When I was much younger, people often found it funny how I kept borrowing cookbooks from the school library or zeroed in on the recipes section of my mother’s and aunts’ magazines. In light of my less-than-stellar grades in Home Economics, they found it ridiculous, even ludicrous, that I should opt to read books about food and cookery. It also helped cement my reputation as the “village idiot” in school, seeing how most of the girls were eschewing food in favor of Kate Moss-esque figures and bulimia nervosa.
Nowadays, though, with food blogging being one of those “chic things to do” for the in-crowd, the same girls who heckled me for reading cookbooks instead of, say, those Sweet Dreams paperbacks that were so popular at the time now fancy themselves well-schooled with regard to food and cooking. All I can say about this is, “What do you know about food?! All you read are local food mags; you don’t buy the books, you don’t read the right magazines!” And, thus, the outcast turns the tables and becomes the snob…
Call me a culinary elitist, call me a snob even: I won’t deny it. Because I love to read and I love food, I actually take the time to hunt down books and magazines that some people think are rather obscure, possibly unheard of in this part of the world – and this despite global exposure via the internet.
But, as in any field, reading actually helps broaden one’s horizons and shows that there is a world out there beyond Philippine shores and the nerve-wracking world of Top Chef on Yank cable telly. That said, I feel particularly blessed at being given a penchant for tracking down pre-loved tomes and magazine back issues whenever I can’t find new copies or releases at the more upscale bookshops. It is a hobby I ascribed to one of my characters in my current novel-in-progress:
When I got home later that day, I went up to my room and looked over the bookshelves that lined one of the walls. For all that I didn’t have a social life and I rarely ever spent my money on clothes and shoes and nights on the town like most women my age, books and kitchen things were my biggest expenditures.
The books in my room were a mix of cookbooks, food-centric biographies, and food-centric travelogues. Even my magazines revolved around food and cooking; it was a passion I had from the cradle.
Some had been bought at the best bookstores both here and abroad, others were gifts from relatives… Most, however, had been lucky finds at second-hand bookshops, pre-loved tomes and periodicals that found a home with me.
Some people who collect cookbooks don’t actually cook; indeed, some just leaf through them, fantasizing about how wonderful the dishes in the photos tasted. Not me: I pored through every single one, trying out recipes, making notes about ingredients and instructions, substituting one thing for another.
Here are a few of my favorite picks:
- Donna Hay – The Aussie kitchen queen beats Yankee Martha hollow with her super-simple and totally scrumptious recipes and tips for making one’s table a true feast for all the senses.
- BBC Good Food - UK – Amazing recipes, cooking tips, and insights on food-related social issues such as the decline in the number of farmers providing wholesome food. It often features surprisingly easy-to-do recipes from Britain’s best chefs, including a Masterclass section presented by the Scots Hellion himself, Gordon Ramsay.
- Saveur - Helmed by Top Chef Masters judge James Oseland, this US mag is perfect for armchair travelers as it takes readers on a culinary tour to various parts of the world, imparting knowledge about local food customs as well as recipes.
- Gastronomica – This is the “thinking foodie”‘s magazine with beautifully researched articles on food culture, issues, and personalities. Gastronomica also features tasteful, artistic photo essays focused on specific ingredients, putting them in a different light.
- Jamie - Jamie Oliver’s eponymously named magazine promises to make you a better cook. I’ve not tried all of the recipes, but it’s fun to read and gives a foreign lass like me a good look into modern Brit gastronomy both in and out of the home.
- Nigella Lawson – Nigella pretty much speaks to the voluptuous glutton that I am. She writes like a gloriously greedy sort with her vivid, lip-smacking descriptions of dishes old and new. Her first book, How to Eat, doesn’t have any pictures, but with the way she describes the food, who needs ‘em?
- Anthony Bourdain - Tony B. rocks with his bad-arse/no holds barred/somewhat angsty way of describing life in the kitchen (Kitchen Confidential), the search for the perfect meal (A Cook’s Tour), and living life the way he wants to and not the way the world demands (No Reservations). As exciting his travels are to watch on television, Bourdain really hits the spot with his frank, no-nonsense prose and wry sense of humor.
- Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser / Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl - The thing about foodie autobiographies is that they are so much more delectable to read than most – and in more ways than one. Hesser’s account of her food-driven courtship and eventual marriage is punctuated by recipes that run from the almost stupidly basic to the most gloriously complicated; it’s the sort of book that can give you ideas for any number of dinner parties. Reichl, on the other hand, speaks poignantly about change in a story that spans over twenty years from her first gig as a restaurant critic to her divorce and remarriage and to the long-awaited birth of her son, all of which are marked with unusual dishes that are as spicy and as vivid as the events themselves.
So, why settle for the local when you can go global? All it takes is a simple turning of pages to expand your horizons.