In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Review - Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand

Written by Chef Donna Desfor | Aug 7, 2017 8:00 AM

By Leela Punyaratabandhu, Copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography by David Loftus.

Our Summary:

Jaw-droppingly delicious food may just be waiting for you between the pages of Bangkok if you have the patience to seek out the authentic ingredients.  For this food your patience may be worth testing.  These are original recipes that hail from a nineteenth-century Thai kitche and have found their way up through three generations into this book.  The recipes are updated for the modern American -kitchen and -cook, but they are as complex and exciting as any contemporary cookbook you'll find penned by a Michelin-star chef.  This food also tells a story - a story of a culture and the memories of one Bangkokian, the author.  You'll eat and know this is what Bangkok is like.  You'll cook and be reminded that your kitchen is limited only by your willingness to try new ingredients and sometimes new, but manageable, techniques.

What you need to know:

Buy it:  Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand by Leela Punyaratabandhu, Copyright © 2017. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, May 9, 2017.  Hardcover $35.00 (Amazon $20.82; Kindle $18.99)

See it:  368 pages with vivid color photos of most finished recipes; photos of Bangkok landmarks and landscapes as well as markets, people and ingredients are included.

Make it:  120 recipes, including 20 Basic Recipes that are used throughout the book and can be incorporated into your everyday cooking.  Table of Contents lists only chapter headings; each chapter page includes a table of contents for that chapter.  A useful index cross referencing recipe names and ingredients follows a thoughtful and sometimes necessary chapter Notes on Ingredients, including substitutions but no online resources.

Our Review:

With the growing popularity of Thai cuisine, it's not surprising to find recipes in most cookbooks that include Thai seasonings or evoke the idea of Thai food.  But that's not Thai cuisine.  Enter Bangkok, the second cookbook penned by author Leela Punyaratabandhu to chronicle the real food that Thai people eat every day.  And real means authentic, which means authentic ingredients.  Open the pages, put on your intrepid chef's toque, and get ready to discover a new world of food that may be surprisingly different from what you believed Thai cuisine to be.  Surprisingly different, yet deliciously so.

You are instantly drawn in with Bangkok by the photographs of familiar looking dishes and beautiful food photography.  Scan the recipes and you'll find, layered in between the familiar rice and noodle dishes (Rice Vermicelli with Fish Curry or Egg Noodles with Hakka Meatballs), iconic cultural dishes that are lesser known here in the States.  Instantly, you're intrigued with Egg Net Parcels with Pork-Peanut Filling and Stir-fried Lump Crabmeat with Long Beans and Hot Yellow Chiles.  And, in between all that you'll find street snacks, vibrant - if not different - curries, and even sweet dishes. 

If there is a challenge to Bangkok it's our Western-culture palate.  Unless you've traveled to Bangkok and indulged in the food, you don't have first-hand knowledge of the seasonings, flavors and results you're trying to achieve.  You need a steady diet of resourcefulness, too, as you search out ingredients.  They're available in most areas, still you're in for a search.  That doesn't mean you'll spend all of your time searching.  There are plenty of straightforward recipes you can cook the day you bring Bangkok home, such as Watermelon with fish dip or Fried rice with salted olives

Punyaratabandhu provides a serious and manageable chapter on Basic Recipes that are, in essence, the component recipes many of the dishes are built on.  These 20 pages are filled with 23 recipes that make Bangkok worth the price!  Between all of her recipes for relishes, pastes, oils, barbeque sauces and doughs, you can easily introduce Thai flavor into your everyday cooking.  If you choose to dive into the pure, authentic Thai cooking the most of these pages offer, you'll be gratified for the experience as you expand your cooking skills and challenge your ideas of what is possible in your kitchen.  With dishes like Egg-sausage soup that teaches you to stuff sausage casings with runny eggs through a funnel to produce sausage coins that look like a pulley, to Egg-wrapped glass noodle pad thai with shrimp that has a list of ingredients and components longer than the recipe, or Caramel-braised eggs with pork belly that tells a story within the recipe and gives you options as you're cooking, you'll enjoy the process as long as you accept you're in a process.

Ultimately, Bangkok won't be for everyone.  But it is for those that enjoy cooking, are adventurous enough to seek out ingredients for what they want to do, and elevate their mainstream Thai recipes into the realm of authentic.  Invest a little bit of time, a spot of money for a pantry that will continue to serve you, and soon you'll be enjoying the riches o

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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