Tackling the faraway nearby

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 unattainable?

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One Comment

  • FuzzyChef  on  August 19, 2012

    Deguid and Alford got *divorced*?

    I'm very sad …

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