Rating: Highly Recommended!
This is the newest cookbook in my collection, and I was inspired to order it after researching Babi Kecap (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Sweet Soy Sauce) recipes online and discovering that Rick Stein had a version in this book. But apart from that, I realised that despite my passion for Asian food, I didn’t actually have a recipe book dedicated to the subject (apart from various old Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks handed down to me by Mum).
For those of you who don’t know him, Rick Stein is a British chef from Cornwall in the UK who owns four restaurants, a deli, a patisserie, and a seafood cookery school. However, he is perhaps most famous for his BBC television series in which he is normally found travelling around the globe or around his home country the UK, in the search for authentic dishes which he in turn adapts into his own recipes. Mild mannered and yet incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about food, I’ve always enjoyed Rick’s television series which are both educational and inspiring.
In this cookbook, Rick travels through Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and presents us with his own interpretation of the highlights of the local dishes. In his blurb, he explains that he could have called the book “My Southeast Asian Odyssey” but for the fact that he wanted to include the Indian subcontinent as well. He goes on to explain that he chose to go to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka rather than India mostly due to the fact that India and also therefore China, deserve a book all of its own. Hopefully this hints of future plans to publish more cookbooks specifically about these two countries in the future!
The recipes are split into the country categories above, and as well as the introduction – which is obviously written by Rick himself because you can almost literally hear him speak as you read it – each chapter begins with stories and anecdotes from his time spent in that particular country. Even more wonderful is that every recipe begins with a short blurb explaining it’s origin or story as well as tips and tricks. I simply love this, as I enjoy hearing the voice of the author throughout a cookbook.
Most recipes are illustrated by a full page photo, but not all. I suppose this was a concession needed to be made, as the book is fairly chunky as it is. But there are enough photos to satisfy even myself, who is normally never inspired to cook anything that I first cannot see.
What I particularly love about this cookbook is the section at the back, which includes a list of basic recipes required when cooking Asian foods. These are categorized further into Stocks, Spices Pastes and Blends, Side Salads, and Breads and Rice. Following this is an incredibly helpful list with explanations and photos of key ingredients used in the recipes and in most Asian cuisines. I rather suspect that this all reflects the attitude of the author when it comes to cooking Asian foods – cooking from scratch is best! And in fact perhaps this is what I love most about this cookbook – it’s air of authenticity. It’s not a book about using westernized Asian ingredients or pre-packaged products to try and recreate the exotic flavours of the east. It’s about sourcing rare and authentic ingredients, and creating the complex flavours yourself from scratch, and magically building your own authentic Asian dishes.
For this reason, this is by no means a cookbook for busy weeknights, or for those wanting quick and easy meal solutions that will get them in and out of the kitchen in as little time as possible. This is a cookbook for lovers of Asian food and the process of cooking exotic foods that takes a little time and energy to source the ingredients, as well as a little patience in the kitchen to prepare the basic elements from scratch, as well as to allow the flavours to infuse and marinate in their own time.
I spent a whole afternoon pouring through the recipes and stories in this colorful and inspiring cookbook. It’s re-ignited my passion for Asian cuisine (not that it needed much re-ignition!) and inspired me to collect more of Rick Stein’s cookbooks to add to my collection. Watch out for more reviews!
Click here to order Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey
Recipes inspired from Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey that I have blogged about:
Babi Ketcap (Vietnamese Braised Pork with Sweet Soy Sauce)
Asian Chicken Stock (Asian Poached Chicken)