Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Read: Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore by James Oseland

"What would this ang moh know about Southeast Asian cuisine?" Was the thought that immediately popped into my head when I saw James Oseland's Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. So I had to find out for myself.

And actually he knows a lot. And taught me a lot too. (Here I have to add that while I may be familiar with eating my country's food and some of it's neighbours', I don't know much about cooking it. My rendang for example, comes (ahem!) out of a packet). Plus Oseland has pretty stellar credentials. He's been editor-in-chief of Saveur since 2006 and teaches cooking classes at New York’s Institute for Culinary Education.

His love affair began when he was just a 19-year-old student in the 1980s. An Indonesian classmate invites him to stay with her family in Jakarta. He ended up traveling in Indonesia for a year. His travels have included stops in Malaysia and Singapore. While I despair at the way he makes the occasional sweeping statement about these three similar but oh so very different nations, he does provide an apt introduction to their cuisines and a translation of traditional ingredients into what's available in the western market. For me, that was the most useful section - the ingredients needed, their possible substitutes, and more importantly, how to store them, which I'm always a bit confused by. I have yet to attempt any of his recipes but they seem to be doable, and are of a nice variety (for instance, he has several recipes for sambal, including a lemongrass sambal from Bali, which sounds really yummy). The best cookbooks are the ones that not only make me hungry but also provide a personal account of the author's love for food. And Cradle of Flavor works well on both accounts.

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