The description of The Drinking Food of Thailand appealed to me. I like snacks and one dish meals, especially if they’re more interesting than carrot and celery sticks. These recipes certainly are. These are labor-of-love recipes that ask for the best ingredients, your time cooking, and a spirit of adventure.

It’s full of beautiful pictures of people in Thailand cooking and serving these recipes. There’s nothing upscale, the pans are blackened and worn with use, but the food is vibrant, complex, and flavorful. The photos are amazing and will whet your appetite.

The recipes are well-organized in chapters on snacks, soups, salads, grilled food, fried foods, and breakfast/late night foods. There’s an additional chapter on items that will become ingredients in your dishes, spice blends, spiced oils, and other sundries. There are also informative chapters on some of the liquors of Thailand. A bright yellow background provides visual guidance distinguishing informational sections from recipes.

These are recipes for someone serious about learning Thai cooking. There are many special ingredients you will have to get from an Asian market. It requires a bit of investment in the spices and staples of Thai cuisine that makes sense if you intend to cook a lot of recipes from the book, but might not if you only want to sample one or two. Ricker does not expect home cooks to invest in lots of equipment, but nearly every recipe asks for a mortar and pestle.

I love Thai food and would like to cook it at home. My favorite foods were not among the recipes, though. I think my exposure to Thai cuisine is not quite this upscale nor this adventurous. There are recipes with chicken tendons, frogs, cuttlefish, offal, and pig’s tails just to name a few. Sure, there are recipes with plain old beef, chicken, and pork, but it feels like when deciding what to include, the dice were weighted toward the unusual ingredients you won’t find at your local grocer. But it’s not Ricker and Goode’s fault my palate is not that adventurous

I wanted to like The Drinking Food of Thailand more than I did. It was not just that the food was too far beyond my comfort zone. I can enjoy that. It was the design and layout of the book that makes it a cookbook I am unlikely to use. First, the font for the ingredients is entirely too small and too narrow. When cooking, you want to have your cookbook handy and look at it while you’re cooking. You should be able to read it without bending down with your nose three inches from the page. Worse, the sidebar where the ingredients are listed is very narrow, so each ingredient takes up several lines of text since they include detailed preparation directions with the ingredients. This makes it hard to find your place when looking at the ingredients while preparing a recipe. It also makes the recipe so much more intimidating at first glance than it really should be. I glance at a recipe and the ingredients go down an entire page and half of another and I am intimidated as all hell. Some go even longer.

I do like how the narrative is labeled by groups of tasks. Marinate the chicken, Fry and Serve the Chicken. It breaks the cooking down into bits, but these can be quite long narratives and again, when cooking, you want to be able to follow along easily. These seem like recipes chosen and written to intimidate, not to invite me to cook anything. Well, maybe the fried chicken…

But consider the fried chicken recipe. There’s three pages of text, two explaining his difficulty in discovering the secret to crispy chicken and one with the narrative of how to prepare and serve the chicken. There are lists of ingredients on the sidebars of two pages. Nine for marinating the chicken prior to frying and eight on the next page for making the batter, frying, and the dip (which has multiple ingredients and recipes on other pages.) Half the ingredients must be purchased at an Asian grocery store. This is for fried chicken.

This does not mean The Drinking Food of Thailand is not a good cookbook for the right person.  I just thought drinking food would be an easy gateway to Thai cooking. I was mistaken. This is a book for someone serious about Thai cooking, not a dabbler.

The Drinking Food of Thailand is a cookbook by Andy Ricker, the chef/owner of the famed Pok Pok Thai restaurants here in Portland, as well as in Los Angeles and New York City, with J. J. Goode, author of multiple cookbooks co-authored with chefs.

I received a copy of The Drinking Food of Thailand from the publisher through Blogging for Books.