I was very slow at braving street food when travelling. When you’re hundreds of miles away from home, trying something cooked by the side of the road, can feel like a risk too far. The last thing you want to do with your valuable holiday time is spend it communing with God on the great white telephone. It turns our my cloistered western view of food hygiene was doing my stomach a disservice. After finally eating the most incredible Pad Thai in central Thailand, cooked on the back of cart, I became a convert. The best thing about street food, is that it’s what the locals eat. More often than not, it’s an authentic experience.
In this book Lonely Planet are offering you the chance to bring street food into the kitchen. On one level this is absurd; it’s not street food if you cook it at home. It’s about as far from authentic as you can get. Otherwise though, it’s a brilliant idea; I still fantasise about Vietnamese Pho ten years on from travelling, and now I can cook my own. This is an evocative and mouthwatering cookbook. It even serves as as travel book. There are many dishes in here that make me want to visit countries I have never thought about going to, such as the Chivito al Pan from Uruguay.
As I’ve come to expect from Lonely Planet’s range of extended travel books (i.e. those that aren’t guides to specific places), the book is beautifully produced. Strong softback binding, with some great photos. Each recipe is given two pages in the book. The left hand page contains biographical information: – Where the dish is found, it’s origin, how to eat it, and the best place to find it. There is also a panel at the bottom of the page, which contains variations on the dish, or tips on how to get the most out of your street dining experience. The right-hand page contains the recipe.
The recipes are rated Easy, Medium or Complex, with most of them being in the ‘M’ or ‘C’ category. And therein lies the book’s problem, street food may taste great, but that’s because more often than not, a huge amount of preparation has gone into the dishes. This is fine, if you work in a thriving market, or business district where boiling bones for five hours is going to pay reasonable dividends. I struggle to see myself ever having time to cook most of the wonderful dishes in this book. Instead, I’ll spend large amounts of time staring at the pages with a rumbling stomach, wondering whether the kids would stand up to a trip to Thailand.
The book is arranged in alphabetical order (though split into savoury and sweet), which I find irksome in this sort of book – I would much rather the dishes were arranged by region. Having said that, I probably would then have focused on SE Asia, and never noticed the aforementioned Uruguayan treat. In any case there are two separate indexes, one by country and the other by type of dish.
As ever, Lonely Planet have produced an interesting, authentic book that is a joy to read and look at. How often I’ll take it off the shelf to use, I’m not so sure.