My cookbook memoir format was inspired by “Aromas of Aleppo” by Poopa Dweck. I even lugged the large book back to Singapore to show my publisher what I envisioned. At that point, there were few local books of this kind, with rich illustrations and the weaving of a personal family story with the Peranakan food culture.
With “Aromas”, I had wanted a gift for my next door neighbor. I asked for a cookbook recommendation at the Jewish Museum gift shop, having noticed that my neighbor often got together with her friends, to bake pretty hamantaschen pastries and cook aromatic dishes for the Sabbath. They were all part of the tight-knit Sephardic-Jewish community and most interesting of all, they all lived in my building! After receiving the book, my neighbor knocked on my door. She knew the author’s family and explained that the book had been written by a mother grieving after her young son’s passing.
"Aromas" is an ode to the Syrian-Jewish community which has since dispersed to various parts of the world. Most of them were descended from Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 and to this day, some of them speak Ladino, an old form of Spanish. Aleppo is the ancient city in Syria where many Sephardic Jews settled. The prophet Abraham is said to have stopped there on his way to Canaan. The conquerors included the biblical Amorites and Hittites, the Mameluks, Ottomans, Mongols, Venetians, Romans and French. Inevitably, the Aleppians created a great culinary capital, utilizing the spices, herbs, grains, meats and vegetables influenced by these various groups. The Syrian-Jewish cuisine featured in this book includes tamarind, coriander and chillies - also found in Peranakan food - although the Aleppian chillies are milder.
I met Poopa Dweck many years later and told her of the influence that her book had on mine. There was a tinge of bittersweet emotions when she said “I did this for my son”.
“The Way of Kueh" is the ultimate bible if you are looking into perfecting local Singapore/ Malaysian cakes (kuehs). I have truly admired Christopher Tan from afar. I once read that he worked late into the night. This book proves his hard work. “The Way of Kueh” details the intricacies of kueh-making. He provides the origins of the kueh, suggests tips to improve, adds notes and anecdotes and writes painstaking methods to foolproof the outcome. I will benefit from it at all times, knowing how difficult it was to recreate my mother’s recipes from ground rice, whole coconuts, No.1 and No.2 coconut milk, and the archaic measurements and moulds. The kuehs took up most of my long duration in completing my cookbook and I am always trying to perfect them still. Christopher’s book (released after mine) has enlightened me to new understandings about certain ingredients and techniques. He also includes some of the rarest kuehs one can find in Singapore these days. His book justified a kueh I had considered pulling out of mine because I could not fathom if it even existed! According to an interview in his book, my mother’s recipe is for real!
Best of all, Christopher pays tribute to the old masters and profiles them. I can’t gush anymore but to thank Christopher. Because of this work, he has done us a favor, documenting our favorite desserts for posterity and crediting those who made them with knowledge. For that, he deserves generations of gratitude.
A cover as colorful and cheerful as this will brighten up your day. The food photographs in here will also mentally transport you to large gatherings on a large terrace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. You would want to invite friends over for a home cooked feast every summer weekend. This is the vibe.
Sabrina Ghayour was born in Iran and taught herself to cook, channeling her talents to becoming a chef, cookery teacher and food writer.
I have not tried any of the recipes as yet but here's my menu for the Champions League Finals when I will be having four friends over:
Cheddar and Feta Frittata
Yogurt and Harissa Marinated Chicken
Lamb Steaks with Preserved Lemon
Sausage, Potato, Pepper, Onion Bake
Coriander and Garlic Rice
Garlic Savoy Cabbage Ribbons
I brought my young teens to Penang two years ago and force fed us with as much of the local Penang food, to the point that they almost cried. That's how delicious the food is, whether it is from a street cart, an old grubby coffee shop, a smart upscale Peranakan hotel restaurant or a house converted into a restaurant. For anyone living away from home, it is very often the local food that makes you homesick. These two authors now live in Melbourne but grew up in Malaysia and made frequent visits to Penang to soak in the food scene.
The subtitle of the book is "Cult Recipes from the Streets that Make the City" and is justified by colorful snapshots of the street vendors in Penang. I always like these illustrations because they capture the food trade before it modernizes and disappears. For example, I can only describe the vanishing satay man in my cookbook memoir, but did not have the accompanying photo to further relate my story and make it more complete.
Because I grew up south of Penang, our two islands share many of the famous dishes. There are familiar names to recipes in my mother's files. These include "Inche Kabin" (fried chicken), and "Kari Kapitan".
The chapters are segmented into Early, Mid, and Late, recognizing that for many of us, delicious food just has to be eaten all day long.
The BBC Goodfood recipes are easy and fantastically delicious. It is a comprehensive magazine as well. The Asian edition had interviewed me back in 2012 during my book launch. For that, I am very grateful.
Now, you can create your own cookbook by compiling your favorite Goodfood recipes into your personal collection. I did just that by including some fantastic cakes (like the Victoria Sponge pictured here) as well as an Orange Jaffa Cake and classic Brownies. I ordered this personalized copy for my children to browse through in London, and therefore picked simple Asian meals, and easy-to-cook meat dishes and vegetable sides. I also created a copy for a friend for Mother's Day, featuring vegan dishes which are part of the repertoire from which you can choose from. Makes for a wonderful gift.
What an impressive cookbook. When I first read the first few pages, I had assumed that the writer was a middle-aged hausfrau who stayed at home cooking for her family. Not exactly. Betty Liu is a surgeon in training, in her early 30s, with a beautiful portfolio of photos to boot. Daughter of two immigrants from Shanghai, Betty documents in depth (and photographs them too) the dishes of her culture. Many of those featured reminded me of my short stint in Shanghai in 1994. Memories of da huntun and steaming/sizzling shengjianbao forever ingrained in my mind. (Photo on the left - fresh bamboo shoots recipe tested by me.)