Hawker Fare: Stories and Recipes from a Refugee Chef's Isan Thai and Lao Roots

Hawker Fare: Stories and Recipes from a Refugee Chef's Isan Thai and Lao Roots is a vivid, inspiring collage of chef James Syhabout's life, family and the flavors of his youth.

Syhabout earned two Michelin stars for his Oakland, Calif., restaurant Commis, but his debut cookbook sets out to instead highlight dishes he serves at his restaurant Hawker Fare--the Lao and Thai dishes he grew up eating.

Sticky rice and padaek, fermented fish sauce, provide the foundation for many. Syhabout builds on these with myriad colorful and flavorful recipes for snacks, tum som, noodles and soups, laap and goi, meats, aws and moks, sauces and condiments, as well as desserts. Standouts include Lao Green Papaya Salad, Khao Mun Gai (Poached Chicken and Rice) and Aromatic Fish Salad Laap.

An introduction by Anthony Bourdain cements Syhabout's celebrity, but his work sparkles on its own. Expletives pepper his writing, also seasoned with creative verbs. On his Coconut Milk and Tapioca Soup with Melon and Crushed Ice, he writes that his mom would "freestyle it." He includes advice on preferred brands for prepared ingredients, and where to find fresh produce and meat. Some can be difficult to get in Western markets, he admits, like buffalo skin ("Honestly, even I have a hard time sourcing this stuff"), while others are easy, such as lemon grass ("easy to find these days at all Asian markets [or] Whole Foods"). Ultimately, he says, "If the label says Thailand or Vietnam, it's probably legit." As legit, no doubt, as Hawker Fare. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

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