November 15, 2008

Book Review: Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet

At the recommendation of R's little brother, I put Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet on my wish list. E bought it for me as a gift. I loved it.

Tonight, in a blissfully mellow evening at home, after a light meal, I sat down to finish this awesome book. I laugh at myself, because I've become someone who reads cookbooks for fun and counts them on her "books read" challenge.

But this is an entertaining read all on its own, even without trying any of the recipes. It's almost 350 pages blended between travelogues mainly focused on food, recipes, history lessons, encyclopedic explanations of indigenous ingredients and techniques, and gorgeous photographs.

The common theme is that all of these tidbits are always focused on the peoples bordering the southern portion of the Mekong River.

This collection of 25 years of knowledge and experiences gained through repeated visits by a husband and wife (often accompanied by their two sons) to the Yunan Province of China, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam is the most evocative cookbook-esque book I've ever read.

Their descriptions of the peoples, their troubles, the wars, and the slow opening of the region to foreigners helped me feel as if I'd traveled there myself. The pictures and descriptions of preparations made me drool.

I was happy to learn that my belief that "Vietnamese food is my favorite Asian food (other than japanese)" is actually wrong -- many of the things I love about Vietnamese food are common to much of southeast Asia.

As the title hints, the food theme of balancing hot, salty, sweet, and sour flavors all in one dish is shared throughout the region. This flavor combination is one of my favorites, and I look forward to practicing the techniques I read about.

Predictably, I am now inspired to try entirely too many new recipes. I hope the increase in pork in our household over the next year as I try to make several of meals I flagged will convince E that he made the right choice in his gift.

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