When I started thinking about this cookbook giveaway project, I didn’t realize that it would be an exercise in grief. Not that I’m so attached to the pages themselves, it’s all about what they represent to me.
This beautiful mango pudding didn’t come from “The Food of Malaysia: Authentic Recipes From The Crossroads Of Asia,” although it very well could have. Nor did I test it for you today. It’s been a long time since I made it, and I’ll most likely never make it again. Just as I’ll never again make anything from this lovely book.
I picked up this book today because just looking at it gave me a swift and sharp craving for Malaysian food. I’m used to doing a lot of vicarious traveling with food, and I love shopping in little hole in the wall stores where not all of the food is labelled in English, taking home my mystery ingredients and whipping up a dish that transports me instantly to places I’ve never been. Malaysian food is perfect for that, it’s exotic, savory, intriguing, full of umami, and sadly, sweet. Every single recipe has sugar, or starch, most often both. Leafing through the book makes me realize that now I can never visit Malaysia. There would be nothing at all for me to eat. It makes me cry to hear that door slam. I wonder what Malaysian diabetics do eat?
It’s true that the book has a daunting list of ingredients: candlenuts, cloud ear fungus, daun kesum, ikan bilis, pandan leaf, belacan. Fortunately, living near Seattle, I can find those things. What puts me off though, and why you may have this book if you’d like it, is the sugar. Lots of the recipes contain no more that a teaspoon, or a tablespoon, of the stuff, so someone might admonish me to just leave it out. But no, Asian cooking is predicated on the balance of subtle flavors, and even a teaspoon of sugar will transform a dish.
Someone else might admonish me that a few grains of sugar or a bit of rice aren’t going to hurt me. And they might be right. But as I think we all know, that’s a slippery slope, one I’m not inclined to step onto. And so for now, and maybe forever, no Malaysian food for me. No Thai food, my hands-down favorite cuisine in the world. No Japanese food and precious little Chinese food.
I could keep the book, and others based on the forbidden cuisines, hoping that someday my world might change and I’d be able to plunge back into these favorite foods. Just like deep in the garage I have a box of clothes that are too small, kept in case I’d ever be able to wear them again. Some of those garments I’ve had for 20 years, without being able to bear giving them up. Hope dies an aching, invisible death. So which is better, to fan the flames with constant reminders, or to just walk away?
But on a more practical note, my bookcases are overflowing, and if Malaysian food speaks to you like it does to me, don’t be afraid of this book. There are stories about the various cuisines that have come together in ethnically diverse Malaysia to create its special food, pictures and explanations of ingredients and techniques, nice pictures of the finished dishes, everything you need to get started. If you live in a small town without access to Asian ingredients this probably isn’t the book for you, because the ingredients are pretty hardcore. But if you’re brave and have a good Asian market near you, have at it, it’s well worth it.
If you’re ready for a trip to Malaysia, just leave a comment saying so. If several people would like this book, I’ll put your names in a mixing bowl, give them a good stir, and draw one. I’ll send it to you and I’ll ask you to pay for the postage, if you can, via PayPal. For security and anti-spam reasons, please don’t put your email address or snail mail address in the Comments section. When you comment I see your email address and I’ll contact you soon if I draw your name. Give this book a good home, make something delicious from it, and I’ll be happy.