "Details" page. Although the book is in the category of "General Cookery & Recipes", the actual description of the book makes it sound more like travel guide rather than a cookbook.

Join him on a whirlwind tour of the curry shops and stir-fry stalls of Thailand: a float on the canals of Bangkok, on the streets and in the markets then try your hand at cooking the fast, fresh, and irresistible food that sustains a nation. With Earl Carter's photo essays of Thai street life and exquisite food photography, Thai Street Food so effectively captures the atmosphere of Thailand's streets and markets it's as if you were there.

The part mentioning cooking ("then try your hand") seems to be secondary (or even tertiary) to all the other stuff that will be in the book--it's just a coffee table book (as someone else said) with a few recipes thrown in, rather than a cookbook with a bit of travel info.

That would be disappointing for people expecting it to be a cookbook, but it doesn't seem to be marketed that way, so it really shouldn't be that disappointing or surprising. (It can still be disappointing in the sense that you'd rather have had a real cookbook, just not in a "this book isn't anything like what it said it would be" way.)

ETA--there are a few recipes up on the Penguin page if you're interested in seeing the type of food he has in there.

Edited by prasantrin (log)
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Firstly, the recipes. There's going to be a fair few recipes in the book where you'll look at them and think, "so what?". As I mentioned before, he's put in a recipe for Chinese BBQ pork. But as someone with a bit more knowledge about Thai street food has posted earlier, there will be recipes that haven't appeared elsewhere. However, regardless of the dishes, the recipes themselves show the same eye for detail as Thompson showed in "Thai Food".

About the Chinese BBQ pork recipe--did you happen to notice if there was anything unusual about the recipe (as compared to Chinese BBQ pork recipes)? I'm just wondering because I know a lot of Chinese-influenced Thai dishes will have a slight twist. Like S&S pork--one of the main differences is that the pork isn't breaded in the Thai version.

I was looking at Australian on-line sellers, and the cheapest price was AU$80-ish with free shipping. The cheapest that would ship to Japan was AU$90-ish with a whopping $24 in shipping charges. Were my father still alive, I'd have bought the book. Not for the recipes, because he never used recipes, but just for the pictures and the memories it would help evoke. In fact, I'd buy the book now because it would remind me of my dad.

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Firstly, the recipes. There's going to be a fair few recipes in the book where you'll look at them and think, "so what?". As I mentioned before, he's put in a recipe for Chinese BBQ pork. But as someone with a bit more knowledge about Thai street food has posted earlier, there will be recipes that haven't appeared elsewhere. However, regardless of the dishes, the recipes themselves show the same eye for detail as Thompson showed in "Thai Food".

About the Chinese BBQ pork recipe--did you happen to notice if there was anything unusual about the recipe (as compared to Chinese BBQ pork recipes)? I'm just wondering because I know a lot of Chinese-influenced Thai dishes will have a slight twist. Like S&S pork--one of the main differences is that the pork isn't breaded in the Thai version.

I didn't check the recipe that closely. But I think it would be fair to say that there's a good chance that there could be some regional variation to the recipe. Whether or not that variation is significant to the final result, who knows.

If you went by the photos, the roast pork could have come from anywhere in the world with a Chinese community.

Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"
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  • 2 weeks later...

I think that the naysayers are missing the point of this book.

I've just come home from an all day cooking course with David Thompson in which the 4 recipes he prepared (and later we prepared and enjoyed) were all from his new book. He opened the session by saying that those of us who've done his courses before will find that the approach of today would have been heresy by his former principles and that he has found that while there is still an important place for classical Thai cookery there is also a place for Thai street food - a part of the food culture he had shunned for many years. He said that he and his partner spend around 4 months of the year in Thailand and they almost never cook. They nearly always eat on the street.

He gave a good explanation of why much of the street food is not traditional Thai, and that is because Thai food is designed to be eaten in company and street food is generally made for one person - something which never happens with traditional foods.

The net of all this is that the new book is a great compliment to his original. There is no overlap and there are many interesting things to cook. Not all of them completely ethnically Thai, but all of them reminiscent of eating in Thailand.

While "Thai Food" is THE reference - I expect to cook many more recipes from the new book simply because they are more approachable and able to be interpreted and adapted to the ingredients you have on hand. In chatting with David after the class he emphasised this point. He said you can change the recipes around to make them your own and that doesn't make them wrong.

Have a look at the book. It is big, heavy and expensive, but I think it's a winner.

Peter.

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The dishes we cooked and their location in the book were:

Fried Chicken & Squid Rice Noodles (Page 298).

Prawns with Glass Noodles (Page 294).

Siamese Watercress Stir-fried with Shrimp Paste (Page 258).

Hot and Sour Soup of Snapper with Oyster Mushrooms (Page 274 - although the recipe in the book uses prawns instead of Snapper).

Fried Rice with Crab (Page 134).

I guess that's 5 not 4 - I never could count ;-)

While I enjoyed all of the dishes my favourite and the one most likely to be repeated at home was the Prawns with Glass Noodles. It is a fairly simple dish to make and was absolutely delicious.

The only dish I probably wouldn't make was the fried rice. It was OK, but not at all special.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm going to chime in here to agree that the format of the book is problematic in my opinion. I was excited about the book, but on seeing it, I was immediately disappointed at the coffee-table format and the too-numerous photos. While I would expect the recipes to be of Thompson's usual calibre, it seems odd to have packaged it in a kitchen-unfriendly form with so many street images, rather than focusing clearly on the food.

-- lamington a.k.a. Duncan Markham

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - collaborative book reviews about all things food and wine

Syrup & Tang - candid commentary and flavourful fancies

"It's healthy. It's cake. It's chocolate cake."

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  • 3 months later...

Just to prop up this old thread again, does anyone know there will be a trimmed and reduced version of Thai Street Food any time soon? For example, cutting most of the picture galleries and leaving just the recipes and recipe photos, and reprint it in A4 size for A$40.00. There will be plenty of market for such books...

I guess a reason I was (and am still) negative towards the book is: imagine a publisher in Asia publishes an A3-sized coffee table book showing artistic pictures featuring American diners, fast food chains, clam shacks, hot dog stands, and lists recipes for fried chicken, burgers, French fries, lobster rolls, and apple pies etc, asking for US$70. Would you think it is worth the cost?

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  • 6 months later...

Got my copy yesterday as a belated birthday from my daughter! Can't wait to dig in. My wife is going to pick the first one.

Host Note: The topic about cooking from the book can be found here.

Edited by heidih
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  • 2 weeks later...

I found a copy of "Thai Street Food" for $50, and I couldn't resist buying it.

Firstly, I still stand by my criticisms that the book is too large and too expensive. However, I now back down on the issue of the photographs and the written content of the book.

Reading the book, David Thompson's writing provides an insight into the world of Thai street food. It would be impossible for him to do a street food version of "Thai Food", but there's enough here to give people an idea of the range of food available, the techniques required, and how the food interacts with the local community. On the issue of the photographs, there may be a lot of them, but they are a welcome visual addition to Thompson's descriptions of the markets and the people who use them.

I did see on Amazon.com that there is a smaller, cheaper version of the book coming out. People who don't want to spend $110 for an A3 sized book should get the smaller version as David Thompson's writing and recipes make it a worthwhile addition to people's cook book collections.

Daniel Chan aka "Shinboners"
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