The Burma Cookbook

'This splendid book does Burma honor. Bravo!' says Anne Willan, doyenne of French cookery teaching from La Varenne, in her Foreword.

The book's cover says it all: 'Recipes from the land of a million pagodas'. Just as Burma, now called Myanmar, is unique, this book is like no other cookbook. Ten years in the making, a labour of love, crafted by two men who are artists and experts in their fields, this is a love letter to a land that many others may never visit.

Although packed with 175 tested and proven recipes, this is still not your average cookbook. There is an old-world arthouse feel to the pages; it's Edwardian retro design is stylishly presented on premium paper, as anyone who knows the authors would expect; and Morrison Polkinghorne's images are exquisite. This is a collectors' piece. A one-off. A manual for cooks who wish to replicate authentic dishes; a textbook for cultural historians; the most important book a food-lover could read before leaving for Rangoon.

Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne are no strangers to Burma. For years they have organised and hosted culinary tours to the country and, while putting this book together, had access to The Strand Hotel's collection of historic menus, pictures and photos to round out the contemporary images provided by Morrison Polkinghorne.

The story behind the attraction to Burma stretches back two decades to a dirt-floored 'restaurant' in Burma, on the war-torn border. Above the kitchen counter, they say, almost altar-like, were framed mug shots of the government's five presiding military leaders; all uniformly dour, and intimidating. That day, it wasn't the food that set them on their culinary journey.  Rather, it was the friendliness of the people that cajoled these two intrepid travellers to return again, and again.

Since then they have dined at Burma's best tables, eaten opulently and simply, walked the streets, picked the brains of local chefs - and best of all, they have somehow packed these marvellous, eclectic, precious treasures into the pages of a book which will set the gold-standard for any other book about any emerging country's venerable cuisine.

Let Anne Willan have the last word again: 'The Burma Cookbook brings the cooking and the country to life".

The Burma Cookbook, by Robert Carmack & Morrison Polkinghorne, published by River Book Publishers, Jan. 2014, hardcover, rrp A$49.99, ISBN 978 616733 9382.

- reviewed by Sally Hammond

 

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