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Cookbooks

December 20, 1987|BARBARA HANSEN

Whether you're buying gifts for a culinary novice or an expert, an ideal present is as close as the nearest bookstore. The Times' Food staff looked at a sampling of the cookbooks released in time for this holiday season and offers the following reviews to assist last-minute shoppers. Some of these books get down to the basics, some deal with ethnic cuisines while still others are as much a feast for the eyes as for the appetite. These--or the host of other cookbooks you'll find on sale at local stores--will not only delight the recipient but might ensure the giver some memorable repasts during 1988.

Asia the Beautiful Cookbook by Jacki Passmore (Knapp Press: $39.95, 256 pp., illustrated)

Asia is an enormous chunk of territory to bite off in a single book. Somehow the foods of Japan seem austere and otherworldly beside a raucous curry from Malaysia or a wildly pungent mixture of dried shrimp and shrimp paste from Burma. But if an overview is what you want, here it is--gorgeously illustrated.

Fourteen countries are mentioned in the book. Despite their roles in the international limelight, the Philippines and Korea get short shrift--only five pages of recipes each, about the same space that is allotted to Sri Lanka, Burma and Laos and Cambodia and less than one-third of the space given to Indonesia. This sort of once-over is typical for the Philippines. The food of that island nation is potentially the most agreeable to Westerners yet remains surprisingly unknown.

To be realistic, many ardent cookbook buyers use their purchases primarily for browsing and not for serious kitchen work, so quantity of recipes is not important. The real beneficiaries of this book may be travel agents. The photographs of Sri Lankan fishermen, Chinese New Year in Singapore, snow-covered Simla and other scenes are so gaspingly alluring that the impressionable reader is likely to wind up with airline tickets in hand.

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