Burma: Rivers of Flavor
by Naomi Duguid
Publisher: Artisan, Country: US
ISBN: 9781579654139, Year: 2012
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

Food author and world traveler Naomi Duguid explores the cuisine of Burma in her sixth book. Lovers of Southeast Asian food will enjoy cooking through this book of authentic home-style Burmese cooking, with recipes obtained from the author’s travels and interacting with cooks in the country. Various essays, brief histories, and beautiful snapshots of Burmese culture complete the portrait of this cuisine.

Full review

Structure of the book

The book has 121 recipes in 11 chapters and 302 pages:
Burma Basics (9 recipes): pantry staples, including tua nao (soybean disks), fried shallots, and dried shrimp powder;
Salads (16 recipes), including Gyin Thoke (Ginger Salad), Tohu Thoke (Tofu Salad), and Laphet Thoke (Tea-leaf salad);
Soups (13 recipes);
Mostly Vegetables (18 recipes);
Fish and Seafood (9 recipes), including Laap Pla (Catfish Laap);
Chicken (10 recipes);
Beef and Pork (9 recipes);
Condiments and Sauces (12 recipes), including Ngapi Yei;
Mostly Rice (9 recipes);
Noodles (7 recipes), including Mohinga;
and Sweet Treats (9 recipes).
The book begins with an introduction of Burma, its history and culture, and ends with a short section on drinks in Burmese cuisine and tips for traveling in Burma. Interspersed throughout the chapters are short essays on Burmese culture.

About the author

From the publisher’s website:

Naomi Duguid is a photographer, writer, world traveler, and great cook. She is a contributing editor of Saveur magazine and writes the bimonthly “Global Pantry” column in Cooking Light. She conducts an intensive cultural-immersion-through-food course in Chiang Mai, Thailand, called Immerse Through. Her earlier books, all co-written with Jeffrey Alford, are Flatbreads and Flavors; HomeBaking; Seductions of Rice; Hot Sour Salty Sweet; Mangoes and Curry Leaves; and Beyond the Great Wall. Her weekly posts at www.naomiduguid.blogspot.com often explore home-cooked foods in their cultural context.

Main Review

Despite the presence of a handful of mainstream Burmese restaurants in the US and the increasing popularity of Southeast Asian cuisine in the world, it seems as though Burmese cuisine still remains largely unexplored by many home cooks. There have been a few cookbooks from a decade ago on Burmese cooking from Hippocrene, Periplus, and Chronicle Books. Duguid uses her high profile in the food writing world to shine a light on the food of Burma, and the resulting book is an awe-inspiring love letter to the country, expressed through its cuisine.

Though many of the ingredients used are familiar to those who have cooked Southeast Asian and Indian food, the book does a remarkable job of illustrating how these ingredients are used in a way that is uniquely Burmese. For many cooks, the ingredients shouldn’t be hard to find (shallots, garlic, fish sauce, tamarind, chilies, and coriander predominate), and a handful of recipes push the boundaries of grocery-shopping a little more, but not unreasonably so (requiring shrimp paste or chickpea flour). There are very few recipes that call for rare ingredients such as banana flowers or fermented tea leaves, and to Duguid’s credit, she doesn’t hold back on requiring these ingredients for the sake of authenticity. If your aim is to come as close to a Burmese dining experience at home, Duguid delivers, complete with short stories of the people who shared the recipes with her, from street vendors to friends.

Duguid’s photographs of Burma complete the experience, and make the book seem almost like a hybrid of a cookbook and a travel guide. The dishes are a mix of street-side treats and everyday dishes, painting an accurate portrait of humble, home-style cooking in Burma. Don’t expect festive, bombastic dishes: in this book, it’s all about the salads, curries, and stews (though serving a whole fish would probably be as close to bombastic as the cuisine goes).

While the book provides an astounding depth of experience and commentary of Burmese cuisine and culture, disappointingly, only a few recipes have their Romanized Burmese names attached to them. It can be deflating to go through such an effort to explore an unfamiliar culture (not to mention the Asian grocery-hopping) only to eat something called Eggplant Delight or Lemongrass-Ginger Sliders. But whatever the name, the unique flavors and feel of the food are unmistakably Burmese.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Cooks with a penchant for Asian home cooking and easy access to fairly exotic ingredients will benefit the most from the book.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 5. Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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Burma, Naomi Duguid | 2012 | US, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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