Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Drinking Food of Thailand

Title:  The Drinking Food of Thailand
Author:  Andy Ricker, JJ  Goode, and Austin Bush (photographer)
Publication Information:  Ten Speed Press. 2017. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1607747731 / 978-1607747734

Book Source:  I received this book through Blogging for Books free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Long before I opened Pok Pok, before I even knew there was such a thing as 'Norther Thai food,' I learned a lesson about drinking in Thailand."

Favorite Quote:  "It also deserves note that the title of teh book is The Drinking Food of Thailand, not Thai Drinking Food. This might seems like a minor distinction, but it's an important one. It's meant to emphasize that the dishes eaten in Thailand have points of origin as diverse as the people and ethnicities - Thai, Tai Yai, Chinese, Burmese, Lao, among others - who make up the population of the country."

What, you might ask, is drinking food and why would a non-drinker like myself explore drinking food? The author sets the expectation. Drinking food is:
  • "to be snacked on while you make merry"
  • "defined as much as by what they are as by whether they're eaten with rice, or at least enough to fill you up" 
  • "typically eaten from a communal plate"
This definition conjures up an image of foods I am familiar with as every culture has its compendium of snack foods. My interest in food and culture draws me to this book even as a non-drinker. It is a different look than can be seen in other Thai food cookbooks. So, there are two ways to look at this book - as a cookbook and as a travelogue into a food culture. I choose it for the latter, but let's look at it as a cookbook first.

Some recipes in this book meet the image I conjure up of bar food, and some definitely do not. That is where the cultural education comes in. "Thais have a particular roster - and a particularly vast and exciting one - of dishes that are closely associated with drinking that I've seen again and again ... Often insistently spicy, salty, chewy, and/or sour, they're meant ... to keep the night going."

The book categorizes the recipes as follows:  snacks, soup, chile dips, fried foods, grilled foods, salads, stir fries, and late-night/morning food. Some like snacks, dips, and fried foods I expect. Other such as soup, salads, and stir-fries I don't expect on a bar food menu. As a reference, the book also includes a section on staple recipes such as spices mixes and sauces.

Delving deeper into the book furthers the cultural education for some of the ingredients are new to me, and the combination of the ingredients is new to my cooking. The book contains recipes for only about 50 dishes plus a handful of staple recipes. Some like fried cashews are relatively simple and self explanatory. Others, however, have much more complex with a much longer list of ingredients. (I counted 30 for one recipe!)

The author does note that no ingredient substitutions are noted unless they absolutely won't impact flavor of the dish, and that shopping at an online source or a Asian grocery story will be necessary to find the ingredients. Interestingly, the author also notes, "for the most part, the recipes in this book will be easier to cook ... This is not because I've dumbed them down, but rather because drinking food tends to require less work than other culinary categories." 

The relatively short list of recipes and the specialized ingredients means this will not likely be a cookbook I turn to often. And that's okay because this is one I pick and enjoy for the cultural introduction. I have never traveled to Thailand; nor am I likely to experience this drinking aspect of Thai culture. This book provides that arm chair travel.

The recipes in the book are punctuated by images and stories from the author's travels in Thailand. Andy Ricker is an American restaurateur who has spent over two decades traveling through and studying Northern Thai food. He brings that knowledge back to an American audience through his restaurants and now his books. For that look into culture and foods and ingredients different than those familiar to me, I truly appreciate this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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