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Feb 14, 2005 01:36 PM

Good Thai or Chinese Cookbooks

  • m

I've moved from New York to South Florida, and though I gained in the food of Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, and Brazil, I've lost out on the food of Asia (well, unless Caribbean curries and roti count). I've found a neighborhood with some good food from the Indian subcontinent, but the rest of Asia is MIA.

The Thai restaurants down here - and I mean the ones that are recommended on Chowhound - use red pepper flakes rather than fresh chiles. The supposedly good Chinese restaurants, which are all Hong Kong Chinese, are weak as well, and forget finding any of the cuisines of mainland China. There's no Indonesian to be found at all.

There are a couple of Asian markets, however, so I'd love to learn to cook Thai or Chinese myself.

Does anyone have recommendations for well-written cookbooks? I'd love Thai, Indonesian, Szechuan, or any regional Chinese.

Books with just recipes are fine, but if the books had text about what is distinctive about the cuisines, explanations of ingredients, and descriptions of how to build a meal, it would be even better. I know that I can look on Amazon, but chow-tested books are usually the best.

Thanks for your help in advance.

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  1. The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young, published in 1999 by Simon & Schuster.

    Ms. Young is of Cantonese heritage raised in California. She had to spend time with her parents as an adult to learn the how and why of Cantonese culinary arts because she did not get involved in food preparation at home as a child. The book is a cultural excursion as well as a cookbook.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ChiliDude

      I also recommend The Breath of a Wok : Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore, Grace Young's latest cookbook. This is a wonderful book, with lots of info re wok cooking. Check out the description of the family "wok-a-thon" at which moms, dads, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. all cooked their favorite wok (or, in most cases, frypan) recipes.


    2. Irene Kuo's Key to Chinese Cooking is out of print but you can probably find it at Amazon. The book is divided into 2 sections and the first is all about teaching you technique and the second are recipes that build upon the first section. It is sort of like the Chinese version of Masterng the Art of French Cooking. Elieen Yin Fei Lo also has several good books and another fasinating book is by Corinne Trang. It is Essentials of Asian Cuisine. It is an amazingly good read as well as a cookbook. She will take a recipe for instance spring rolls and then explore how all of the different Asian cuisines make it, Vietnamese, Laotian, Chinese, Thai etc. You might check and see what your library has on it's shelves too and see if you prefer one author over another before buying.

      1. I have been wondering about the cookbooks by Martin Yan...of public television. He makes Chinese cooking look so effortless..has anyone used his Quick and Easy book???? Or any other books written by him?

        3 Replies
        1. re: Erica

          I have had his Chinatown Cooking out of the library and liked it qute a bit, there were some very interesting things in it. I may check to see if Half Price Books has it on the shelf the next time I am in Indanapolis

          1. re: Erica

            I have two of his cookbooks, gifts from friends who know of my Chinese cooking obsession.I've cooked a few things from them, and really don't think they're great. I wouldn't buy them for myself...

            I *have * bought Fuschia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty", I have Mai Pham"s "Pleasure's of the Vietnamese Table", which includes many Northern Thai influenced recipes, "Dancing ShrimP', by Kasma Loha-Unchit, lots of fish-intensive Thai, and "Thai Vegetarian Cooking", by Vatcharin Bhhumichitr. The last was a gift, and it is FULL of surpisingly authentic recipes and techniques that you can alter for meat or fish-eaters...

            Plus, I have gotten a lot of my favorite Thai recipes from blogs, especially "Chez Pim", linked below...


            1. re: Erica

              My husband is Chinese-American, and a long time ago, his mom gave him "The Well-Seasoned Wok" by Martin Yan. While the recipes tend to be more fusiony than traditional, I do think they are very accessible for someone who wants to start dabbling in Asian cooking--the book traverses popular dishes from various Asian countries.
              In particular, his chicken satay w/ homemade peanut sauce is probably the best homemade satay I've eaten. It is a bit involved, and it's important to grill the skewered meat for the right flavor. Other things my husband has made that were tasty: 3-cup chicken, fish in banana leaf.

              If you want more "authentic" Chinese cooking, then you might want to go to a used bookstore to find some old-school books by less well-known authors. My in-laws use books by Stella Chan and Mrs. Ma. For contemporary authors, consider Grace Young or Eileen Yin-Fei Lo.

            2. Fuschia Dunlop's 'Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking' is awesome.

              'Thai Food' by David Thompson is supposed to be like the bible or something but I've never used it.
              I like Nancie McDermott's 'Real Thai'

              1. If you want the real thing, Ken Hom's A Taste of China is very good. This isn't Chinatown food; the recipes really took me back to the stuff I ate in Taiwan.