Asian cuisine – in all its spicy, sweet, fresh and fermented glory – is one pervasive force. From low-budget options, like sushi and laksa, to the acclaimed culinary creations of Luke Nguyen and Tetsuya Wakuda, the supply of provincial delights is unlikely to run short. So what could two burly, fish ‘n’ chip loving Brits add to the Asian food equation? The answer is more than you’d think.
The cookbook is easy to navigate, peppered with vibrant photographs, and stocks a sundry of recipes, from moreish street snacks to classic, homely fare, delivered in the Hairy Bikers’ rib-tickling tone. The dishes are divided into region-based chapters, with a separate section for puddings and cakes. Each section, with its brief background on where to eat, what to expect and which dishes are a must, serve as beginner 101 guides to the cuisine of each country.
Hairy Bikers fans will be pleased to know the pair’s fondness for good, old fashioned starch isn’t overlooked. Amid fresh, healthy recipes, like fiery octopus and white radish salad, you’ll find spammed-up Korean ‘army stew’, menchi katsu burger, and sweet and sour pork, made with pineapple rings and ketchup.
The recipes are enticing, yet accessible, as we’ve come to expect from the pair’s down-to-earth attitude to food. This isn’t a book for die-hard traditionalists – ingredient lists err on the conservative side, with standard elements like sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger – but that’s not to downplay the success of simplicity. Belly pork with sesame seed dip or lime parfait with shattered chilli toffee would impress even the most discerning dinner guest.
With pickled egg, braised pork and a rich, meaty broth, chashu pork ramen is as complicated as it gets for the pair, and should be bookmarked for a weekend cook-a-thon. But if you’re looking for a clever weeknight casserole substitute, then the clay pot duck with ginger, a classic Hong Kong specialty, fits the bill.
Most surprising dish
Unlike the savoury section, desserts in this book sport a fusion feel. Asian ingredients, like pandan, sake and red bean, are paired with European cooking techniques, so expect tarts, cheesecakes and butterscotch sauce. The gem of this collection – both visually and flavour-wise – is the ginger and lychee pavlova. Perfect for an Australian Christmas, the meringue is dressed with mascarpone, tropical fruit, ginger nut biscuits and rose petals.
“The important thing is to have everything chopped, grated, peeled and crushed before you start cooking, then the rest is a breeze. Chefs call this sort of preparation ‘mise en place’; we call it getting all your bits ready.”
Beginners and medium-level cooks wanting to recreate their favourite Asian eats at home.
Cook the book
Head on your own Asian adventure with these four simple recipes.
Recipes and images from The Hairy Bikers' Asian Adventure by Si King & Dave Myers (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, $39.99, hbk, available here)