Charmaine Solomon first wrote The Complete Asian Cookbook (TCAC) in 1976, a staggering achievement given the circumstances at the time. Exotic ingredients weren’t as available or as familiar as they are now, some of the countries featured in the book weren’t even tourist destinations, and some kitchen appliances were considered fairly newfangled (i.e. the food processor). Now, more than 30 years later the book has been revised to reflect all those changes and more.
Sri Lankan-born Solomon came to Australia with her husband in 1959 and gained fame as a cooking instructor and columnist. She’s also quite the prolific author, having produced 30+ cookbooks. She wrote TCAC to help more of her Australian readers recreate at home their culinary experiences gained abroad, and one that could also be used as a reference. “My aim in writing this book has been to make it possible for keen cooks everywhere to explore the cooking of Asia, and to prove that real Eastern meals can be produced in Western kitchens,” Solomon expounds. “Start tonight and dine abroad in the Asian country of your choice.”
TCAC isn’t a Westernized agglomeration of more than 800 Asian recipes, quite the opposite in fact. There are fourteen chapters featuring the food of India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, Vietnam, The Philippines, China, Korea and Japan. The introduction touches on the overall essentials of using a wok, making fresh coconut milk, chopping up a chicken, types of chilies, kinds of noodles, and cooking rice. Each subsequent chapter then begins with information on that country’s cuisine: preparing, eating and serving a meal followed by notes on utensils and ingredients.
The recipe names are given in the most common dialect with their English name in smaller print underneath. Clearly written, they strike me as being as authentic as possible with substitutions duly noted. The recipes are a sufficient representation of their country of origin, old favorites mixed in with the more uncommon ones. Given the massive scope of this work, it’s astounding to think about the research that went into this book, not to mention the kitchen testing and re-testing of the recipes. It’s to Solomon’s credit that she was able to give a systematic measurement to the recipes, since most Asian cooks are loath to using measuring implements.
This book is a tantalizing, tangible reminder of why I love Asian food so much, its diversity and boldness, its spice and subtlety. The cuisines of Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia are, to me, at the level of comfort food now. Reading about Sri Lankan food is mind-expanding, the section on Indonesia (where I grew up) evokes nostalgia. As an Asian living in Asia, many of these dishes can easily be had at a restaurant, but I gain a new appreciation for these dishes because now I know what goes into them, and realize how closely related all these cuisines are! Even if I never cook from this book, it’s still a valuable resource.
It’s delightful to browse through the chapter on Philippine cuisine, which I read with much interest and the most critical eye. “A mixture of Malay and Chinese and Spanish, with just a touch of American influence, is the combination that makes the food of the Philippines and the people themselves the exotic blend of East and West that they are,” goes the introduction. Solomon’s recipe selection of our country is impressive, a solid representation of home cooking – lumpia, sinigang, adobo, to some of our fiesta fare – morcon, paella, pochero, etc. There’s even a recipe for beef pares, ensaimada, and mango ice cream charmingly called mangang sorbetes.
Though not exhaustive by any means – perhaps Solomon’s Encyclopedia of Asian Food is a more complete resource – the glossary at the back of TCAC will get one through any bumps for now. Gaze at the full color photos that run every couple of pages and delight in getting to know better the cuisines you thought you knew so well.
My rating: ★★★/5
The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon
Revised and updated edition
Hardcover, 640 pages, Hardie Grant Books, Australia
P1,799.00 at all Fully Booked Stores .
This book is part of my Lori’s Book Picks for March. Click image on the sidebar for a discount.
See my other book reviews here.