A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST BY MADHUR JAFFREY

MADHUR JAFFREY, author of numerous cookbooks, wrote A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST back in the 1990s but it will still knock your socks off today…Ms. Jaffrey is one of those talented people being referred to when someone says “If you want to get a job done, ask a busy person”…in addition to being a superb cookbook author, she is also an actress who has starred in many award winning films, including Shakespeare Wallah, for which she won the best actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival.  Along with writing cookbooks and being an authority on Indian cuisine, Ms. Jaffrey is also a children’s book author, journalist, illustrator and-–director!  Jaffrey directed her first film, Cotton Mary, in the 1990s.

If that were not enough, A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST won the James Beard Award for Best cookbook of the year, in 1994.

A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. The photography is exquisite. Location photography was done by Michael Freeman, while studio photography was done by James Murphy.

Mr. Freeman is an established photographer who specializes in studio reportage, landscape and wildlife photography. His books include 35MM HANDBOOK, THE IMAGE and CAMERA AND LENSES.

Mr. Murphy is one of Britain’s leading food photographers who has worked with a number of prestigious cookbook writers and whose work has appeared regularly in GOOD HOUSEKEEPING and HOUSE AND GARDEN as well as other publications.

The recipes featured in A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST are from Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, Viet Nam, Korea and Indonesia.

In its introduction, the publishers lure us with the following, “Chicken flavored with lemon grass and ginger; a fish stew, aromatic with dill; okra in a sambal sauce; slices of duck pan-fried with scallops ice cucumber meade…these are just some of the flavors of the Far East that Madhur Jaffrey brings to her classic evocation of the region’s food and drink…”  They continue with, “On a gastronomic tour…she delves deeply into local traditions and history to describe  wit knowledgeable enthusiasm the cultural and culinary influences that have shaped each nation’s unique cuisine.

In A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST Ms. Jaffrey provides 150 recipes that include suggestions for accompaniments and advice on serving.  There are also separate sections on equipment and techniques and descriptions of ingredients called for in the recipes—even substitutions where necessary—so that if you aren’t all the familiar with Far East cuisine, you won’t be intimidated by it.

I must confess, until fairly recently, I was one of those timid creatures where Far East cuisine was concerned. A number of factors changed my attitude over the past decades, not the least of which was acquiring a Filipino girlfriend whose son is now my godchild.

When my friend would come to visit, she sometimes brought along an entourage of Filipino girlfriends who, unabashedly, took over my kitchen and produced many mouth-watering Filipino dishes.

Another factor, certainly, is living in southern California, where Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Filipino restaurants abound.  Little Asian grocery stores can be found throughout the San Fernando valley as well.

I am particularly intrigued with Ms. Jaffrey’s comments, in the Introduction, about the way foods travel…sometimes  more easily than people.  She writes “No country’s cuisine is written in stone. As foods move, they are changed, adapted, and remodeled in other images. Take Sushi, the little canapés   of raw fish and rice that we think of as quintessentially Japanese. They originated elsewhere, in the little villages tucked inside the much warmer regions of south-East Asia. Cooked rice, when put together with raw fish, preserves it for some magical reason. The ancient Thais knew this.”  Ms. Jaffrey goes on to say that she found herself by chance in a tiny village in north-eastern Thailand. “Here, as they have done for centuries, they were putting rice to ‘pickle’ in layers of cooked rice.  The rice would be thrown away and the preserved fish eaten. It was this dish that first traveled to Kyoto and was adopted there. Then, it began changing. The first step was to eat both the pickled fish and the preserved rice. They still do that in Kyoto today. In Tokyo, it was discovered that, with refrigeration, fresh fish could be put on top of freshly cooked rice and served  immediately. Only, it was decided to add a little vinegar and sugar to the rice to give it a faint pickled taste in memory of what it had once been. Hence was born the sushi we all know and love today.  So, while foods travel, at some point they get stamped with a national image.”

Ms. Jaffrey goes on to explain that the purpose of her book, A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST, was to give us some of the best recipes from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan—some quite unknown in the west*, others somewhat different versions of old classics—but to put the foods in their settings, to take us into the homes and restaurants and to give us a little bit of the culinary history of these eight nations.

(*A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST was published in 1994—and I suspect that most of the recipes within its pages would be far more familiar to most western cooks in 2012. I have seen so many Far East dishes on programs such as the Food Network in the past decade and last night watched a Food Network program on chefs in Thailand shopping for groceries on the water canals in Thailand.)

What to look for in A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST? How about Prawn/Shrimp Curry or Hot and Sour Chicken Soup, from Thailand…Grilled Chicken with Lime Juice and Lemon Grass, or Steak and Onions, Vietnamese-style, or Bananas Flambe, from Vietnam…a Grilled, Dressed Fish or Pan Grilled Chicken, from Korea, Fragrant Prawns, a quick mixed pickle or pineapple cake from Malaysia…a steamed soup-custard with chicken and prawns, rice canapés or quick cooked pork with garlic, from Japan…Chicken  and Asparagus with Portuguese Sauce, or Diced Chicken with Peanuts in Chili Sauce, or perhaps Sichuan-style Shredded Beef with Spring Onions from Hong Kong…Vegetable and Prawn Fritters, or Skewered Pork Kabobs  or Quick Stir Fried Cabbage    from Indonesia?  These, of course, are just a sampling of the recipes to be found in A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST.

Each chapter is preceded with an informal introduction to each of the Far-East nations, and you will come away with a much better understanding of that country than you will find in any tourist guidebook.

For those who enjoy the combination of culinary history and recipes…for those of us who appreciate beautiful photography—for those of us who are armchair travelers, A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST meets all of this criteria.

Ms. Jaffrey is the author of numerous cookbooks including AN INVITATION TO INDIAN COOKING, MADHUR JAFFREY’S COOKBOOK and MADHUR JAFFREY’S INDIAN COOKING, SPICE KITCHEN, and MADHUR JAFFREY’S WORLD OF VEGETARIAN COKING.  My Google sources credit her with writing over 15 cookbooks; she has appeared in over 20 films.

Jaffrey   also wrote Climbing the   Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India.
Her credits are enormous—best bet is to Google her and read   what Wikipedia has to say about this versatile author/actress/director.

A TASTE OF THE FAR EAST is available on Amazon.com for $39.95   new, and starting at seventy five cents for a pre-owned copy. New copies are   also available from private vendors at Amazon.com starting at $13.39.  (When first published it sold for $35.00 –   this is one of those unique cookbooks that    only improves with age…and value.)

 

Review by Sandra Lee Smith

 

 

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