Two vastly different cookbooks arrived recently. The only
thing they had in common was that each focused on a country far,
far away from this one, and barely addressed by other cookbooks.
They gave me a chance to think about the way we indulge our taste
for adventure by cooking the food of faraway places, and the way it
sometimes works out and sometimes, definitely, doesn't.
One's the new cookbook from
Naomi Duguid, Burma (her first, I believe, since parting
ways with her cooking partner and ex-husband, Jeffrey Alford).
It's a gorgeous production, with the colorful photographs and
in-depth narrative we've come to expect from Duguid. But in
this one, the recipes are up-front and center in a way they weren't
before--it feels more like a working cookbook.
There's instructions on how to make or substitute for
hard-to-find ingredients (like "soybean disks"), detailed
explanations for unfamiliar techniques, and the measurements are
all conventional, with titles in English. After a little bit
of advance reading to figure out how and where you're going to
source things, you can dive right in.
The second book fascinated me
because it was written by Nelson Mandela's personal chef, Xoliswa
Ndoyiya. Ukutya Kwasekhaya means "home food"--but
nothing about this book makes it easy to bring home. I don't mind
the metric measurements and weights. But how is one to find
or substitute "Aromat seasoning," sugar beans, peri-peri powder,
oxtail soup powder? On closer inspection the recipes seemed to be
fairly simple--stews and curries with just a few ingredients, some
of which I couldn't get. I had the feeling that the only new
thing I'd gain from this book was being introduced to those
ingredients. But since I couldn't get them anyway, why get involved
with the book? That, plus the muddy photography and skeletal
instructions, pushed the book into Pass territory for me.
What do you look for in a cookbook from an unfamiliar cuisine?
Which ones have singlehandedly internationalized your
repertoire? Which ones have left you high and dry, hopelessly
treading the aisles of Stop & Shop in search of the