A Cookbook Review, Burma: Rivers of Flavor

Succulent Pomelo Salad

Succulent Pomelo Salad

Burma enters our consciousness most often with stories of humanitarian crises–violent crackdowns on peaceful protests or a corrupt government’s inept response to a natural disaster, leading to unnecessary death and suffering.  Burma is officially Myanmar, and an insistence upon calling it Burma, is a political statement in and of itself.  It suggests that the name, as well as the government is illegitimate.  Burma is ruled by an autocratic military junta, whose power is supported by drug money and a cruel and violent response to dissent.

Naomi Duguid has written a book that distracts from the unfortunate political plight of Burma, calling attention instead to its cuisine and its land’s natural beauty.  Burmese food is simple, balanced and delicious.  In its cuisine one finds a fascinating confluence of the flavors and ingredients of its neighbors, India, China and Thailand, as well as those unique and homegrown.

Rivers of Flavor is well-written and beautifully photographed.  Duguid informs the reader not only of recipes, but also about the land and people of Burma.  Her love of Burma is evident and the reader can’t help but develop their own appreciation.

The simplicity of Burmese cuisine is refreshing.  Duguid’s discussion of pantry basics is only a few pages long–but may add a few new items, such as toasted chickpea flour and dried shrimp powder to a curious chef’s repertoire.

In the dishes I have been able to prepare I have been most struck by the perfect balance of sweet, sour, savory and spicy.  The pictured pomelo salad is a fine example.  The shallots are sweet, the pomelo sour, and a savory, umami undertone is added by powdered dried shrimp.

RIvers of Flavor allows the food geeks among us to find satisfaction in adding another country’s cuisine to their toolbox.  It provides recipes superlative in their balance, simplicity, and subtle flavors.  But it also celebrates a people formerly most well-known for their victimhood, an endeavor certainly worthy of praise.

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