I am driven to describe some cookbooks as recipes with a bit of travel. Other volumes I have reviewed as travel adventures with some cooking on the side. Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing Cookbook is as much a travelogue as an encyclopaedia of every culinary tradition of Northern Laos.
Note that I suggest that there is more than one cuisine in Northern Laos. In fact there are several distinct cultures that call this region home. Some of these groups have lived there for many hundreds of years whilst others have moved in more recently from the neighbouring countries, and naturally they have brought with them their style of cooking and their love of diverse foods.
The Boat Landing in question is a guest house and restaurant which introduces travellers to the food of this corner of Laos. These dishes represent the regular fare of the local population. They have been carefully chosen to appeal to the Western palate but are authentic and un-adapted.
Now, it’s true that there are some recipes here that will be a bit challenging if one does not either live in the tropics or have access to a good Asian supermarket. But there is much here that can be made with the spices that you will likely have lingering at the back of your larder. There are even dishes that are familiar to lovers of south-east Asian food. Pho originated in Vietnam but now this soup has become a Laotian favourite.
The book starts by tempting the reader to visit this charming and culturally rich corner of our shrinking planet. Each of the resident communities is presented in prose and pictures. It’s a small world that’s fast changing – this book is as much about archiving the lives and values of the population of Northern Laos as it is about preserving its culinary heritage. A couple of hours in the company of this book will have even those who are strangers to the inside of a kitchen booking a flight to Laos.
Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing Cookbook is a must for any passionate cook who might be considering a trip to south-east Asia. Many of us are enthusiastic home chefs who are comfortable preparing Indian curries, Japanese domburis, Chinese dim sum and Thai soups, but this book introduces so many unfamiliar ingredients and combinations. Yes, it’s true that some dishes have been influenced by other cuisines, but Laos has indeed cultivated its own culinary identity.
Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing Cookbook is well written, and illustrated by some of the finest photography of that region that one will ever find. A credit to both the author, Dorothy Culloty, and the photographer, Kees Sprengers.
Food from Northern Laos – The Boat Landing Cookbook
Author: Dorothy Culloty; photographer: Kees Sprengers
Published by: Galangal Press
Asian cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018