Southeast Asian Specialties
starts with a map, a proverb ("other fields, other insects; other seas, other fish"), and a photo of whole, bronzed, barbecued chickens suspended in a shop window. The image is so vivid you can taste the salty crackle of their crisp, lacquered skin. From here, this encyclopedic book, crammed with information, unforgettable photos, and more than 200 recipes, takes you on a vivid journey through Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The chapter on each of these places opens with a brief overview of the local culture and history. This is followed by a procession of spreads, each devoted to a single subject. Cumulatively, this provides a comprehensive experience of the area's rich culinary life.
Since the Chinese are a major influence throughout Southeast Asia, you learn about the health-promoting principles of balance and about ingredients with medicinal benefits that are commonly used in home cooking. The "Dim Sum" section, like many others in the book, shows a dozen or more dishes, with captions providing detailed information. Often names are given in both Mandarin and Cantonese, and the Latin name is provided for anything that grows, from water spinach to various mushrooms. To deepen your understanding of local ingredients, you see how fresh beans become bean sprouts, how tofu and tempeh, indigenous to Indonesia, are made, and how shiitake mushrooms are grown. Equipment is described, with such details as how to season a new earthenware cooking pot.
Daring cooks can enjoy recipes for spicy Malaysian Fish Head Curry and succulent, silken Hainanese Poached Chicken. Those with access to an Asian market can try the recipe for Kuak Durian, a sauce made with the infamous fruit Southeast Asians adore, despite its revolting fragrance. On a simpler note you can make a Eurasian omelet, filled with fresh red chile peppers and onions. Whether or not you use its recipes, if you enjoy Asian food, this book is valuable and enlightening. --Dana Jacobi