Book Review: The Drinking Food of Thailand by Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Drinking Food of Thailand is a cookbook about, as the title implies, foods that are eaten when drinking in Thailand.  Andy Ricker is a James Beard winner and owns the restaurants, Pok Pok, Whiskey Soda Lounge, and Pok Pok Noi.

Let’s start out with all the positives.  I like that the special equipment required is listed for each recipe.  I like that the recipes appear to be authentic, although I am by no means an expert on traditional Thai food.  Some of the vignettes that accompany the recipes were fun to read.  Personally, I liked the stories where he talked about how certain foods or drinks were made rather than his eating experiences.  In particular, the bits on rice whiskey at the front and the description of  (with pictures!) of how to wrap the packets for Jin Som Mok Khai come to mind.

My biggest problem with this book is that it is just not practical for many Westerners.  There are many ingredients that aren’t readily available and the author doesn’t give us any substitutions for some of those hard-to-find materials.  For example, tiny dried anchovies.  He does say that they are probably available at Asian stores … but maybe he means only Asian stores by the coast?  I looked for it in a few Asian stores because the recipe only required 3 ingredients (dried anchovies, oil for frying, and sweet Thai Chile sauce), but I couldn’t find any dried anchovies so I gave up.  Other recipe ingredients that are probably going to be difficult for most people include chicken tendons (the kneecap), pigs ears and intestines, frog legs, pickled gouramy fish fillets, goat horn chiles, Shaoxing wine, and frozen market lime leaves.  Basically, there were only a few recipes that I could actually make out of the whole book.  There was one for salt-chili dip for green mango (delicious! – and I’ve seen similar dips in Mexico and Vietnam) and Yam Met Mamuang Himpahaan (fried cashews with salt, chiles, and green onions).  The cashews were okay, nothing special.

Don’t think that you can whip up some of these dishes when you’ve already been drinking.  Most of them require separate sauces or syrups.  Let me take you through my attempt at the fried papaya salad.   You’d think that you just fry up some slices of papaya and sprinkle some sauce and dip it into a sweet/sour/spicy sauce and you’re done.  Nope.  The recipe calls for rice flour, tapioca starch (okay, those aren’t too hard to find and I actually had those in my pantry), tempura batter (not in my pantry but not too hard to find at the grocery store), and limestone water.  What the heck is limestone water?  Oh, good, there’s a note to turn to page XXX in the book.  Maybe there will be a substitute.  The limestone water recipe calls for 3 cups of water and 3.5-4 ounces of red or white limestone paste.  Ummm…..  No idea where I would be able to find this locally, and honestly, it doesn’t really sound safe.  Wait, that’s not all.  The sauce still needs to be made, which calls for a syrup that has a recipe.  I absolutely hate recipes within recipes.  Forget it, this is not worth it.  On to the next recipe …

The kicker?  There is one page in the book that says, “Perhaps the most popular modern drinking food in Thailand is … French fries!”  Hilarious.

I would suggest skipping this book unless you live somewhere with access to many Asian ingredients.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

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Cookbook review: Donabe

Donabe: Classic and Modern Japanese Claypot Cooking by Naoko Takei Moore is a beautifully illustrated cookbook, but it one that is for serious Japanese cooks only.  First, the recipes calls for owning a donabe (pretty obvious with the title).  That isn’t the issue.  The issue is that you’ll need more than one donabe … you’ll need several different types of donabe.  The smaller donabe that serve one person go for about $30.  The larger ones that serve at least 4 go for about $75+.  For cooking great rice, you should get a double lidded donabe.  At the very least, you’ll need 2 donabe – one for rice, and one for a dish.  The donabe bottoms have to be completely dry before you put them on the range (otherwise it will crack) so you can’t cook the rice, move the rice to a different container and re-use the donabe for dinner.  If you do, the rice will be cold and will have to be reheated, thereby defeating the purpose of making donable-cooked rice in the first place.  Also, donabe can only be used on open flame so you can use it with a gas range, but you won’t be able to use it with an electric or induction range.  If you don’t have a gas range, you could get a butane burner.  Donabe is totally different from slow cooker pots so you can’t substitute the cooking vessel.  Basically, unless you have lots of storage space and money to spend on different types of donabe, this is more of a living room photobook than a cookbook.

There are also some hard-to-find ingredients, which is to be expected from a book that touts “classic” Japanese claypot cooking.  Here’s a sample of the hard-to-find ingredients: koya tofu (freeze dried tofu), kurozu (Japanese vinegar), koji (a special type of mold), and tororo kombu (a type of seasoned seaweed).

One of the things I learned from this book was that a rice cup =  3/4 an imperial (standard) cup.

If you want to try some of these recipes, there are a few donabe on sale on Amazon.  Another place I found was Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen.  The author said that they were resellers for a Japanese company that made donabe, but I didn’t see the information about ordering it from them in the cookbook.  I may have missed it, but I did look for it.

If you don’t own a donabe and have never cooked with claypots before, I would advise you to read the chapter on caring for your donabe very carefully before cooking.  You cannot heat it up without some sort of liquid inside, you need to be careful about fast temperature changes, etc.

Once again, I would only recommend this book to a serious Japanese food enthusiast.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.