Memories of Philippine Kitchens
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., June 1, 2012
Memories of Philippine Kitchensby Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan (Stewart Tabori & Chang, $40, 232 pp)
Philippines natives Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan (husband and wife) own and operate Purple Yam, a popular restaurant they opened in Brooklyn in 2009. It followed their acclaimed Cendrillon which opened in 1995, an excellent restaurant where I've been lucky enough to dine. This book is an updated new edition, sure to garner awards like its predecessor. Photos are by award winner Neal Oshima, who focuses on Philippine culture and food; his work is spectacular.
Offering more than 100 unique recipes culled from family members, private regional Filipino kitchens, and their own restaurant menu, Besa and Dorotan vividly document the role of food in Filipino culture as no previous cookbook has done. They methodically examine the native cuisine and the impact of succeeding influences from the Chinese, Spanish, and Americans, as well as introductions from the spice trade through the centuries, documenting how Philippine cooks managed to adapt their native cuisine and keep it unique rather than allowing it to be dominated by any new arrivals. Besa and Dorotan do an especially good job of relating specific dishes and techniques to each pertinent historical influence.
The recipes are easy to follow and loaded with additional information. Oshima's photos complete the presentation, completely illuminating dishes and ingredients for the reader. A special meal assembled from the book might include steamed oxtail dumplings, a round of ukoy (shrimp and sprout fritters) with a vinegar-garlic-chile dipping sauce, tuna and oyster kinilaw (ceviche) with orange and grapefruit, pork ribs or beef short ribs adobo, finishing with a calamansi meringue pie (think of key lime with a touch of kumquat). This is big taste food loaded with layers of flavor. If you're interested in Filipino food, no other cookbook even comes close.