More than a decade ago, I was given a cookbook that taught me how to use ingredients in my own kitchen that I had previously enjoyed only in restaurants found deep in ethnic neighborhoods. Fish sauce. Kaffir lime leaves. Sticky rice. This was “Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia,” for which authors Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford—with their two young sons in tow—followed the Mekong River south through southern China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Along the way, they ate from stalls in village streets and learned to cook in the humblest of private homes, absorbing traditional techniques and discovering the kind of authentic food that is a true reflection of people, places and cultures. And they shot roll upon roll of film—intimate portraits, sweeping vistas, the quiet poetry of everyday life.
The result was a gorgeous and enthralling book that served as inspiration for my own travels to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and taught me always to begin with a visit to the local outdoor food market. Naomi and Jeffrey wrote five more books while pursuing the road less traveled—“Seductions of Rice” (2003); “Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World” (2003); “Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent” (2005); “Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China” (2008); and “Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas” (2008)—each one showered with well-deserved praise and awards. The couple divorced in 2009, and Naomi’s first solo endeavor, “Burma: Rivers of Flavor,” is being released by Artisan this week. It’s proof that two heads are not always better than one. I was lucky enough to interview the author by phone late last year when she was finishing work on the book, and have read it in an online galley form thanks to the kind people at Artisan.