by Ghillie Basan
2008 Aness Publishing ISBN-13: 978-1844763511
Almost all of my experience with Cambodian cuisine comes from trying the odd recipe from books broadly focusing on Asian, or somewhat more particularly, Southeast Asian cookery. There is no shortage of books on Vietnamese or Thai food, of course, but Cambodia has thus far received short shrift and it is not easy to get a sense of the cuisine of that nation from those generalized cookery books in which Cambodian dishes are not widely featured. As such, it was indeed a pleasant surprise when I came across this very nice little volume…
Content and Organization
As touted on the front cover, the book contains some 60 recipes organized into fairly straightforward and standard categories. There is a brief, four page, introduction to the culture and cuisine of Cambodia that is quite nicely illustrated with colorful photographs, and another four pages covering the equipment and cooking techniques in the typical Cambodian kitchen. At the end of the book, there is also a list of sources for Cambodian ingredients but this is likely only of limited value, particularly given that only one of the listings includes an internet link.
The book is fairly lavishly illustrated beyond the photographs in the introductory section and there is a decent picture of each of the recipes on offer. There are also quite a number of shots showing steps in the cookery process for many dishes but I have to say that, while nicely composed and interesting, they are more decorative than useful and really could have been executed so as to be a bit more instructional.
Thankfully, though, the recipes are clearly written, easy to follow, and are supplemented by some helpful and informative cookery tips. One feature of this book (and, indeed, Cambodian cuisine as a whole) is that the dishes focus on fairly straightforward ingredients prepared with freshness and simplicity in mind. Thai cookery, like Malay or Indonesian cuisine, can be a bit daunting for some, given the complex spice blends and techniques they frequently employ, but there really is nothing too horrendously difficult in these pages.
As yet, I have mostly only browsed this book for inspiration and, thus far, the only recipe I have closely followed is the one for ‘Hot and Sour Fish Soup’. There are some very interesting dishes I want to sample, especially one for stuffed baby squid, but I am particularly looking forward to trying out an intriguing, but very simple, combination called ‘Minced Meat with Charred Aubergine’.
Generally, I am pleased with this book. Before buying a similar volume dedicated to Cambodian cuisine, I might insist on something with a little more comprehensive coverage of the food and a bit more than the 60 odd recipes provided here. That being said though, this is a pretty good introduction to the cuisine and the dishes presented are so relatively straightforward and simple as to make this a useful guide to those with only a little experience with the cookery of the region.