Entrée to Asia: A Culinary Adventure
by Thomas Robson
Published by Raincoast Books
144 pages, 1999
Buy it online
Entrée to Adventure
Reviewed by Monica Stark
Though many authors have taken stabs at demystifying Asian foods for Westerners, few have done it with Thomas Robson's aplomb in Entrée to Asia. Readers of Robson's book will get a fast grounding in several Asian cuisines and styles of cooking as well as a quick fix of the local lore and culture of the locales in question.
Produced to look very much like a companion-piece to Robson's Emmy Award-nominated television series of the same name, Entrée to Asia whisks you through a culinary tour of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Obviously, with a travel agenda like that, such a slender volume will not be the definitive guide to cooking in any of those regions. However, the tastes that Robson has selected -- as well as the "Kitchenary" of terms and methods -- offers a strong appetizer to the culinary offerings of the East.
In Entrée to Asia, Robson hasn't attempted to offer an entire day-in-the-life-of menu. Rather, the recipes he's opted to include would lend themselves to being served as either an appetizer or main course. And thus, among others, we have Curry Noodles from Singapore; Coconut Rice from Malaysia; Thai Corn Cakes from Thailand and Braised Prawns from Hong Kong. Altogether 54 recipes are included, though the bulk of these -- a total of 32 -- are credited to Thailand.
Part of the success of Entrée to Asia is due to the sensible-yet-stylish layout and easy-to-follow instructions. Each recipe is given two pages. One of the two is a beautifully-reproduced photo -- sometimes of one of the ingredients in the recipes, photographed in situ, sometimes of the finished recipe and sometimes of street vendors or market chefs and even statuary. The "business" page is given over to a brief but illuminative description of the food to follow ("In the mid-afternoon, and only in the mid-afternoon, there is a place on the edge of Chinatown, near the Chao Phraya River, where you can buy freshly cooked corn cakes..."). The listing of ingredients is highlighted within a pale-colored box, with a result that's so restful to the eye and visually appealing, it's a wonder that more cookbook publishers don't use it. The balance of the page is given to the recipe's method and either a salient kitchen tip ("You can use either fresh or frozen corn in this recipe. If you use frozen kernels...") or a small, related photograph. The result is a pleasing two-page spread that's a delight to the kitchen-busy eye. Since the same format is used throughout the book, it's easy for the chef at work to pick up the rhythm of the book and find what you need at a glance.
Overall, Entrée to Asia is a stylish and useful addition to the wannabe fusion chef's cookbook library. A smattering of solid recipes -- many of them staples of the area represented -- and enough strong photographs to wake the travel bug. A winning combination. | January 2000
MONICA STARK is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and editor.