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Definitive ethnic cookbooks (update)

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Thanks for all the good posts. I've compiled a list that may or may not represent some degree of consensus as an easier frame of reference. There are a number of cuisines not covered, and I would invite anyone who missed the last thread to chime in. And, of course, please quibble with these choices. I've listed the name, author, most recent year of publication, and price on Amazon.com (% of sales goes to Chowhound site, no?). All are hardback unless noted otherwise.

Italian – “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”, Marcella Hazan (1992), $21

French – “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, Julia Child (2001), $28

Moroccan – “Couscous and Other Good Foods from Morocco”, Paula Wolfert (1987), $12.60 (paperback)

Middle Eastern – “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food”, Claudia Rodin (2000), $24.50

Northern Indian – “Classic Indian Cooking”, Julie Sahni (1980), $18.87

Southern Indian – “Curried Flavors: Family Recipes for South India”, Maya Kaimal MacMillan (2002), $17.47 (paperback)

Korean – “The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm”, Copeland Marks and Manjo Kim (1999), $10.36 (paperback)

Vietnamese – “Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table”, Mai Pham (2001), $19.25 or “The Best of Vietnamese and Thai Cooking”, Mai Pham (1996), $16.07(paperback)

Japanese – “Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art”, Shizuo Tsuji (1980),$28

General Asian – “The Complete Asian Cookbook”, Charmaine Solomon (2002-not yet released), $27.97 or “Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia”, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (2000), $31.50

Mexican – “The Essential Cuisines of Mexico”, Diana Kennedy (2000), $24.50

A few notes: I really tried to narrow it down to one for each cuisine-two posters liked Pham's later book and hadn't used her earlier book, but Amazon reviewers liked the earlier book better, for whatever that's worth.

The two "general Asian" cookbooks are obviously not devoted to a specific cuisine, but they were so enthusiastically praised that it seemed worth including them.

Diana Kennedy's cookbook is a combination of three previous books: "The Cuisines of Mexico", "The Tortilla Book", and "Mexican Regional Cooking".

Link: http://www.amazon.com

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  1. You might consider Lang's book on Hungarian cooking

    1. t
      The Pie Queen

      Of course, if you subscribe to ChowNews you will automatically get a distillation of long and complex threads such as that one.


      5 Replies
      1. re: The Pie Queen

        Yeah, but ChowNews covers LA, SF, and NY. I'm stuck in a city with only one name and no recognizable initials...no ChowNews for Chi-town.

        1. re: Aaron D
          The Pie Queen

          Bummer! Didn't think of that. I wonder if they could make a ChowNews at a reduced rate that just included the general topics section.

          1. re: The Pie Queen

            As a Bostonian who doesn't get to NY much (but drool a lot!), I read Chownews for the General Topics section...Maybe after the first 6 months of subscriptions run out, the Big Dogs could market the General Topics notes as a separate subscription? It has as much value as any of the others, esp. for those who don't have time (I know, it's hard to believe; but I've spoken to them!) to read all the General Topics posts...And they ARE a whole other set of tips unto themselves!

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            1. re: galleygirl

              I live in Atlanta and subscribe to the NYC Chownews for the General topics. Totally worth it.

            2. re: The Pie Queen

              Sheesh, Your Highness! A "reduced rate"???

              A subscription to ChowNews costs FIFTEEN BUCKS! And it's worth TONS more!

              Sorry to get all-caps on you, but we provide so much value each week, for such ridiculously low cost.............mmphpfhpppomgggggmmff! (sound of muffled cartoonish exasperation)

              : )


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        2. Thank you so much for you efforts, Aaron. You've done a real service for the commmunity.

          1. Marks' book on Korean cooking is good, but I think much better is a new book by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall called "Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen" (Ten Speed). For Thai, I'd also recommend Nancy McDermott's books--she's not Thai, but lived there for several years and the recipes are incredible.

            1 Reply
            1. re: russ parsons

              Thanks, Russ. I'd heard some complaints about Marks' book by native Koreans, but they sort of suggested that it's just a cuisine underserved by English cookbooks. Glad to know there's something better.

            2. If you want Chowhound to receive that commission on your Amazon purchase, you need to click through to Amazon from the CH home page. Scroll down a bit and look to the right of the page, and you'll see the Amazon search box.

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              1. I owe a great deal to Julia Child's _Mastering the Art_, but I respectfully question whether it represents the totality of French cuisine in a manner which speaks to our own times. It's haute cuisine, presented, in her own words, in a form which could be prepared from the ingredients then available in a military PX.

                Among the older classics, I suspect that Elizabeth David's work, especially _French Provincial Cooking_, is closer to being timeless and has, in fact, exerted a profound influence on more than one generation of our best chefs in a way that Child has not.

                5 Replies
                1. re: John Whiting

                  I think that Child will continue to have an effect on a small (elite, if you prefer) group of cooks in forming their early approach to cooking. THose books do not pretend to be exhaustive and the authors recognize that no compendium ever can be complete. The best one can do is hit the basics--boiling, baking, frying, sauteeing and the foods that are suited to each. Folllowing that, some recipes that show the inventiveness of a particular cook or a region and that gets the reader thinking along parallel lines.

                  I think Child will continue to light a path for the enthusiastic novice and give thought to a gifted young professional. Older pros will know most of the classics--coquille St Jacques, for instance. How hard is it? There are variations on the theme, though. I do know several peole who have been defeated by a recipe--and not just in Child--that has several steps that wear down their enthusiasm. Hence the rush towards the more modern "easier" recipes, some of which are just plain blasphemous. On the other hand, there are the books that distress the shelves at Xmas and which call for impossible-to-find ingredients and demand three days of effort. Such books are usually consigned to providing a flash of color from their flashy spines as they sit (dusty) on the kitchen shelf.

                  For sheer impact, I think it is hard to discount Rombauer's early books (not so much the modern stuff which, to be fair, has more competition). I have know several generations of fine cooks who grew up on Joy of Cooking from 1930, 40, 50 and, indeed, the book does have the basics. Hollandaise is hollandaise, after all. ONce the cook has mastered these, he can go on to add wasabi or whatever little touch may be preferred.

                  1. re: John Whiting

                    What about an Escoffier? Some of Julia's quotes (i.e. "see your Escoffier...) assume the cook has one available. They do look interesting. Are they a worthy addition to a home kitchen?

                    1. re: Tater

                      I think Child is reasonable in expecting a serious cook to have Escoffier. I was lucky enough to grow up with my father's copy lying around (with my father's handwritten stab (and a good one) at Oysters Rockefeller jotted inside). I'd include it in any decent cookbook collection, as well as having Larousse, MFK Fisher and other standard culinary delights. escoffier in the library is sort of like his first chapter, fond de cuisine: It is a great foundation.

                      1. re: Hazelhurst

                        i broke my list down by categories, so i got to cheat a little bit and list more than one author/book per cuisine.

                        best authors:
                        marcella hazan (the importance of good ingredients. all of her books should be purchased immediately. they are amazing.)
                        jacques pepin, la technique (the cooking techniques video series is essentially the video version of the book. i think kqed sells it. it is a must-have for any serious cook.)
                        richard olney (creativity. his books throw out a million ideas and variations and leaves out most of the detail. he leaves it to you to figure it out.
                        julia (detail, precision. espeically helpful if you are confused by olney's "recipes")

                        best regional authors:
                        tsuji - japan (_japanese cooking, a simple art_ is an amaazing book on japanese cooking and cuisine)
                        bugialli - italy (assuming you already own all of marcella's books. he is a culinary historian and covers the cuisine of italy better than marcella. marcella's books are better cookbooks though.)
                        beard - america
                        kennedy - mexico
                        madhur jaffery - india

                        French cuisine is a tough one. i mean Escoffier is without question, Definitive (capital D), on french cooking. but, it isn't used at home. julia covers the bases, but i think of her as more "how to cook" generally, not french. i would go with patricia wells for modern french cooking. she works with chefs and cooks from various regions (see her book with joel roebechon (sp?), _the cooking of southwest france_, and _bistro cooking_ for great examples)

                        other books i love:
                        alice waters - chez panisse vegetables - what to do with any type of veggie. a great starting point for creative chefs.
                        andres soltner (former chef at lutece. great french and alsatian dishes, beautifully written.)
                        *paul prudhomme - louisiana kitchen and seasoned america
                        *wolfgang puck - modern french cooking and adventures in the kitchen

                        *i must admit i have a bias for these two books because i learned to cook from them. they are battered, but still in use.

                        best food writing:
                        clementine in the kitchen
                        tender at the bone
                        man who ate everything

                        best reference:
                        food lovers's companion (the dictionary of food and ingredients)
                        new professional chef (the cia textbook)
                        harold mcgee, the science of cooking


                        thank you for the suggestions. now i have some korean and hungarian cookbooks to check out.

                    2. re: John Whiting

                      I love MFK Fisher's book on Provincial French Cooking for the Time-Life series of yesteryear. She covers home-style French cooking with her usual compassion and insight.

                    3. I just joined this thread but for Chinese I have to recommend Ken Hom's book in which he journeys to several places in China (my copy is packed and I can't think of the name!) ... black cover with red writing, photos of markets and home-cooked meals inside. I've lived in Sichuan and Shanghai and these recipes turn out delicious truly authentic Chinese food in all its (sometimes) oily glory. This stuff tastes like food in China does and it's one I use often. Highlights are the hongshao dofu and pork stir-fried with green (hot) peppers. Also some regional recipes rarely included in Chinese cookbooks, like fried goat cheese. A necessary addition to any ethnic cookbook library!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: foodfirst

                        The Taste of China by Ken Hom is the book you are referring to. It chronicles his travels over the course of two years throughout China. He returned to his ancestral village with his Mother. The photographs by Leong Ka Tai are worth the price alone....no "fake" looking studio photos - everything was shot with available light. His candid views about the quality of cooking in state run restaurants didn't earn him many friends among the government bureaucrats. An interesting book....