The Rice Book
Sri Owen, Bloomsbury
Born in 1935, Sri Owen grew up among Indonesian rice fields and has spent much of her adult life in London. The Rice Book, first published 30 years ago and reissued with a new foreword, is her masterpiece, a profound work based on years of travel with her husband, Roger, and their examination of rice’s cultural, historical, economic and culinary significance all over the world. It is an engrossing book. I felt like a rice ball bouncing through 80 pages of lively education before arriving, prepared, at the essential global recipes – donburi, nasi ulam, pilaf, paella and dolmas.
More Daily Veg
Joe Woodhouse, Kyle
Joe Woodhouse doesn’t peel vegetables. He also adds blue cheese to potato gratin and potato to focaccia, puts cream with cucumber, lentils in bolognese, celeriac in a puff-pastry, turns walnuts into magical sauce and makes pickling seem as everyday as washing up. After the success of his first book (Your Daily Veg), putting together a companion must have felt daunting. He did it though, offering another 85 satisfying and inventive recipes. I also appreciate the neat proportions and efficient layout of this book, neither of which inhibit the warm, unpeeled generosity of Joe and his cooking.
The Secret of Cooking
Bee Wilson, 4th Estate
A box grater makes a dashing cover star! “Imagine a kitchen tool powerful enough to do the work of a hundred small knives all at once,” Bee Wilson writes, and I am torn between reading on and grabbing a carrot. Wilson has spent a lifetime cooking, eating, feeding, reading, thinking and writing about food. She also had a code to crack: “How to fit cooking into the everyday mess and imperfection of all our lives without it seeming like another undoable thing.” All this is brought together in a truly remarkable cookbook that will change lives. It could also be described as an indispensable guide to navigating dozens of daily cooking puzzles and finding answers: recipes, broad and good recipes, that feel like starting points for a better way of being.
Riaz Phillips, DK
To make callaloo, dasheen leaves, okra, squash and coconut milk are “melted down” before being blended with a swizzle stick. This soft green stew has become something of a social symbol in the Caribbean, of “the multiplicity and democracy of the many parts within”. East Winds is Riaz Phillips’s third book and reveals what an outstanding and poetic writer he’s become. He takes us on a culinary and cultural journey through Guyana, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago and elsewhere. The term “hidden Caribbean” refers not only to the fact the south-eastern islands are overshadowed by Jamaica and the broader Caribbean, but to the myriad identities – Amerindian, west African, Portuguese, Chinese and Indian – that swirl within them and manifest so clearly in their food. The chapter titles – Plant-based, Seeds & Pulses; Nose-to-Tail – feel contemporary, but these are old ways and the chapter on roti is a masterpiece.
Anya von Bremzen, Pushkin
National Dish explores the relationship between food and identity. Specifically, how and why certain dishes – pot-au-feu, pizza margherita, ramen, tapas, mole and meze – “got anointed as national”. To research the book, Anya von Bremzen and her partner, Barry, also a writer, spent weeks at a time in Paris, Naples , Tokyo, Seville, Oaxaca and Istanbul before returning to their home in New York. Von Bremzen is a writer who holds you close and buys you a drink, so travelling with them is a heady, often anarchic, experience. Along the way we encounter many food myths and “authenticity” deployed as a marketing tool – but also generosity, history, tradition and not a little magic. Then we get to marvel at the way Von Bremzen, a sharp and compassionate guide, thinks about it all. Spectacularly intelligent and funny.
• To browse all the food books included in the Guardian and Observer’s best books of 2023 visit guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.