I was absolutely thrilled when Adam Liaw won Australia’s second MasterChef – I became personally enamoured with this cooking style (Japanese food and I have a thing going) and warm demeanor, and I remember the very first thing I thought of as the winning sparkles came tumbling down was – “oooh, goodie! a cookbook!”.
And here it is.
Two Asian Kitchens is the work of a virtual lifetime of culinary influences that stretches from Malaysia to China, through Japan, India and Australia. Born to a Hainanese Chinese father and a Singaporean mother of English, French and Indonesian heritage, Adam experienced an eclectic upbringing, having lived 20 homes over four countries.
It’s no surprise, then, that Two Asian Kitchens is a dedication to a lifetime of culinary influence, from his grandmother’s classic Malay and Chinese dishes to the English roasts of his stepfather.
In Adam’s introduction, we discover the reason his book is divided in two. ‘The Old Kitchen’ is Adam’s past. It features the food of his past – from hawker noodle dishes to Hainanese chicken rice. This is the food of his childhood, of his travels, of the people he has met, of the moments and experiences he has shared.
In ‘The New Kitchen’, Adam focuses on modern creations that still draw on the memories and flavours of his past, but with new and updated twists. Adam says the Asian influence in his dishes is clear, however, he hopes the reader will not classify the recipes as Japanese, Chinese or even Asian in general. He hopes readers will classify them as ‘Australian’.
I love the warmth, emotion and simplicity of Two Asian Kitchens – both in the book’s design and style (which definitely draws on rustic Japanese themes) and in its recipes. Beginning with ‘Pantry’, Adam introduces us to standard staples required in his kitchen such as everyday soup stock, white pickled daikon, lemon paste, chilli and garlic oil, laksa paste and Japanese treats such as tentsuyu (a dipping sauce).
In ‘On Techniques’, we learn masterful tips like the perfect cooked rice, basic dumpling filling and dough, sushi, stir frying, woks and tempura.
Then there’s the recipes.
‘The Old Kitchen’ opens with kayaku gohan (healthy vegetable rice) and meanders through beef rendang, Adam’s favourite Hainanese chicken rice, pho, curries, sambals and a sheer glut of generally elusive and authentic Asian recipes, like bah kuh teh (pork bone tea), char kway teow (a hawker noodle dish) and ayam kapitan (a coconut-based chicken dish). There’s even one of my favourites – okonomiyaki (almost like a cross between a pancake and a massive hash brown – this one with prawns and cheese).
Not only is it amazing to see such an impressive collection in one book, it’s also fascinating to learn more about the dishes – for example, ayam kapitan represents 600 years of political struggle, industry, war and romance of the Malacca Sultanate.
In ‘The New Kitchen’, readers will delight in 90-second greens, aromatic poached fish, white miso green curry, fennel and black pepper pork belly and tempura fish and chips with pickled chilli and mandarin curd, among many other treasures.
Sweets from both sections include iced coffee pudding with tea-smoked chocolate and five-spice tenkasu, nine layer cake, sugar cane ice cream, mango pudding, green tea meringue and mandarin fool.
Different, inspired, eye-boggling and with the ability to stretch both your tastebuds and your food concepts across five continents, Two Asian Kitchens is a book that will challenge the way you see Asian-infused Australian food.