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on October 1, 2007
I've made 3 recipes from this book, and all of them were edible, although the Tom Kha required some alterations before I was willing to serve it.

I think the problem here is that the author is not himself a vegetarian (according to the intro) and therefore is not familiar with typical substitutions. The Tom Kha recipe omitted the usual fish sauce--just omitted it without any replacements. Could we use a konbu soupbase for a fishy flavor? Maybe some of that fermented bean paste? Something was missing. I'll have to attempt my own substitutions.

The Phad Thai recipe also just omitted the fish sauce without replacements. It had a pretty good flavor though. My husband thought it was great.

The author seems to use mushrooms in place of meat in most recipes. I like mushrooms, but if you don't, be warned.

I am familiar with good Thai flavor--there was a little hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant near where I used to live. The walls of the restaurant were decorated with framed magazine articles naming that restaurant as the most authentic Thai restaurant in the western United States. The food was excellent. The recipes in this cookbook are just close enough to remind me of that Thai restaurant, but far enough to make me really miss good Thai food.

The first time I opened this book, it made a cracking sound and now the pages are falling out; inferior binding, but the other books I own in this series are not falling apart.
33 comments147 of 153 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
`Budda's Table' by Chat Mingkwan looks like a typical `little cookbook' you commonly see published by Chronicle Books, some of which are decent and some of which are a waste of money compared to other titles available for a similar price. This book, published by a house with the incredibly modest name of `Book Publishing Company' out of Summertown, Tennessee, has lots to offer, even if it isn't published by Alfred A. Knopf, Harper Collins, or Artisan.

Unlike the dominant cuisines of India, Thai cooking is not inherently vegetarian, and yet Buddhism, a religion with strong vegetarian tendencies is the most important religion in Thailand. This gives rise to the book's title and subtitle, `Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style'. This means that fish sauce, one of the most important Thai ingredients, has been removed from all recipes. This is probably about as dramatic as removing anchovies from all Italian dishes. Fortunately, the wealth of southeast Asian fermented bean pastes are up to filling in the gaps left by removing the famous `Nam Pla' from all recipes.

This is not to say Chat Mingkwan has abandoned Thai traditional cooking. He begins his book with an excellent little guide to Thai ingredients which is no replacement for good references such as Bruce Cost's `Asian Ingredients', but it is an honest coverage of the field with a firm commitment to the belief that there are a lot of Thai ingredients with which you cannot substitute and expect to achieve the right Thai taste. Foremost of these in my mind is galangal, a rhizome with some resemblance to ginger. But, based on the scientific names of the two plants, they are not closely related. They certainly do not belong to the same genus. Another unmistakable and unreplacable ingredient is tamarind. While I have never knowingly tasted galangal, I have tasted tamarind and can think of nothing in the western pantry that comes close to its taste. It is sharp, but its bite is somewhere between cassia (Asian cinnamon), licorice, and vinegar.

Thai cuisine is an ancient fusion of Indian and Chinese cuisines, jolted to an entirely new level with the addition of the capsicum chilies from the New World. I know less about Indian cooking than I do on just about every other major cuisine you can name, but it seems to me that the primary transformation from Indian to Thai cuisine seems to be the shift of curry mixtures from powders in India to pastes in Thailand. This generalization may be all wet, but it is quite true that virtually all curry bases described in this book are pastes, making the mortar and pestle a very important tool in the Thai kitchen. I agree entirely with the author and millions of Mexican home cooks and Jamie Oliver and everyone else who wants to weigh in on the subject that the mortar and pestle is simply a superior tool for making pasty mixtures than any modern blender or food processor. If you want to make serious use of this book, get a good, heavy set and find yourself a good source of Thai ingredients.

To reinforce this point, the author opens with a 15-page chapter devoted to chili and curry sauces. These recipes also reinforce the fact that you will not succeed with these recipes unless you can find a source for galangal, Kafir lime leaves, and lemongrass. Most of the other ingredients should be no problem in Mittelamerica. In my darkest Pennsylvania, my local farmers market carries fresh lemongrass and cilantro with roots and my local megamart has all the chilies, bean pastes, and tamarind you want.

The next chapter on salads and snacks includes easy recipes with that oh so distinctive Thai taste based on peanuts, lemongrass, chiles, cilantro, and tamarind. This chapter includes a recipe for the famous Pad Thai salad, where, unlike many famous French salads, the only difficult task is finding all the ingredients. The chapter also presents rice as a salad ingredient, something rather uncommon in western menus. And, if rice isn't your dish, there is always tofu.

The chapter on soups brings back my most indelible memory of eating Thai food when I asked for clear Thai soup to be done `spicy'. It was very, very, very spicy hot! Chef Mingkwan immediately scored points with me when I saw his vegetable stock recipe. My fussiest and most highly respected French sources on stocks insist that vegetables are simmered no more than an hour in a stock, and Chef Mingkwan puts his daikon and cilantro and chiles to the hot water for no more than 45 minutes. This chapter also includes a great foodie talking point recipe with a `Hunter's Soup'. This is the Thai vegetarian version of the soup one makes when the hunting has not gone too well.

The next chapter deals with stir-frying, one of the strongest influences from China on the cuisines of Southeast Asia. I have seen street food people from Burma to the Philippines use woks with almost exactly the same techniques as you may see in Shanghai or Beijing. The introduction to this chapter is a fair example of the author's sense of humor as he points out that uses for the wok include steaming, smoking, deep frying, floating on flood waters and sledding in the snow. While the stir fry recipes are very good, this book is no primer on stir-frying technique or stir-frying equipment. If you are not familiar with the wok through experience with Chinese techniques, I suggest you check out Ken Hom's `Quick Wok'. I suspect Martin Yan's earlier books are also good sources, but I have not gotten around to reviewing them yet.

This is a sample of the good Thai cooking experience available to you in this book. The value of this little book is capped with an excellent bibliography that oddly omits a reference to the definitive new work `Thai Food' by David Thompson.

A recommended easy intro to Thai cooking for vegetarians.
11 comment85 of 92 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on March 6, 2010
My partner loves Thai food but we are vegan. This book allows us to create all the thai dishes we love but sometimes order with trepidation now because of fish sauce etc. what's amazing is that these recipes taste so much better! (especially the currys and tom yum soup which is criminally easy to make- who knew?!) The recipes are easy to follow and i love that the thai names are listed. sorry for all the restaurants that will miss our business but hello to all the markets that we will now visit.

and yes i did the write the author who wrote me right back!- nice
0Comment18 of 18 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on March 4, 2010
This is a quiet, unassuming little cookbook - small size, no glossy pages, almost no pictures - but it's become one of my favourites. I've probably only cooked about 10 things from it so far, but that's partly because many of those things are so tasty that I keep making them again. The curry pastes are authentic and delicious, some of the salads are electrifyingly flavoursome, and the Coconut Galangal Soup blows me and my wife away every time (and never fails to impress guests). I've had one recipe misfire on me so far (it was a curry mousse dish, which came out too runny), though I suspect that it was my fault, and not the recipe's. Overall, Buddha's Table is a little gem that definitely deserves a place in your cupboard if you like to cook Thai from time to time.

Vegans please note that although it isn't mentioned on the cover, this cookbook is vegan. Or at least, I haven't found any animal products in its recipes yet. Dairy is practically non-existent in Thai cuisine anyway, and I've found one or two recipes where the author has purposefully used a vegan substitute instead of egg.
0Comment16 of 16 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on January 6, 2005
Written by a professional restauranteur and Thai native, and printed in binding specially designed to lay flat for easy reference in the kitchen, Buddha's Table: Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style is a guide to the joy of meatless cuisine, focusing upon food styles from all four regions of Thailand. Recipes such as Crispy Noodles, Tofu Patties, Mung Bean Wraps and more are complemented with information on how to properly prepare Thai produce, spices, noodles, wrappers, and rice for those unfamiliar with Thai ingredients. A handful of color photographs enhance this superb and easy-to-use addition to any vegetarian cookbook shelf.
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on May 27, 2008
Before buying this cookbook, I had tried making Thai dishes from various internet sources and the cookbook Real Vegetarian Thai - but they never turned out like those in the restaurants. Buddha's Table changed all that. So far I've made Tofu Pra Ram, Tom Kha soup, Yellow Curry, and Pad Se-iew noodles, and they've all turned out exactly like the dishes I order.

Chat Mingkwan lets you in on the secret ingredients to get just the right taste. I found out that my curries never tasted quite right because I was missing coconut cream (in addition to coconut milk) in my sauce! And my peanut sauce turned out perfect by following his recipe exactly. It's definitely worth the extra trouble to find all of his ingredients to get a really authentic taste.

I disagree with a previous reviewer with regard to the fish sauce in the Tom Kha - Chat includes light soy sauce in his recipe, which he describes in his notes on ingredients at the beginning of the book as the ideal replacement for fish sauce in vegetarian cooking.
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on September 17, 2007
I did not expect so much from this book and was worried I would never be able to find all the ingredients listed here, but boy was I wrong. I was able to find most of the ingredients at 99 ranch (Chinese market) and the book also lists colorful pictures and descriptions of the major ingredients listed in the recipes. I just made Phad Thai & Red Curry from scratch using this book and they were absolutely amazing. I'm a novice at cooking but these dishes were in some ways even better than some of the Thai restaurants I've been to, not just because it's less oily and less salty but very tasty! I can't wait to try rest of the recipes to add to my home cooked vegetarian meals. Definitely recommend it.
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VINE VOICEon February 1, 2009
For some reason, I thought this book would be bigger (physically). I was kind of surrised how thin / compact it is. But, for its size, it does seem to pack a pretty good compendium of information inside its covers. It lists the various ingredients endemic to Thai cooking, and pretty quickly gets down to the business of how to put them together into wonderful sounding dishes. I haven't tried them yet, but have no doubt that they will be fabulous. I love Thai food. It's tasty, pretty and relatively healthy (however, I've yet to find a truly low-fat Thai cookbook; if you're looking for that, this probably isn't it as it still seems to use various vegetable oils for cooking / frying).

I also recently got The Vegetarian Table: Thailand, which I think is a pretty excellent reference as well. I also think it's perhaps slightly more polished than Buddha's table, as its pages arein color and it provides a far larger selection of color photos showing the finished products of the recipes. Still, Buddha's table is a good entry in its own right and the two might make good shelf companions.
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on November 6, 2008
This is an excellent cookbook. I love all of the recipes in this book. I especially love the fact that it's completely vegetarian, I would definitely recommend this book to a friend.
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on July 24, 2011
This was a Christmas present for my adult son who's a long-term committed vegetarian who loves Oriental food. He found lots of recipes that were quick, easy & delicious & worked well with his hectic, unpredictable schedule.
0Comment5 of 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse