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Thirtieth birthday

I’m 30 today. Mr Weasel assures me that I am still a very large kid with a bank account, which is an interpretation I like. My brother, similarly encouraging, has suggested that you are only as old as you act, and that as long as I don’t clean the kitchen properly and continue to leave my pants on the floor, he will keep not writing my age in my birthday card.

Among my presents was (thank you Mummy and Daddy – thank you also for the fantastic framed set of 1934 cigarette cards featuring Hollywood starlets) a copy of Rosemary Brissenden’s South East Asian Food, which is a positive bible of authentic South East Asian cuisine. It has chapters on Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and I’m poring through it, delighted to find recipes for things which I never, ever thought I’d be able to cook at home. These are recipes which are seldom written down, but passed through families orally. I finally have a recipe for that Laotian paper beef which I had in a restaurant in Paris a few years ago; a proper recipe for the sambal for Nasi Lemak, a way to make Banh Xeo at home and detailed instructions on exactly what I should be doing with a green papaya. I’m not cooking today (I am being taken out secretly by Mr Weasel this evening and am writing this in a hasty lunch hour) – watch this space for Banh Xeo from my new book.

I read a copy of Rosemary Brissenden’s original version of this book (a slim volume which I think was published in the ’70s; I seem to remember that the collection of recipes and study of the cuisine of the region formed her PhD thesis) some years ago, and was smitten with it. This new version is completely updated, about four times thicker – this begins to feel like a life’s work – and packed with recipes (no pictures, which I rather like; I feel I’m getting good recipe value per page. The only photographs are spread across four pages of ‘identify your ingredient’ keys.) I’d encourage you to buy this if you’re even slightly interested in proper South East Asian food. As the introduction says:

“With the world now full of same-tasting ‘instant’ approaches to South East Asian food through packets and jars, this book aims to serve as a guide to cooks who wish to enjoy its true freshness and variety by cooking it for themselves.”

It’s brilliant. A great present – thanks again.

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