“It’s not about the best meal I ever ate, or if Burmese food is better than Thai food,” says Naomi Duguid of her new book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor. “That’s an outsider’s point of view. I want to become enough of an insider and have enough of a perspective that I can transmit it to others to have them put on an ‘insider’s hat,’ even in a small, bridging way.”
A self-described “culinary anthropologist,” the Ottawa-born food writer did her undergraduate degree in geography at Queen’s, and it is to that early training that she attributes her passion for “seeking explanations and trying to understand people in their own context” – particularly the context of what they eat.
Burma: Rivers of Flavor features her stunning photographs interspersed with history and recipes, glossaries, and a bibliography. It’s a style she perfected in the six cookbooks she coauthored with Jeffrey Alford, Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia samples the tables of Vietnam and Thailand; Beyond the Great Wall draws a remarkable food map of China; Mangoes & Curry Leaves explores the gustatory Subcontinent; Seductions of Rice honours the grain that feeds the world; and her first, Flatbreads & Flavours, won the James Beard Cookbook of the Year award and the Julia Child Best First Book.
Naomi’s approach to the cookbook is rich and poetic. She says, “My books are about trying to be that bridge. Some people connect through images, some people connect via a story or facts or analysis. And others by doing, by the sensual. Recipes are this extraordinary thing – they do all of this, they anchor food in a concrete way. You can travel in your kitchen; you can take this risk at home.”
She continues to live in Toronto with her two sons, where she teaches a course, “Foods That Changed the World,” at the University of Toronto. Each winter she conducts intensive cultural-immersion-through-food sessions in northern Thailand. Her articles and photographs appear in Food & Wine and Cooking Light, and she’s a consulting editor for Saveur magazine. She also writes a popular weekly blog.
Photo Credit: Laura Beman