Prospect Books asked me if I would like a copy of this as Laos is now the place to go in South East Asia, I would unhesitatingly say yes to anything from Prospect because their books are excellent - they cover 'food, cookery, food history, foodways, ingredients, and anything else concerning our diet'. They happily publish books I can't imagine anybody else taking on and some of which can't make much money (any money?) but all of which deserve to find an audience. the world at large and book lovers specifically need publishers like this.
My travels have never taken me out of Europe and whilst paying a mortgage is my primary concern I don't suppose that's very likely to change. I sometimes wonder if I should have made more effort to go further afield when I was younger and didn't have so many bills to pay but on the whole I don't really regret not having travelled more (yet). Meanwhile I can explore from the comfort of my own home through recipes. 'Traditional Recipes of Laos' is a perfect exploring book.
Phia Sing was the master of ceremonies and chef in the Royal Palace at Luang Prabang. Towards the end of his life (some 70 years ago) he wrote down a collection of traditional recipes at a time when written sources where almost non existent and oral accounts not as precise as could be wished for. Alan Davidson (who originally founded Prospect Books) was a career diplomat as well as being one of the great food writers, he was posted to Laos in the 1970's just before the country became communist. It was a lucky conversational chance with the then Crown Prince that led to Davidson getting his hands on the original notebooks. They had been talking about fishing when he mentioned how hard it was proving to get authentic recipes, the Crown prince produced the notebooks and happily Davidson got them Xeroxed and translated.
In this edition there are facsimiles of the original notebooks on one page translations on the next. There are also excellent sections on Loa eating habits and attitudes to food, culinary terms and equipment, and ingredients and other practical information for the cook. There are 124 original and authentic recipes from Phia Sing's notebooks - as I write this I keep thinking about how easily these might have been lost - and also a chapter on desserts which come from the Davidson's own research, Phia Sing's notebook's didn't contain any and his family considered it unlikely that he would have written any down.
This is so much more than a simple collection of recipes; it's a glimpse into a different time as well as a different place. There is a lot of chopping, pounding, simmering, and steaming so it's a world where cooking is the main business of the day and where the kitchen is the centre of the world - full of ingredients and preparations that lead into one another, it's a fascinating world to explore.