From the Preface page, I noticed that this book was some sort of a biography of the main author – Nora V. Daza. This was confirmed when the author mentioned on page 81 that this book is an autobiography of hers, specifically her beginnings in the culinary industry. It traced her early attempts in cooking; who and what inspired her, how she learned of the recipes, who taught her and who she got most of the featured recipes. It told of her good relationship with her mother-in-law who handed down her culinary notes and recipes, most of which were written in Spanish. She also acknowledged friends who shared with her their own family recipes. She gave credit to other authors and cookbooks that inspired her and which she used as references.
A Culinary Life has 140 recipes spread out in 12 chapters. The recipes were grouped according to type – Appetizer, Soup, Salad, Fish, Meat, Vegetable, Desserts, indigenous desserts/bread, and from the sources of the recipes.
Each chapter and recipes were preceded with anecdotes – sometimes amusing, sometimes nostalgic - tracing the beginnings of a recipe and to some extent how it evolved and became part of Filipino cuisine. Ms. Daza featured family recipes that were handed down from previous generations and those of her friends who were generous enough to share theirs. Also included were recipes coming from Thailand, Burma and Indonesia. Dishes she liked that she reconstructed in her kitchen. She noted that there were many similarities in cooking method, ingredients and practices among Asian nations.
Many Filipino dishes included in this book were heavily influenced by Spanish cuisine and Chinese cookery. In re-creating, foreign recipes were eventually “filipinized”, substituting local ingredients and adapting to Filipino taste. She gave cooking tips, from proper storage of eggs to preparing your own mayonnaise to using the freshest ingredient available.
The author also shared which Filipino dish was popular among other nationalities. In France, for example, in her restaurant Aux Iles Philippines, Kuhol Bicol was a success among French diners. Not surprising though for the French are known to have a liking for snails or escargot. Kuhol Bicol is a dish of river snails cooked in coconut milk with chillies, yellow ginger and shrimp paste.
Some recipes in this book were previously featured in her earlier cookbooks. The author’s reason for re-writing these recipes was to simplify or to give a more detailed procedure or method of cooking, for the reader’s better understanding of the recipe. There was one recipe though that referred to a diagram illustrating how to wrap the food using corn husk, but the diagram was nowhere to be found in the book. Perhaps this was the copyreader’s lapse?
As a whole, the A Culinary Life is a good source of information about Philippine cuisine. The book, though “old” (more than two decades since its first publication) has not lost its usefulness as a guide for cooking whether you are a novice or a seasoned cook.
About the (main) Author, Nora V. Daza
If America (USA) has Julia Child, the Philippines have Nora V. Daza. She pioneered in cooking shows on television in the Philippines, at the time when culinary arts and celebrity chefs were almost unheard of in the Philippines. She wrote for national newspapers, and always, would share not only easy-to-do recipes but kitchen tips as well. In her active years, she published 3 books: Let’s Cook with Nora, Ang galing-galing (with daughter Mariles Daza) and A Culinary Life (with a newspaper food columnist, Michaela Fenix). A true believer of Filipino cuisine, she is the first Filipino to establish a restaurant in the land noted for its gastronomic élan and sophistication – France. This restaurant earned merits (received the award Prix Marco Polo) and was featured in Michelin Guide as one of top restaurants in Paris in 1977. Earlier, she introduced French cuisine to Filipino diners through her restaurant Au Bon Vivant. These restaurants, however, have long been closed.
At 84, Ms. Daza continues her legacy through her children who are also into the restaurant/food business.
Editor’s Note: A Culinary Life (previously owned) is available at Amazon.com. I bought my copy from the local bookstore sometime in 1996.