By Stanislaw Sobolewski
Three newly arrived cookbooks offer exciting views of Asian cooking in Japan, Burma and Vietnam.
JAPANESE FARM FOOD California native Nancy Singleton Hachisu has lived in Japan for more than two decades. Her book Japanese Farm Food brings a rustic and perhaps unfamiliar cuisine to our local table. She notes “Japanese farm food is both logical and simple to execute.” The book is a treasure trove of detailed information on many aspects of Japanese cooking – it is based on the idea that, except for a few specialty items, this is down-home food that can be prepared with items from your local farmer’s market. Much in line with the Slow Food aesthetic, Singleton Hachisu counsels us to “listen to the vegetables” as we prepare food. Pizzaiolo in Oakland recently featured dishes from this book, and they were simple, hearty and delicious. (Visit the Japanese Farm Food website for photos of Singleton Hachisu’s organice farm in rural Japan and dishes featured in the cookbook.)
BURMA, RIVER OF FLAVOR The food of Burma is probably the least familiar cuisine from these three books. Author Naomi Duguid, co-author of the popular Hot Sour Salty Sweet, has a new book, Burma, River of Flavor, that seeks to remedy this omission from our tables. Duguid here introduces us to the food of the largest country of Southeast Asia. Like the Japanese Farm book, this book offers a simple “pantry” of basic foodstuffs that can be augmented with a visit to a local market. There seems to be a common thread here — home preserved pickling, staples like rice, and then the addition of organic meats, fresh and root vegetables. The book includes much on the culture of Burma, and includes maps and photographs of people, places, and glorious food. While much is exotic, we also find recipes there for more familiar fare such as fried chicken, potatoes, and broccoli rabe.
VIETNAMESE HOME COOKING Charles Phan’s cooking will be familiar to many readers. Phan, chef-owner of San Francisco’s Slanted Door, has a new book, his first, Vietnamese Home Cooking, that aligns nicely with the books described above. The book is arranged by technique, offering chapters on soup, steaming, braising, grilling, stir-frying and more. Profusely illustrated, the book is a treasure house of great recipes — you’ll get hungry just leafing through its beautiful pages. Watch a video of Phan talking about his food philosophy and cooking up some of the dishes featured in his book.
All of these books are beautifully produced. Taken together you would have a great reference library in your kitchen, and any single book would make a splendid gift.
Stanislaw Sobolewski is the cookbook manager at Moe’s Books. This is the first in a series of Cook the Books columns by Moe’s which has been selling new, used and collectable books in Berkeley since 1959. One of Moe’s specialties is cookery books and the bookstore puts on regular cookbook-related events. Visit Moe’s Books at 2476 Telegraph Avenue and online.
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