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Southeast Asian Specialities

by: edited by Rosalind Mowe

Cologne Germany: Konemann 1998, $20.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 3-89508-909-5

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 1999 Issue: 6(4) page(s): 19 and 20

This culinary journey is through Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It is an excellent view of the foods of these countries and their Chinese influences. Makes sense, as the Chinese did take control of trade between these islands for many years. Browse in the detailed text and enjoy the myriad of superb photographs of cooking equipment, foods, farms, and markets. It is typical of the excellent series of which this is one. The series is called: Culinaria.

The editor is a fine teacher and a wonderful researcher. Every page shows her attention to detail. The three-hundred-nineteen-page volume, after the editor's preface, begins with a map of the region and then provides one hundred pages about Singapore. Appropriately, it begins and concentrates on information about Chinese cuisine as made in this island nation. Meals, food items, festivals, wines and other beverages, and eating out are all there in a most savory manner. There are thirty-two photographs of dim sum which deliciously jump from the page. They and the others travel to your taste buds, and are about breakfast, tea, healing including soup as medicine, meal components, Chinese regional cuisines eaten in Singapore, a taste of Eurasian foods, wines, and other alcoholic beverages.

There is much to learn just in the section on vegetables. See them for sale in several places, learn about thirty-two of them, each with a half-size colored photograph, their name in Chinese characters and transliterated, and how to use them. The cultivation of mushrooms shows a dozen different varieties, the pages about equipment do, too. The information about foods and the recipes are special in this and in every section.

In the next hundred pages one vicariously travels to Malaysia and vicariously taste coconuts, Nangka (jackfruit), pineapples, herbs and spices of this land, various vegetables, sea foods including blacan (a dried shrimp paste sometimes spelled belacan), eating and fasting, the indigenous peoples called Orang Asli, and so much more.

The final journey is with the peoples of the thirteen thousand islands of Indonesia, barely half of them inhabited. Rice as Nasi Tumpeng, Gudeng, Nasi Padang, and noodles as Laksa Ayam, Bakmie Goreng, Mee Soto, and more are mixed with the making and use of tempeh, spices, coffee, tea, cocoa, and cooking.

The book is wonderfully detailed, the foods are, too. One page about bananas shows seven different varieties and then discusses ten of them. Sucking pigs are seen hung to dry, roasted, carved, and then replaced on the frame for presentation. The page about water spinach shows it in the field, among more than a dozen greens for sale in the market, and in a dish of Kangkong Goreng Blacan on the plate.

The book and the food contained therein are artfully yours from seasonings to seasons, festivals to fruits, herbs to harvest. This adventurous volume is a masterpiece of presentation and preparation from simple dishes to the sumptuous. Though not Asian, you will be tempted to travel through two other Culinaria books, those of Spain and France.
Sweet Sesame Rice Noodles
1 pound rice noodles, soaked in warm water for twenty minutes
1/2 cup chicken stock
5 Tablespoons sesame paste mixed with five tablespoons warm water
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Scallions, minced, for garnish
3 Tablespoons prepared dried shrimp, for garnish
1. Drain the rice noodles and pat dry. Then heat the stock, add the noodles, and keep on medium heat until all the liquid has evaporated (about ten minutes) and then put them on a serving platter.
2. Put sesame paste and water, and the sugar into a blender. If needed, an additional Tablespoon of water can be added as you blend these until they are very smooth. Pour this over the noodles and garnish with scallions and minced shrimp.
Note: To prepare the dried shrimp, soak them in hot water until soft then drain and dry with a paper towel. Heat oil and fry the shrimp until crisp then drain them on another paper towel. Can be stored in refrigerator for three to five days.
Pigeon Soup in Bamboo Bowls
2 ounces pigeon meat
4 ounces minced pork
3 water chestnuts
1 dried scallop, soaked for an hour, then drained and minced
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1. Mix all the ingredients and put one fourth of each into a tall bamboo cup, often called a bamboo bowl; the correct size holds about six ounces. Then fill the cup to the top with water.
2. Put the cups uncovered in a steamer. Steam them for an hour, remove and serve.

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