I’ve been eyeing Chef McDang‘s The Principles of Thai Cookery for the past few months and I’m glad I finally purchased a copy after much procrastination. Each time I visit an Asia Books store, I can’t help but pick this book off the shelf and flip a few pages to peek at the content inside. While a certain Michelin-star farang chef has produced an even thicker, heavier—and more expensive—tome on Thai cooking, but somehow I gravitated toward Chef McDang’s version. After all, he’s a celebrity chef who was raised in a Thai household—the palatial kitchen to be exact as he’s a descendent of the Thai royal family. Plus his father is also an esteemed chef and gourmand.
Our food memories are undeniably shaped by our family background, heritage and environment that we are raised in. To pick up Thai cooking, I’m trying to pay extra attention and observe how roadside vendors prepare their dishes; unlike Mr. P, I have no memory of a mum bruising julienned papaya on a wooden krok (but I remember my mum pounding garlic on a stone mortar though ;)). When it comes to cooking Thai dishes, Mr. P relies on his innate feel while I refer to cookbooks. To be fair, Chinese dishes come much easier to me because I can recall steps of how my mum did them, how they should taste like, and what ingredients go inside. And that’s partly the reason why I chose Chef McDang’s book over others: I want to learn the real flavours of Thai cuisine from someone who grew up breathing and eating Thai.
I don’t have time to read the whole book yet and I’ve only managed to skimp through the first few chapters. But based on the few pages read, I like how Chef McDang explains what makes Thai food essentially Thai and the anecdotes that come along with Thai cooking. Like how traditional Thai recipes call for the use of palm sugar (granulated sugar is a no-no) and fish sauce, and how a philandering husband is encapsulated by the Thai saying of “he’s tasted another woman’s nam prik (pepper dip).” To me, these are very interesting knowledge. A country’s cuisine is the window to her soul.
But hey, I’m not forgetting my roots either. My dear brother gave me Dr. Leslie Tay’s The End of Char Kway Teow and Other Hawker Mysteries for my birthday this year and I just purchased 《中国名菜的故事》(Stories of Famous Chinese Dishes) from Kinokuniya. More about these books another day. 🙂