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Good Thai or Chinese Cookbooks

  • m
  • Mamab Feb 14, 2005 01:36 PM

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.

      Link: http://www.graceyoung.com/

    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...

            Link: http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/

            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.

                1. For Thai try "Cracking the Coconut: Classic Thai Home Cooking" by Su Mei Yu. She provides thorough descriptions of ingredients and techniques. I learn something new every time I open it.

                  1. s
                    Sunshine Girl

                    For Christmas, my mother gave me "Foolproof Thai Cooking: Popular and Easy Recipes from the World's Favorite Asian Chef" by Ken Hom

                    While I've not made everything in the book, my boyfriend and I have made the Thai BBQ chicken (or something like that) - a blend in the marinade of coconut milk, turmeric, lime, chili, etc. So spicy and goooooooood! Based on that recipe alone, I've been pleased with the book!

                    1. I second the recommendations on

                      Irene Kuo's Keys to Chinese Cooking
                      Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (called by some the Julia Child of Chinese cooking)
                      Grace Young (who is going to be at the Chinese Historical Society in SF this Saturday at 1 p.m. for a lecture and booksigning, has a wonderful writing style).

                      Regarding Martin Yan, though he is a wonderful showman (does lots of cooking demos at charity benefits), IMHO his primary audience is not Asian. For example, in watching a recent episode of his TV show, he did some dumplings...with white meat chicken breast only, and no pork fat. If you ask most any old-school chinese chefs or look at most dumpling recipes on the net or in cookbooks, they call for some fat (usually pork or at the very least using dark meat chicken)... Still, I've never made a bad Martin Yan recipe, and his instructions are clear and ingredient lists not onerous. If anything, kudos to Martin for making Chinese cooking more accessible/less mysterious to home cooks, and it's nice to see him use cookware/equipment that the average person has in her/his kitchen.

                      You might also want to also check out the Wei Chuan series of cookbooks (from Taiwan). They are bilingual, Chinese and English, with step-by-step picture instructions.

                      Eileen Yin-Fei Lo made an interesting comment in her Chinese Kitchen cookbook that the Chinese food you get in the U.S. (or Europe) is not at all like what you get in China...that what we have here is gastronomic offspring of what origionally were forced marriages of economic and social circumstances, and they've come to be considered Chinese through and through, though decidedly are not.

                      1. Bar none the best Thai (and SE Asian in general) cook book is:

                        Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia

                        Available on Amazon.com and not just a good cook book but a great read as well. The Chang Mai noodles (pg. 219 if I remember correctly) are one of the best quick dinners known to man.

                        Ever Hungry

                        1. This may be too late, but I could not resist putting in my two cents:

                          Chinese:

                          You cannot go wrong with Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty" (also known as "Sichuan Cookery" in the UK). Excellent resource, and very easy to follow, for Sichuan cuisine.

                          Also very good is "Breath of a Wok" by Grace Yeung, which is more geared toward Cantonese dishes, though some others also sneak in. Also good for technique.

                          The "Chinese Kitchen" by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo is also excellent, again with a focus on Cantonese cuisine.

                          I also like the Wei-Chuan series of books (with titles like "Chinese Seafood", "Chinese Dishes", etc), produced by a maker of Chinese condiments.

                          Thai:

                          David Thompson's "Thai Food" (original title, huh) is a huge compendium of info on Thai recipes, extremely thorough, and very pleasant to thumb through.

                          Victor Sodsook's "True Thai" is another excellent book for Thai cuisine. Also very good is "Real Thai" by Nancie McDermott.

                          I would also like to recommend a Cambodian cookbook, "The Elephant Walk Cookbook" by Longteine de Monteiro, owner of the Elephant Walk restaurant in the Boston area. Great book, generally easy to follow, and the outcome is almost always great, too.

                          Good luck!

                          1. So many great recommendations already! I second Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty", Grace Young's "Breath of the Wok", and David Thompson's "Thai Food. To add to your already extensive list, I found Kasma Loh-Unchit's Thai cookbooks very good and the food does always turn out delicious. I realised you have also asked for Indonesian. Sadly, there aren't that many Indonesian cookbooks, but I will say that Sri Owen does them really well with good descriptions of each regional Indonesian cuisine.

                            Enjoy!