A couple of years ago, I attended a party in Cornwall, where, amid the spritzers, groovers and a coterie of cakes and cosmological conversation, I met Rick Stein – and what an all round charming chap he is too. Polite, considerate and more than happy to have his photograph taken with the host, it was only when my partner told me who he was, that I realised it was the renowned TV presenter, top chef and author of numerous books (among them: Seafood Lovers’ Guide, Taste of the Sea, Food Heroes, French Odyssey, Mediterranean Escapes and the more recent Coast to Coast).
Although said titles, do admittedly leave a tad to be desired in the imaginative department, all the books lend themselves to that of a tantalisingly, mouth-watering insistence. This most recent addition being no exception. Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey is a book that triggers a veritable avalanche of gastronomically inspired ideas from Cambodia and Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
In other words, it’s a book that ensures the taste buds run riot amid a menagerie of quintessentially spice-induced simplicity. As the author writes in relation to Southeast Asian cooking near the outset of his Introduction: ‘’the robust simplicity of the food, the immediacy of it. It takes no time to produce. It’s a glorious assault on the senses. It also seems to us to be healthy: vegetables are raw or hardly cooked; there’s a lot of seafood; freshwater fish everywhere; meat is used sparingly and rice is mostly simply steamed. It’s almost as if we’ve stumbled on something so obvious we can’t believe we’ve missed it all this time.’’
Indeed we can’t, which is why this book is as timely as it is necessary.
Quite simply, it enables the (Western) novice to engage upon a culinary discovery, which is not readily made available amid the norm’n’gorm’n’salt-drenched, pre-packaged nonsense, of a wilfully suspect persuasion.
This book – by way of Stein’s openness, vast experience and willingness to appreciate what might otherwise be considered a little too petulant to be taken seriously – is a cookbook with a difference. Reason being, it approaches the appreciation of the palette, by way of starting all over again. For instance, in relation to such a dish as ‘Bo nhang dam,’ I can appreciate the author’s inspired excitement (as I too discovered this ‘Vietnamese hotpot’ when visiting the country myself last year): ‘’I was lucky enough to participate in a Vietnamese hotpot dinner of immense complexity and for a large number of people. As far as I remember, there was raw beef, prawns, chicken and squid, along with cabbage, quartered tomatoes, slices of pineapple and broccoli stems. You dipped the meat into a simmering broth with chopsticks, then put it on a lettuce leaf, added crunchy vegetables and fresh herbs, rolled it up and dipped it into the most delicious pineapple and chilli sauce.’’
Remember what I said about the taste buds running riot? Not exactly fish-fingers and chips is it…
Replete with some excellent colour photography – which in and of themselves, warrant (n)oodles of praise – assorted Basic Recipes (Shallot oil, Duck broth, Thai green curry paste) and Accompaniments (Cucumber and mint raita, Bangladeshi spiced pilau rice, Sweet green mango chutney with panch phoran), Far Eastern Odyssey is an absolute treasure trove of a book.
I for one, will be utilising these 150 new recipes to such an extent, that it won’t be long before the book unfortunately falls apart. As such, it comes highly recommended.