June 30, 2022

Spicy basil and killer elephants

This month, discover a new Thai cookbook, two memoirs with Southeast Asian interest, a new favourite novel and a fascinating book about greedy elephants.

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What I read this month

This month, I've been thick in the research phase of The Koh Samui Guide's 8th edition ... leading to some new corners of Amazon (and even the depths of that infamous Thai cave). Below, find a Thai cookbook, two memoirs with Southeast Asian interest, a new favourite novel and a fascinating book about greedy elephants.

1. What Could Be Saved

The 25 Best Books About Bangkok: What Could Be Saved

Lastly, the novel. I adored this book. The story follows an American family from the 1970s to present day, first during their time as an expat family in Bangkok (where Something Very Bad happens) and later in the States. It covers mother-daughter and sibling relationships, there's a mystery, there's expat snobbery and, best of all, some incredible scenes of Thailand fifty years ago. Read it in a weekend – tell your family to deliver snacks.

About the author: She grew up in Bangkok then Washington, D.C. ... went to Harvard ... became an ER doctor ... then wrote this superb novel.

Available in hardback, paperback, on Kindle or free with an Audible trial.

2. The Pepper Thai Cookbook

The 25 Best Books About Bangkok: The Pepper Thai Cookbook

As a greedy person in a bad cook's body, I've shelved a lot of Thai cookbooks before chopping so much as a shallot. Too fussy, too hard to find the ingredients, too terrifying. Along comes Pepper Teigen, insisting that "cooking Thai food shouldn't be scary". I started at the salad chapter – the perfect place for hungry humans who don't really cook. Whisk this, chop that, eat. Specifically, the Spicy Basil Melon Salad. Chopping a honeydew melon was the most taxing step and, five minutes later, I had the ultimate summer dish.

Serves four? No, serves one, because I ate the whole thing – for breakfast, lunch and dinner until it ran out. This salad, and a few others (easy pomelo salad, shrimp and bacon glass noodle salad) will be staples all summer long. On a roll, I also made Fridge Cleaning Fried Rice ... a second success for Can't Cook Kitchen. Up next? Pineapple soft serve and Thai tea bread pudding.

Favourite tip: Spring rolls – "Look for wrappers that are as thin as cheap toilet paper".

Stock up on white pepper. It pops up in a lot of recipes.

Difficulty level: Total beginner (like you're proud of yourself for cutting up a melon)

3. Aquanaut

The 25 Best Books About Bangkok: Aquanaut

This month will mark four years since the Thai cave rescue. Aquanaut comes from one of the two lead British divers, Rick Stanton, and he's rather a character. (“I mean if you’re ever going to be known for something, why not be known for rescuing 12 children, when everyone, everyone, thought they were going to die.” – NY Times).

The book’s similar to Apollo 13 – you know that there’s a happy ending eventually, but it’s a stressful journey. Though always self-deprecating, Rick’s decades of diving experience help you to understand just how skilled this rescue was. If interested, there's a National Geographic documentary (on Disney Plus, here's the trailer on YouTube) and Ron Howard's movie is out later this year.

Available in hardback, paperback, on Kindle or free with an Audible trial.

4. In the Weeds

The 25 Best Books About Bangkok: In the Weeds

Here's the opener: "Incidents included in this book are not intended to glamorize or endorse acts of cannibalism, drug use, smuggling, torture, extortion, bribery, wire fraud, attempted vehicular manslaughter, or the poaching of endangered species." Yea, I was hooked.

This memoir spans the decade or so that producer Tom Vitale travelled with Anthony Bourdain as they filmed Parts Unknown and other shows prior. Much of the book covers grief and the hard questions that follow suicide; timely reading as we hear so much about mental health. The pace of work and travel is insane. I knew little about the TV shows so found it all the more surprising.

The book starts in Burma and, just as you're hoping, includes a long section in Vietnam explaining how on earth the Obama interview came about. That chapter alone was worth reading the book – it's fascinating – "When it came to restaurants, local atmosphere and authenticity rarely went hand-in-hand with sprinkler systems, ease of exfiltration, and proximity to a helipad, all required for this particular special guest."

Travel tip: On what to eat when you're afraid of everything – "Spaghetti bolognese was the smart option. "Spag bowl," as Tony called it, was on every menu, hard to mess up regardless of location and unlikely to make you ill. (Unlike warthog anus in Namibia)".

Available in hardback, paperback, on Kindle or free with an Audible trial.

5. Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

The 25 Best Books About Bangkok: Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law

Like Bill Bryson books? Read any news article you see about grizzly bears chewing hikers and hunters? Step right up. Fuzz tackles that time-old man vs nature problem. It teaches why nature (or large mammals with tusks, teeth and claws) will almost always win and how a crime scene investigator might determine which teeth, which claws.

Of particular interest to Thailand visitors are the sections on elephants, macaque monkeys and deaths-by-falling-coconut. It will (A) fascinate anyone who likes true crime stories and (B) make you think twice about cuddling an animal much larger than you.

Take elephants. There are "nine recorded methods by which an angry elephant has killed a human being. 'Placing a fore foot on one limb of the victim and ripping off the other with the trunk' is number 3". It. gets. gory.Favourite fact: "The pattern of a leopard's rosettes is unique, like a set of human fingerprints."

Favourite chapter title: 'Maul Cops ... crime scene forensics when the killer isn't human.'

Available in hardback, paperback, on Kindle or free with an Audible trial.

More books?

Find all my recommendations categorised below:

P.S. You can find every tip for Thailand books and resources in the archive, or subscribe by email and get all the details straight to your inbox. Enjoy!