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Sunny Simmons Steincamp

Pan-Asian Cookbooks

14 posts in this topic

So, I was mentally drooling over <a href="http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showuser=19804">chrisamirault</a>'s description of savory egg dishes with curry over at the <a href="http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=99435&hl=">egg thread</a> while simultaneously bemoaning my lack of real proficiency for making any type of Asian cuisine beyond egg rolls, won ton soup, rangoon, etc., and it occurred to me (with only a smidgen of prompting) that I should ask here to see if you all have some suggestions for some good, solid books that would get me on the right track in this, one of my favorite of all types of cooking. I see lots of titles in the bookstores, but I have no idea what to look for, or which are worth the expenditure... I have no frame of reference!

I'd especially be interested in pan-Asian books; my family, friends and I enjoy the nuances in every region's special fare... although I'm not averse to indulging one of my few spending vices and purchasing individual books if they are especially valuable.

Thanks in advance!

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In business jargon, they use the term 'sticking to your knitting', ie sticking to what you know and what's made you succesful. You see this same idea when consultants tell restaurants to edit down their menu, to focus on a limited number of good dishes rather than a much longer list of dishes that end up tasting mediocre.

I think the same idea would apply to a pan asian cookbook. It takes a lifetime to master Chinese or Japanese cooking, so I don't see how a author could succesfully master all the different cuisines of Asia and understand the differnent nuances you're looking for. By its very nature, these pan asian are usually painted in broad strokes, where the nuances get lost because the author only has a certain limited number of pages and time to focus on a particular region before the author has to race to cover another region. Perhaps, you might be better served by getting several different books, where each book focuses on a particular style like Chinese or Thai cooking.

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Sunny, I'd start by checking books out of the library and seeing where it takes you. Is there a particular Asian cuisine you are looking for?


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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I disagree with Leviathan: I actually believe that there are a few pretty damned solid cookbooks that focus on the cuisines of Asian nations, broadly defined. True, those cookbooks are impossibly general, but so is any cookbook, after all, particularly when trying to represent some absurdity like "Chinese cuisine," itself a constellation of cuisines. All are flawed: such is life.

So, with that in mind, I offer two books. One, oft discussed here, is Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, which I think does a very good job of introducing readers to the flavor palate of southeast Asian cuisines, particularly for the Western (read: US) kitchen.

But one of the best cookbooks available of any sort and my standard starting point for most discussions of Asian cuisines is Charmaine Solomon's remarkable Complete Asian Cookbook. Complete it is not, both for the reasons indicated above and for the fact that its sections on Thai, Japanese and Chinese cooking are very limited. However, her introductions to each cuisine, the choice of representative dishes, the emphasis on techniques and on appropriate ingredients (substituters, beware: she won't let you off the hook), and the remarkably successful recipes throughout the book make this a must-have for every kitchen bookshelf. I mean, what's your go-to book for Sri Lankan mas ismoru, Indonesian sambal goreng telur, kai Lao, and Philippino kari-kari?

Of course, as you get focused and want more precision and variety, you can go get your David Thompson and Shizuo Tsuji. But Solomon is a great place to start.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Sunny, I'd start by checking books out of the library and seeing where it takes you.  Is there a particular Asian cuisine you are looking for?

That is a perfect idea... only I live in a cow town where the library is about the size of your average convenience store, and there are probably all of four cookbooks (if you count Storey books,) none of which is likely to be about Asian cooking. All that being said, maybe I can peruse some next time I have a few hours spare time (ha) in Richmond.

As far as particular types... my family is very partial to Vietnamese. My brother and I have yet to meet a Szechuan dish we didn't love. I am *really* excited to try the Indonesian curried egg dish. And I was pleased & proud as punch when I pulled off takoyaki on my first try... although I have to admit, I had nothing to gauge how authentic it wound up tasting!

For the record, I am a huge fan of most Middle Eastern fare, and while it never fits neatly in my head as "Asian," even though technically it is, I'll gladly accept any recommendations along those lines, too.

The good news is, since I'm not a shopper (don't care about clothes, won't wear diamonds, am ambivalent about jewelry in general, etc.,) my husband is pretty good about indulging my love of books (including cookbooks... which he knows usually net him some fun.) So I won't really fret if I wind up with lots of recommendations!

Although you're really right.. I *should* march into my local library and see if I can rouse some interest in expanding their culinary section... :)

Thanks!

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I disagree with Leviathan: I actually believe that there are a few pretty damned solid cookbooks that focus on the cuisines of Asian nations, broadly defined. True, those cookbooks are impossibly general, but so is any cookbook, after all, particularly when trying to represent some absurdity like "Chinese cuisine," itself a constellation of cuisines. All are flawed: such is life.

I guess I understand where Leviathan was coming from; it'd be like trying to create an "American" cookbook. But since I am pretty much a flat-out newbie when it comes to authentic Asian dishes, I'd probably benefit from at least some sort of general, over-arching treatise of the <i>styles</i>, <i>methods</i>, and <i>ingredients</i>, if nothing else.

So, with that in mind, I offer two books.

Those sound perfect to get me started. I'm on it. :)

Of course, as you get focused and want more precision and variety, you can go get your David Thompson and Shizuo Tsuji. But Solomon is a great place to start.

Hmm, so maybe those go on the "see if I just *happen* to run into them at Borders" list. ;)

Thanks so much!

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Just to add to the thread for others and in case you become enamored with Asian noodle dishes, a nice general book on that topic is "The Noodle Shop" by Jackie Passmore. It features noodle dishes from China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

As an aside, I have several Vietnamese cookbooks but there is one from last year that is on my to buy list: "Into the Vietnamse Kitchen" by Andrea Nguyen. There is a great excerpt from her book on eGullet and she answered many questions about the book. A good friend has already been busily cooking out of it and is very happy.


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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...

Although you're really right.. I *should* march into my local library and see if I can rouse some interest in expanding their culinary section... :)

Thanks!

Interlibrary loan, if they have it, can also be your friend here. It's usually a free service or available for a nominal fee.


"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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A couple of other "overview" books I can recommend are:

A Taste of the Far East by Madhur Jaffrey; and

The Chinese and Asian Kitchen Bible by Sallie Morris and Deh-Ta Hsiung.

The latter is a promotional "bargain" book that has a very extensive pictorial review of ingredients, equipment, and cooking techniques. I haven't tried any of the recipes from this particular book, but recipes from other cookbooks from this publisher have turned out well.


SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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... only I live in a cow town where the library is about the size of your average convenience store, and there are probably all of four cookbooks (if you count Storey books,) none of which is likely to be about Asian cooking.

Does your “cow town” include an Asian market? A lot of Asian ingredients can be stocked up, mail ordered, or grown (soy sauce, fish sauce, frozen galangal, spices, chiles, etc.), but it is nice to have access to fresh herbs and veggies, especially in the winter.

As far as particular types... my family is very partial to Vietnamese.  My brother and I have yet to meet a Szechuan dish we didn't love.  I am *really* excited to try the Indonesian curried egg dish.

Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen are excellent recommendations. I will add two specialized suggestions: Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop for Sichuan; and Cradle of Flavor by James Oseland for Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

Happy book shopping!

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I'll toss in "Modern Art of Chinese Cooking" by the late great Barbara Tropp. She taught me how to buy things, how do make many things, most notably pleating potstickers! It's a no-nonsense book that has tons of information.

I'll also second Bruce's recommendations of Hot Sour Salty Sweet (which is as much of a travelogue as a cookbook, so you get a sense of why this is this and that is that) and Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.

I find it very helpful, when exploring a cookbook of a cuisine that I'm not familiar with to have some history, some sense of the area to go along with the recipes.

(Oh, and pictures or drawings of the ingredients can be more than helpful.)


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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I second Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook. I bought mine in 1976 :shock: and I must admit after living in several very hot countries it is a tad mildewy but still going strong :smile:

I also take Leviathan's point about there being more finesse and detailed knowledge in some cookbooks devoted purely to a particular cuisine

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I second Ludja's suggestion of interlibrary loan.

Great way to check out books before deciding

which to buy.

I also endorse Pan's suggestion of Madhur Jaffrey's

World of the East Vegetarian cooking.

It's one of the most used cookbooks in my collection,

and I usually get good results....

Milagai

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