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Pok Pok: Food and Stories From the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand

Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Dec. 6, 2013

Santa's Big Cookbook Bag

by Andy Ricker, with JJ Goode
Ten Speed Press, 304 pp., $35

Pok pok. It's the resonant sound of a wooden pestle hitting a mortar, the cadence of authentic Thai food, and a sound Andy Ricker keys in on while cruising throughout northern Thailand. Ricker is a Vermonter whose early travels in Thailand secured his passion for the food. He moved to Portland, and for eight years he painted houses in the summer and traveled throughout Thailand each winter, fascinated with the flavors of the land of smiles. His purpose was to immerse himself in Thai culture, learn the language, and acquire the culinary secrets from the street and market vendors, home cooks, and restaurant chefs. If they wouldn't reveal their secrets, he'd observe every motion and unmeasured handful until he got the dish down pat. His first restaurant was serving takeout-only patrons a few dishes out of the kitchen window of a shack; it was a copy of many small village restaurants found in Thailand. Now Ricker has four restaurants in Portland, three in New York City, and has just released his first cookbook, Pok Pok.

It is a reverent primer on Thai cuisine that will simplify the process for any home cook, with clear explanations of food culture, technique, and ingredients, and copious headnotes and essays that put the cuisine into context. Ricker shares 70 of his favorite recipes, all clearly written and easy to follow. Each recipe has a flavor profile description to let the reader know exactly how it should taste, and each is lavishly photographed to visually reinforce that description. Ricker has written a master course on cooking Thai food, with delicious dishes that cover the wide variety of the cuisine; it's a requisite in any kitchen. Expect to hear a growing chorus of pestles hitting mortars from kitchens across the country as the word gets out.

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