Let me start off by saying I do not like the term ‘Asian’ the way it’s often used. While sometimes it is useful to specify a region, usually when people say Asian they’re talking about a small spart of Asia, or even just one country. I believe specificity matters and trying to talk about a continent that starts to the east of the Bosporus and stretches halfway across the globe to the Maluku islands as if it’s one place with one culture and one people isn’t very helpful.
India, China and Indonesia each could be considered continents with vastly different cultures and cuisines contained within their borders. Never mind what the diasporas have been cooking up.
That said even if this post is a lot of work, this is less work than milking this topic out into nine different posts (though I just might, for the fuck of it).
31 books? Are you sure?
I’ve read all of my ‘Asian’ cookbooks front to back. Some didn’t make the cut. I was left with 31 cookbooks I need to recommend because I want to give you a scope of styles to choose from. To save myself from my own ambitions I’ll try and stick to 1-3 sentences per book max.
I prefer cookbooks with a bit of backbone. Books that either give you a history lesson on a specific culture or a personal history of the author and why they cook the way they do. I also prefer easy recipes over anything too fussy. So that’s largely what you’ll find here.
I have linked to the publishers and/ or personal pages of the authors where possible, if you do buy one of these books consider buying them from an independent bookstore as they could really use our support and can probably recommend you some other wonderful cookbooks while you’re there.
Which Asian regions am I covering?
I was considering organizing this post along the lines of local (i.e. of and living in the country itself), x generation immigrant (2nd myself, hi), whites, etc. But that seemed needlessly complex and hard for you to scan. As conversations around authenticity evolve, who I am to decide what’s legit and who’s put in the work? Though I find you can usually tell if someone hasn’t and is more exploitative above anything else.
I can imagine you have a preference for specific cuisines, so here’s how I’ve organized them, so you can scroll down to the kitchen you’re interested in:
- Indonesian and Dutch-Indonesian cookbooks
- Korean cookbooks
- Japanese cookbooks
- Thai cookbooks
- Chinese cookbooks and a zine
- Indian cookbooks
- Burmese, Vietnamese and Malaysian cookbooks
- ‘Asian’ cookbooks
- Proudly inauthentic cookbooks
My favorite Indonesian and Dutch-Indonesian cookbooks
My grandmother sold snacks on the streets of Jakarta during World War 2, ran a kitchen on New Guinea and sold snacks out of her home in Brabant. Needless to say I grew up with a lot of Indonesian food, which hails influences from the Middle East, Portugal, the Chinese and the Dutch. Despite not cooking a lot of Indonesian food myself, and not having a true need for Indonesian cookbooks, I have mad love for many as a way of connecting with my history and other people with my background.
I’m including a lot of books in Dutch here because there are a lot of Dutch-Indonesian cookbooks and I think it’s a shame some of them haven’t been translated for a bigger audience.
Coconut & Sambal: Recipes from my Indonesian Kitchen – Lara Lee
I love this book because Lara worked with my favorite photography team and because it’s about goddamned time Indonesian food got the international attention it deserves. It’s a great introduction to Indonesian food. For Coconut & Sambal Lara consulted Sri Owen, the grand dame of Indonesian cuisine, who I don’t own any books of yet, but if you can get your hands on one of her books: go for it.
Rijsttafelen – Lia Warani
While most Dutch-Indonesians grew up with Beb Vuyk (more on her later) I grew up with my grandma and Lia respectively. It was originally published in the 70s, so it’s obviously a little dated, but I couldn’t engage in bouts of nostalgia without it. You can find it in Dutch for around €7.50 in thrift shops and the like. My recipe for perkedel kol bunga hails from Rijsttafelen.
Groot Indonesisch Kookboek – Beb Vuyk
Bij and large the most famous Dutch-Indonesian cookbook. I had not read it before so when I finally got round to it while preparing this post I was amazed by the breadth and scope of the recipes. There’s a few perkedel and an egg rendang in particular that have peaked my interest. It’s been re-released here many times over, if you’re looking for a classic, Beb’s your woman.
De Bijbel van de Indonesische Keuken – Maureen Tan
Maureen Tan’s book came out last year and is a real triumph. Recipes are organized by region, with short introductions explaining the history and locality of each dish, to the point of including regional batiks with each chapter. If there is one book that deserves a translation in my opinion this is the one.
Indorock and Indostok – Vanja van der Leeden
Vanja shook the Dutch perception of Indonesian food to its core in 2019 with the release of Indorock, which she followed up with Indostok (a book on sate) last year. You can read why and how Vanja decolonized the concept of Indonesian food in the Netherlands here.
My favorite Korean cookbooks
Koreatown: A Cookbook – Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard
A combination of recipes and stories from Koreatowns all over the States. The recipes are all solid but the different experienced shared by Korean-Americans are what make this book extra special to me. I live for the Korean fried chicken recipe from Koreatown in particular.
K Food: Korean home cooking and Street food – Da-Hae and Gareth West
This book is rich with Da-Hae’s personal history, from growing up in Korea, to moving to the UK and taking Gareth back with her to visit, a healthy mix of ‘authentic’ and new-fangled takes on Korean food and a little background with all the recipes.
L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food – Roy Choi
Roy Choi is one of my heroes because he is so invested in his city and its people. Choi is one of the (if not the) chefs who introduced the world to foodtrucks as we know them now and also the man who put the Mexican-Korean food of LA on the map, so this isn’t a strictly Korean cookbook. It’s also not just a cookbook but also an autobiography of Choi. His food is the best, his life story is goes deep and he’s really something else when it comes to social justice. If you’d like to get to know him a little better you can start by watching The Chef Show on Netflix.
My favorite Japanse cookbooks
Tokyo Cult Recipes – Maori Murota
I won this book a fair few years ago now and it’s never fails me. From kara age (Japanese fried chicken) to the inspiration for taka no kara age-inspired loaded fries. If you’re looking for accessible ‘home-style’ Japanese recipes get this book.
The Gajin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater and Lifelong Outsider – Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying
I love this book because it offers an unapologetic outside-in perspective on Japanese food. Ivan is famous for opening a ramen shop in Tokyo, which everyone thought was a bit like okay bruv, to huge success. He’s invested in Japanese culture and cuisine without every forgetting his place within the whole. All the recipes are delicious but can seem a little cheffy if you’re a lazy homecook like me.
Vegan Japaneasy: Over 80 Delicious Plant-Based Japanese Recipes – Tim Anderson
Tim Anderson is another chef who is very clear about his outside-in perspective on Japanese food and culture. This book works well because Tim has a clear perspective on how far people are willing to go for a decent homecooked meal. He’ll give you the extra step to make it really good, but will also tell you what you can skip (and remind you that that’s okay too so in the process). In my opinion this is key to making a useable cookbook. I’ve had this for about a week now and I’ve cooked at least three recipes from it. That’s rare and that’s why you need to get this book.
My favorite Thai cookbooks
Night+Market: Delicious Thai food to facilitate drinking and fun-having amongst friends – Kris Yenbamroong
Kris Yenbamroong’s Night+Market is such a well written and joyful read. Kris celebrates his grandmother and parents, who launched the first Thai fine dining restaurant in LA, and highlights the regional character of Thai cuisine where usually Thai food is presented as one block. On top of that he tells you how they chef it up in the restaurant kitchen but why (and how) you don’t really need to go there at home. And then there’s wine pairings too.
Rosa’s Thai Cafe: The Vegetarian Cookbook – Saiphin Moore
There are quite a number of reasons to love this book. The photography by Louise Hagger and styling by Alexander Breeze is stellar, for one. The recipes are mostly vegan and extremely diverse in scope. But above all, Saiphin Moore has embellished each recipes in Rosa’s Thai Café: The Vegetarian Cookbook with her rich personal history of eating experiences, recipe sources and more. This book gives you a real feel for all the regional Thai cuisines and Saiphin’s past growing up and living in various parts of Asia and now the UK.
My favorite Chinese cookbooks
How to cook and eat in Chinese – Buwei Yang Chao
This is a book from the 1950s that I found thrift shopping. If you can get your hands on it it offers an extremely interesting insight into Chinese(-American) cooking abroad in the 50s. Buwei Yang Chao explanation of Chinese eating and cooking traditions and how to integrate American expectations of food is particularly interesting and a lot of the recipes have remained extremely useable for every day cooking now.
Eat Bitter – Lydia Pang
While this is more a zine than a cookbook, I had to include it. It features work from my favorite photography and styling team but more importantly it offers a brief but deeply poetic dive into Lydia Pang’s Hakka roots through food. It was sold at a limited run to support Welcome to Chinatown but I really hope Lydia gets to (and wants to) do a full book at some point because Eat Bitter is truly visionary.
The Nom Wah Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from 100 Years of New York city’s Iconic Dim Sum Restaurant – Wilson Tang with Joshua David Stein
Nom Wah is a legendary dim sum restaurant in New York. In The Nom Wah Cookbook Wilson Tang paints a history of the restaurants and its surrounding areas, from the 1920’s to it’s most current (pre-Covid) iteration through the stories of the people from Chinatown in New York as well as demystified dim sum recipes. The bright and bold photography by Alex Lau is icing on this very rich cake.
Xi’an Famous Foods: The Cuisine of Western China, from New York’s Favorite Noodle Shop – Jason Wang with Jessica K. Chou
Xi’an Famous Foods is another, albeit younger, New York legend. This book features stellar photography by Jenny Huang and explores the more personal history of Jason Wang and his father as they try to make it in America. It gives you a look inside the experiences of more recent Chinese immigrants and how the Wang’s have found success providing a taste of home in New York.
The Food of Sichuan – Fuchsia Dunlop
Originally released in the early 2000’s, this revised edition of The Food of Sichuan shows why Fuchsia has been such a powerhouse in the promotion of Sichuan cuisine over the past two decades. This book offers a true deep dive. While I normally read cookbooks back-to-front I have to admit I didn’t for this one because Fuchsia takes the time to explain the history and traditions for all of the dishes in this book. The introduction alone is worth its weight in gold and I doubt you will ever be done cooking and learning from this book.
My Favorite Indian Cookbooks
Indian Cookery – Madhur Jaffrey
First published in 1982, with an accompanying TV show on the BBC, Indian Cookery is a true classic. Because some ingredients have become more readily available in the UK and here, a lot of the recipes are still extremely useable today. If you’re looking for something more recent from Madhur try Instantly Indian, her Instant Pot book.
India: The Cookbook – Pushpesh Pant
Pushpesh Pant is an Indian food critic, historian and academic who has spent decades researching and collecting Indian recipes. India: The Cookbook weighs 1.5 kg’s, boasting a thousand recipes and is the only other book alongside The Food of Sichuan that I did not read back-to-front because there are just so many recipes. All most all of them with background information. The kothmiratil macchi (coriander fried fish) are a particular favorite of mine. Be prepared to feel slightly overwhelmed. Pick an ingredient, look it up in the index and pick a recipe, is probably the best way to go.
Indian(-ish): Recipes and antics from a modern American family – Priya Krishna
This book is basically an ode to Priya’s mom, who had to invent a life, a career and a way to cook when Priya’s parents first moved to the US. It’s as inventive as you’d expect, mixing flavors from all around the world as travel became an integral part of Ritu’s (that’s her name) life. In turn, reading this I realized Ritu’s cooking has been a part of my life for ages, as she is also frequently referenced as the source of recipes in Lucky Peach Presents Power Vegetables! If you’re looking for non-fussy flavor-heavy food with hints of India (among others) this is the book for you.
Burmese, Vietnamese and Malaysian
A lot of regions deserve more books. These are just a few of them.
Mandalay: Recipes & Tales from a Burmese Kitchen – MiMi Aye
MiMi has written a (for me at least) very relatable personal history on growing up in a diaspora, with all different foods at home from whatever the norm is in the country where you live, hunting down ingredients and travelling ‘back’ (something that wasn’t part of my upbringing) that that entails. Burmese food sounds vaguely familiair to someone with Indonesian roots, which is to say: Burmese food sounds an awful lot like comfort food to me. Please be sure to follow MiMi, who runs a wonderful podcast, talking with various food peeps (the Nigella episode is wonderful) and shares a lot of information on what’s going on in Myanmar right now.
Ăn Ăn: Vietnamese familierecepten – Mai Nguyễn
As luck would have it when I was looking for a Vietnamese cookbook Mai released Ăn Ăn. The book offers a beautiful personal history from Vietnam to the Netherlands, alongside many easy recipes that you can recreate at home with relative ease. As luck would have it I live only a brisk walk away from Mai, so I haven’t cooked a lot from this as I can just order take-out from her on Thursdays and Fridays.
Amazing Malaysian: Recipes for Vibrant Malaysian Homecooking – Norman Musa
I’m always curious why Malaysians and Indonesians seem to avoid mentioning one another when the overlap between our cuisines is clearly pretty big, though maybe there’s your answer. Either way, Norman offers a great look into the Malaysian kitchen and all the outside influences that have touched it, while keeping recipes nice and simple for actual home cooking.
My favorite ‘Asian’ cookbooks
I own two cookbooks that I really like that cover a wider range of Asia, here they are:
Jackfruit & Blue Ginger: Asian favorites, made vegan – Sasha Gill
If you’re looking for a broader vegan Asian tome, Sashi Gill is your woman. In Jackfruit & Blue Ginger: Asian Favorites Made Vegan Sasha shares well-beloved classic Asian dishes from India, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia, China and Japan, made vegan, as well as some basic techniques to veganize recipes of your own accord.
Hot Pot: De lekkerste hotpots uit China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea en Vietnam – Bas Robben
Bas Robben is a prolific Dutch cookbook author who has written books about acid and fat (separately, before it was cool) and sous-vide before and has now tackled hot pot, after being introduced to many variaties of hot pot during his visits to Taiwan, where his fiancee is from, among other places. The book is beautifully photographed and styled and Bas takes great care in sharing his personal affinities and encounters with hot pot as well as the way hot pot is enjoyed and prepared in the various regions this book cover. Hot pot is a social event and Bas hasn’t shied away from naming Covid and explaining that maybe now is not the best time for a proper grande ol’ hot pot get together and how you can enjoy it in a Covid-safe fashion, which I really appreciate as a lot of books seem to skirt around this issue.
My favorite ‘proudly inauthentic’ cookbooks
There are a few cookbooks I absolutely adore that take inspiration from such a wide range of cuisines, as I tend to do. So if you’re really into what used be to referred to as ‘fusion’, though this is a more informed version of its original iteration, these are the books for you.
Season: Big flavors, beautiful food – Nik Sharma
Nik Sharma is an Indian home-cook now living in the States, the reasons for which will become clear if you read his book. After working as a scientist for a few years, he decided to follow his passion and focus on food. He developed a very unique and beautiful style of photography as well as a very unique and informed style of cooking as well, something that reaches a new pineacle in his second book The Flavor Equation. Because Nik explains why he mixes certain flavors and techniques Nik’s books are perfect for people who want to understand the why of cooking.
Jikoni: Proudly inauthentic recipes from an immigrant kitchen – Ravinder Bhogal
Ravinder was born to Indian parents in Kenya before moving to London as a child so you can imagine the amazing flavors she is able to bring together in this book. If you’re up for a revolution in your mouth, with beautiful, soft, glowing photography, this is the book for you.
Soul Food: Eigentijdse recepten voor verslavend lekkere klassiekers – De Vrouw met de Baard
De vrouw met de Baard (the bearded lady) is a restaurant/ catering company (now take-away and pop-up) in Amsterdam, run by Dutch-Indonesian lady and a Moluccan guy with a beard. Together they concoct exciting flavors, taking influences from both their heritage and their travels. They’ve invested a lot of time maximizing flavors and tweaking iterations of a variety of classic dishes while inventing new ones. This book had me drooling cover to cover.
The Art of Escapism Cooking: A survival story, with intensely good flavors – Mandy Lee
If you’ve been following me for a while you know I love Mandy, who has been the source and inspiration for many a dish on this website, the way her mind works and the way she puts flavors together is just mindblowing. I don’t think there’s anyone who goes through a more grueling process of recipe development, perfecting flavors and techniques to a t. So while a lot of these recipes may seem involved, there is an entire chapter of recipes Mandy eats when she’s by herself and those are all quick and easy.
So that’s it. My favorite 31 Asian cookbooks all in a row. Recommendations are of course welcome in the comments. I’ll have lived a happy life once I’ve drowned in a pile of books.
Zoek je de Nederlandse versie van deze post? Ga dan naar vettesletten.nl voor mijn 31 favoriete Aziatische kookboeken.