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Hawker Fare's New Cookbook Is a Funk Manifesto

James Syhabout cooks his way back to his roots.

 

In his recently released Hawker Fare cookbook, James Syhabout recounts the identity crisis he faced in the days before he decided to open the original, now-shuttered Oakland location of Hawker Fare. For all his success, the Michelin-decorated chef realized he had never really learned how to cook the Lao food he grew up eating. In fact, as Syhabout ascended the world of haute cuisine, he began to feel embarrassed by the funky, fish-sauce-laden dishes of his people. “I’d carelessly discarded the mirror of my food and culture, left it for salvage,” Syhabout writes. In short: “I fucked up.”

The cookbook-memoir, which Syhabout cowrote with food writer John Birdsall, tells the story of how the chef cooked his way back to his roots. Published in January by Anthony Bourdain’s new Ecco imprint, the book is also a treasure trove for home cooks looking to re-create their favorite Hawker Fare dishes—and, beyond that, the versions of dishes Syhabout only wishes he could serve at the restaurant: rice congee sprinkled with MSG, and poached chicken that’s still pink at the bone, the way Lao people prefer it.

How can you not love a cookbook that includes a recipe for homemade padaek, or Lao-style fish sauce (“the funk of all funks”), whose instructions ask you to leave a whole carp to ferment in your garage for an entire year?

 

Originally published in the March issue of San Francisco 

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