31 Aug2007

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Mrs. MM and I dropped in at the Manila International Book Fair at the World Trade Center near Roxas Boulevard a few hours ago. I am always good for an hour or so at this fair, spending a good 75% of it at the Fully Booked booth. But horror of horrors, Fully Booked wasn’t participating this year, and a quick stroll around the fair lasted just 20 minutes and our view was that there was a pretty poor selection of books on offer this year. It was disappointing, in fact. Even the booths of large bookstores had the same old, same old stuff, with a few exceptions. Decent cookbooks were few and far between and while I normally manage to purchase at least half a dozen cookbooks at this fair, today I walked out with a single food magazine, purchased at 20% discount to normal retail price…

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But something interesting did catch my eye. With over 400 cookbooks in my “library,” I do pay attention to new offerings as well as try to recall book covers or jackets so that I don’t bring home “doubles” as I have several times in the past. So I did a DOUBLE TAKE when I spotted the exact same jacket for “The Filipino-American Kitchen” by Jennifer Aranas of Rambutan restaurant in Chicago but this time with the title “Tropical Island Cooking.” It had a sticker that said “new arrival,” so I quickly opened one up and realized these were exactly the same book, just with two different titles! How bizarre is that? Now why would the publisher do that?

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I have had this book by Aranas for several months but never wrote a review of it, unlike the extensive review I did of “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” late last year. These two books on Filipino inspired cuisine made waves in the cookbook publishing business this year, and perhaps herald the beginning of increased interest in published works featuring Filipino food. Ms. Aranas is a Filipino-American chef who starts her book by writing, and I quote “(This) is a book about enjoying Filipino food the way I grew up enjoying it, separated by oceans and continents from the lush Philippine Islands yet with a heart filled with Filipino spirit and tradition.” And to to me, that about says it all. This book is not about traditional recipes, it is fusion cooking based on classic pinoy dishes but incorporating a lot of ingredients more common in the West. It makes no apologies, and as such, is in fact an HONEST presentation of dishes as interpreted by Ms. Aranas. Purists would cringe at recipes entitled Adobo Flavored Pecans, Hot & Sour Mushroom Soup (Mushroom Sinigang), Marinated Salmon Salad with Fennel (Samon Kilaw), Duck Adobo with Pineapple and Dates, Filipino Fruit Sundae (Halo-Halo), but oddly, in many ways, I thought this book was somewhat interesting…

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I haven’t cooked from the book yet, so I can’t say if the recipes work well or taste good, but the recipes look accessible and would appear to be something many millions of Pinoys in North America (particularly second generation immigrants) might feel a kinship with. It is also nicely photographed and cleanly and clearly laid out. The groupings of recipes make sense and there is a section on ingredients for novice cooks. It may also contain recipes that Pinoys might try out on their Western friends, the food “sanitized” a bit for other palates. But the second title for the same book made me wonder why they did that… Is it possible that the book had a poor initial reception in the U.S., and the Filipino part of the title was considered a liability? Is it because the book was released in Southeast Asia (Tuttle Publishing, with a base in Singapore) and wanted to attract a larger audience besides Filipinophiles? How bizarre. This reminds me of a time when Cebu once tried to market itself as “An Island in the Pacific” without mentioning it was part of the Philippine archipelago, are tourists so GEOGRAPHICALLY CHALLENGED? Are cookbook purchasers really so dumb that they wouldn’t figure out this was a book based almost entirely on Filipino dishes, yet carry the “Tropical Island” feel? Hmmm, I can’t make heads or tails of it, but this is just another reason why I don’t think I can write a cookbook unless I almost completely control how the final product is going to look and feel. As for the cookbook itself, you may at least want to browse through it the next time you are in a bookstore to see if you might want to add it to your own collection…

I cannot close this post without adding a criticism on at least one of several recipes that to me, are the equivalent of slowly scratching a blackboard with one’s fingernails… The Black and White Rice with Seafood or Paella Pirurutong a la Filipina… ARRRGHHHH!!! And it pulls together cooked white and cooked black rice with the seafood thrown in (photo above). Who grew up with anything remotely similar to this? What is it with Black Rice and Paella in foreign published Pinoy Cookbooks? Did I miss a major trend? A similar paella we ate at Cendrillon was tasteless, and the look and feel of this Aranas version also wants to make me run out and fire up my charcoal grill to cook a version of paella, tomato or squid based, and send the authors a serving or two so that they can bring their paellas back into the realm of reality! Yikes. Major Marketman shiver fit is over. :)

 

COMMENTS:

  1. flip4ever says:

    Hi MM, I wonder if the publishers were thinking that the title would not appeal in a place where the authentic/traditional ingredients are more readily available than the “substitutes”. I would agree with you though that the new title is less descriptive of the book’s contents.
    Interesting that both chefs (Dorotan and Aranas) seem to have been influenced by Alice Waters where freshness of ingredients trump authentic (ex. using fresh trout instead of frozen bangus). I think Ms. Aranas in fact worked in northern California restaurants for a few years before moving back to Chicago.

    Aug 31, 2007 | 10:57 pm

     
  2. kitkathie says:

    Whoa! better shift your gear, MM. Don’t forget your diet!

    Aug 31, 2007 | 11:11 pm

     
  3. Marvin says:

    I agree with you that perhaps the name change is because this “new” version was released in SE Asia. I live in California. And as a young Filipino American myself, and as someone who is just now learning to cook Filipino food, I would be more inclined to buy that book under it’s original title of “The Filipino-American Kitchen.” The only Pinoy cookbook that I do own is “Memories of Philippine Kitchens.” I’ve only tried a couple of recipes from it, but I wasn’t all that satisfied with them.

    Are there any “true” Filipino cookbooks out there that you can recommend? Is there even such a thing as the “perfect” Filipino cookbook?

    Aug 31, 2007 | 11:24 pm

     
  4. Apicio says:

    The run away success of Thai cuisine here spawned a lot of imitators, Burmese, Malaysian and Indonesian restaurants suddenly started hypenating their names with Thai. I suspect this attempt to use pirurutong (whose sound btw cause pause even in native speakers of Tagalog) in savoury dishes is just one of its ill conceived and misbegotten hatchlings. It is regrettable indeed that they took precious space in two recent major Filipino cookbooks which otherwise could have been ceded to a more deserving dish.

    Sep 1, 2007 | 12:22 am

     
  5. Mandy says:

    i bought a copy of reynaldo alejandro’s “authentic recipes from the philippines” as a girl to my hubby’s fil-am cousin getting married in the US. browsed through the book and the recipes didn’t seem too fusion-y. i have no idea though if this book is marketed towards us locals or the fil-ams.

    Sep 1, 2007 | 1:11 am

     
  6. Mandy says:

    forgot to add, the periplus series on filipino dishes are good too.

    Sep 1, 2007 | 1:12 am

     
  7. Apicio says:

    I just finished linking back to your review of Memories of Philippine Kitchens and found (not surprisingly) that you also took exception at the inclusion of a picture of a lady whipping hot chocolate while smoking a cigarette. A zit in an otherwise perfectly complexioned oeuvre that left a lump in the pit of my stomach and reminded me that in my youth the older ladies who usually did that at least kept the lighted end of their cigarettes inside their mouths.

    Sep 1, 2007 | 5:58 am

     
  8. bernadette says:

    Pirurutong??!…what is that? It looks like a major typo error.

    Sep 1, 2007 | 8:51 am

     
  9. tulipfleurs says:

    While perusing Amazon for Filipino Cookbooks awhile back, I did see that book by Jennifer Aranas . . . the reason it caught my attention because that is my “married” name. I was tempted to order the book but I never did. Maybe I will when Market Man decides to try a recipe or two from thee book. :-) The one book that I do use is the one entitled “Filipino Cooking Here & Abroad” which was a “pasalubong” from my cousin back home. Since I’ve been living in the states practically all my life, all I can say is nothing compares to food back home! :-) I guess I will always have a “longing” for “real” “pilino” food! That’s one thing I look forward to when going back home!

    Sep 1, 2007 | 8:52 am

     
  10. Marilou See says:

    Its a good thing I always start my day by reading your post MM. Yesterday, I was contemplating to drop by World Trade for the Book Fair or drop by Fully booked to browse new cookbooks. With this post of yours today, I thank you, now I made up my mind just to go straight to Fully booked. You’re an angel in disguise. :p

    Sep 1, 2007 | 9:21 am

     
  11. wits and nuts says:

    Thanks for this post. I am scheduled to drop by to the Book Fair this afternoon. I am quite disappointed though that there are few new quality books being offered this year.

    Sep 1, 2007 | 9:49 am

     
  12. danney league says:

    Is pirurutong the black seed or rice or mung beans that we mix when we cook guinatang pirurutong?

    Sep 1, 2007 | 10:51 am

     
  13. B says:

    Pirurutong is the black rice.

    The Garden House has decent black paella. There is always massive disappointment, though, when you associate the blackness with super flavorful squid ink

    Sep 1, 2007 | 11:52 am

     
  14. DADD-F says:

    Apicio, bow ako sa sinabi mo. Mandy, I also use the periplus series on Pinoy dishes particularly those on desserts and snacks. They’re okay. Tulipfleurs, totoo talaga yan. “Nothing compares to food back home.” The thing is, the authors of these cookbookks, of course, would like to please as many palates as possible so the recipes are so standardized that they’re practically too watered down to really taste good and they’re not really that authentic anymore. So normally, I use these books as guides only. However, that may be a little difficult for the novices or for those who have not quite an idea of what the food presened ought to taste like.

    The attempt at Pinoy-American fusion naman is okay. Sabi mo nga MM with regard to this particular publication, the author incorporates a lot of ingredients more readily available in their part of the world. So practical lang siya yet the author provides the opportunity for others to somehow partake of Filipino dishes. I have not even seen the book but as long as the author does not make any claim that any of her recipe is that authentic than I suppose, pwede na rin.

    Anyway, I find that the older the cookbook, the more “authentic” the recipes are. Take Aling Charing’s, for example. I have a few others. But the titles escape me for now. However, the “Slow Food” (?) edited by Doreen Fernandez is a nice collection of Filipino recipes of old and the accompanying essays about them are really informative.

    For Warays out there who would like to stay in touch with the spirit of home through Waray cuisine, there is that published by UP Tacloban. Okay naman siya though siempre, iba pa rin if you learned your cooking from home.

    MM, if and when you finally publish your food book, I have high hopes that it would not need to cater to the rest of the world–for now. For good food such as Filipino cuisine and your creations need not find any excuse for whatever difference in taste and texture they have from others. Photographs that entice the visual sense is okay. But food is not all visual. And since you cannot photograph the smell, it will all be in the taste when your readers finally use your recipe. The recipes I tried from your blog are A-okay. Whatever limitations the print media would pose in terms of sales, word-of-mouth would make up for. And then later perhaps, with this addition, the world would gradually but surely take more notice of Filipino cusine. By all means, consider the technical aspects that would help sell your project. But the real test is in the taste and the anecdotes that will make people appreciate the recipes even more. So don’t worry too much. I’m pretty sure that you already have a fair idea of what to put in that book.

    Sana nga lang din, it would also be accessible to people like myself who cannot afford high-priced items. Pwede naman mag-publish ng 2 versions even if the content would exactly be the same. Go all out for the high end market. Cheaper paper naman sa kabila. Maybe even less pictures, basta same recipes at klaro lang talaga ang print. Di ‘ba?

    Sep 1, 2007 | 1:34 pm

     
  15. MegaMom says:

    At bow naman ako sa lahat ng sinabi mo DADD-F, lalo na yung tungkol sa cookbook na isusulat ni MarketMan. You have a point there, specifically: “The recipes I tried from your blog are A-okay.” And I think many readers here will echo that sentiment.

    Just finished devouring Jacques Pepin’s delicious autobiography, and he made a similar point when he described the circumstances leading to the publication of one of his earlier books La Technique. He took copious notes during classes he taught at BU, mainly questions from his students who were on both ends of the spectrum of experience, and that is how he refined the book to cater to the average home cook.

    I am certain you will do a skillful job incorporating the many comments your delighted (and not-so-delighted) readers into your future MM Cookbook.

    Sep 1, 2007 | 7:25 pm

     
  16. Mona_C says:

    I grew up with the ubiquitous Nora Daza cookbook, which I brought with me all the way to Australia, where I lived nearly three years. It’s the cookbook from which I learned to cook, and though it seems quite simple compared to lots of the cookbooks these days, it’s a sentimental favorite. Then, when I returned to Manila, a friend of mine there asked for it, and I was happy to give it away :)

    If you had a cookbook, I’d run out and buy it tout de suite!

    Sep 1, 2007 | 8:41 pm

     
  17. zeph says:

    I agree with you in rating this year’s book fair MM. I had a big haul last year (5 fiction, 2 nonfiction, 2 audiovisual, 2 graphic). This year: 1 book, almost grudgingly.

    Sep 3, 2007 | 9:30 am

     
 

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