Sometimes, the size of the book really does matter. And so we're bringing you the Best Impress the Guest Books of 2010. You know, the big boys with photography budgets beyond the average cookbook's entire balance sheet. But with a caveat, of course, as no one needs another flip-through-and-forget-it coffee table book. Turn the page for the food books of 2010 that are worth their heft. No over-sized book hype -- a tall order this year. Now that's what a cookbook is all about.
What I Eat: Around The World In 80 Diets
No, this is not -- thankfully -- a New Year's Resolution diet book. What I Eat is the sort of coffee table book (if a book of this caliber can be given that sort of brush-off) you should remove before your dinner guests arrive. Unless you actually happen to like post-adolescent sleepovers. The matter-of-fact documentation of the 1,400 calories a 12-year-old runaway-turned-train porter in Bangladesh ate on the day authors Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio (he's the photographer, she's the storyteller) visited are so layered with subtle political, social and economic analysis, not to mention raw human emotion, it's impossible to put down.
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Thai Street Food: Authentic Recipes, Vibrant Traditions
Thai Street Food is as compelling as What I Eat but with a recipe bonus -- even though we find it somewhat disturbing in size (more than a foot tall). And not because we aren't completely infatuated with Earl Carter's photos. We are. But Carter isn't the author. That credit goes to a compelling storyteller named David Thompson. (The book is ultimately his pet project, after all, not the work-for-hire photographer's.) Yet the photos so dominate this book, Thompson's prose is lost somewhere among those high-res pixels. A beautiful book that also makes us wonder whether we will ever get back to a world when a quality cookbook like Thompson's can simply stand on the well-researched recipes.
Saraban: A Chef's Journey Through Persia
Greg and Lucy Malouf are the Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio of Australia, or vice versa. We mean that as a compliment both ways. Saraban tells the story of Iran, or Persia. They reveal in the Introduction that they debated what word to use (they chose the one that didn't come with corn syrup-laced preconceived notions in Western readers' mouths). The book is beautifully photographed, the story of deep-rooted Persian cuisine woven artfully among the carefully chosen recipes. It's almost too beautiful and night stand-compelling to cook from... almost. Then you see that recipe for bandari-spiced calamari with tomato-coriander sauce, spinach, turmeric, and golden raisin dip, sangali (stone bread) and that brilliantly simple method for cooking perfect basmati rice so the interior is fluffy, the exterior a crunchy golden brown.