Read this cookbook: “The Malaysian Kitchen: 150 Recipes for Simple Home Cooking” by Christina Arokiasamy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35)
By Wendell Brock
Christina Arokiasamy grew up in Malaysia with a mother who was a spice merchant. Her friends called her “the girl with yellow hands” — I’m guessing it was all the turmeric she handled -– and when she walked home from school, she could smell her house before she could see it.
She went on to work as a professional chef at Four Seasons resorts around Southeast Asia and after moving to the states became a celebrated cooking instructor in the Pacific Northwest, titillating students with the spicy, aromatic dishes from her corner of the globe.
The follow-up to 2008’s “The Spice Merchant’s Daughter” (Clarkson Potter), “The Malaysian Kitchen” is a welcome addition to the culinary literature of the region, and one that seems to fulfill its promise of adapting authentic Malaysian for American home cooks.
A complex amalgamation of Indian, Chinese and indigenous influences, Malaysian food is known for its fiery sambals and rendangs, its many noodle and rice dishes, and its abundance of seafood, all of which Arokiasamy covers in luxurious detail.
I loved reading her memories of cinnamon harvest and her chapter on street food (including dishes from the island of Penang), perhaps because that’s the genre I know best and crave most often.
Should I ever decide to make nasi lemak (rich and creamy rice with anchovies, sambal and peanuts), a definitive recipe is here. Though nasi lemak is not especially easy to conjure, plenty of these dishes are. (I’ve got my eye on the Five-Spiced Barbecue Roasted Pork, Curried Beef with Okra, and Stir-Fried Asian Greens with Garlic and Oyster Sauce.)
Long before I traveled to Kuala Lumpur, I was crazy about Malaysian food. Why? Because it is big on condiments, it makes copious use of okra, and it goes smashingly well with beer. That’s why I was so excited to see this volume land on my doorstep. If you are interested in this evocative, multi-layered cuisine, I believe you will be eager to peruse it, too.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).