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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Book Review: Papaya Flower, by Petty Elliott

Nov. 12 (Jakarta Globe) Having both edited and read Petty Elliott’s weekly Food Talk column for the Jakarta Globe over the past four months, I curiously awaited the release in early November of her first book, “Papaya Flower, Manadonese Cuisine, Provincial Indonesian Food.” And, for the most part, I am highly impressed by the result.

At first glance, this is a stunning piece of work that would tastefully grace any discerning owner’s coffee table. The cover shot of delicate papaya flowers nestled in a white Chinese spoon on a palm-leaf background is beautifully arranged, photographed and reproduced, as are all the images inside.

Elliott, who is based in Jakarta, has taught cooking for 10 years and written about food for magazines and newspapers for more than five.

The book is a collaboration with photographer Melbourne, also from Jakarta, and every one of his many pictures, whether of scenery, raw ingredients or finished dishes, is a delight. The book is well-designed and beautifully laid out, and the glossy paper it is printed on gives it an elegant and expensive sheen.

But “Papaya Flower” is more than just a pretty picture book and Elliott has presented a range of dishes to tempt the home cook, even one with no prior knowledge of Indonesian cuisine. The recipes are presented simply and most are easy to follow, bracketed with an introduction and ingredients section at the beginning and a history of Manado and a photo-essay tour of Minahasa to end.

The ingredients section is especially useful for those new to Manadonese and other Indonesian recipes and presents 50 common components, together with photographs, their names in English, Indonesian and Manadonese, their essential qualities and similar products or alternatives if the precise item is not readily available.

Elliott also gives possible replacements and additions in many of her recipes. The recipes cover breakfast, starters, fish, poultry, meat and vegetable dishes, in addition to noodle and rice options, desserts, cookies and drinks. I particularly look forward to making some of the spicy salads and curry dishes .

The instructions are clear and tempt the reader both in the reading and the viewing of the companion photos. My only quibble would be that one or two recipes would benefit from clearer cooking times.

An instruction to “Cook the paste until fragrant” is of little use to someone attempting a dish for the first time, particularly when the ingredients are crushed (or blended) chillies, shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric and galangal — all of which I consider fragrant, even without the addition of heat.

Another recipe for roast tenderloin beef gives a cooking time for medium, but no times for those who prefer their beef rare or well-done. While this is no problem for anyone who cooks steak regularly, it isn’t of much help to the aspiring home cook. But those are minor criticisms, and rare cases.

Where the book does itself a huge disservice, however, is in the poor standard of proofreading before it was printed, if indeed it was proofread at all.

I admit that, as an editor by profession, print errors are more obvious to me than to many readers, but when a short recipe for mango juice contains at least six mistakes, I feel justified in saying it is sloppy work. Unfortunately, although this is the worst single example, the book is sprinkled throughout with misspellings, missed words and use of the wrong homonym (peal instead of peel, for instance).

This is disappointing as the standard of the book’s images and content is of such high caliber that it hurts to see it let down by inattention to detail in the language.

I will definitely attempt many of these recipes, especially after I leave Indonesia, and will delight in showing Melbourne’s stunning photographs to friends overseas. And I would have happily bought copies to send overseas as gifts too, if not for those errors that could have been all too easily caught before printing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Puncak Pass, Nov. 31, 2009




Just a few shots of a hike through Puncak Pass with Java Lavato remind me that there IS fresh air not too far from Jakarta! Unfortunately you have to deal with the city's abominable traffic to get there and back - the trip there took only 90 minutes because it was 0430, but coming back in the
afternoon took more than four hours.