INDONESIAN AND THAI COOKERY
Judy Piatkus, London, 1988
Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Memorial Award, 1989
known in North America as HOMESTYLE THAI AND INDONESIAN COOKING
North American edition: The Crossing Press, Freedom, California, 1997
Line drawings by Soun Vannithone
1984, when so many dreadful things were supposed to happen, saw not only the second edition of IFAC but a major life-change for me and my husband and our two sons. My work at the BBC had always been on short-term contracts, and although I became a senior producer and was well-known in my own country as a broadcaster, my employers now told me, regretfully I think, that I had now served all the terms they could legally grant me and that therefore, sadly, ... So I was out of work, apart from some freelance journalism, and the home-cooked Indonesian dishes that I sold, mostly to neighbours, from my freezer in our home in Surrey. I decided I’d probably go crazy if I had to stay in the house all day on my own, waiting for children to come back from school and Roger to return from work. So I decided to open a delicatessen and sell my food on a larger scale. We spent weeks and months looking for a suitable shop to rent, and had pretty well given up, when in February 1984 we spotted an ad. for a large flat in Wimbledon with a shop attached. We inspected the premises, thought the shop would just about do, and fell in love with the flat above it. We realised we were going to have to move ... To cut a long story short, we bought a 19-year lease, sold our house with the big garden, moved in, and for the next four and a half years scarcely had a moment’s rest. My shop, Mustika Rasa, opened in September: some people in Wimbledon Village (and beyond) may still remember it.
Once again, we were lucky in our timing. Quite unexpectedly, we heard that the freehold of the building was to come up for auction that December. Roger went to the auction, bid and got it. We now had a huge mortgage, a big bank loan and an apparently bottomless overdraft. Fortunately the bank manager, for whom I cooked a splendid lunch (he rewarded me with a large bill for his visit), remained loyal to us. I cooked for 8, 10, 12 hours a day; we were sometimes up all night. It made me a professional cook, but we were amateurs in business; though I supplied cooked food to Harrods Food Hall, we never got to the stage where we could recruit and train reliable staff who could be left in charge while we had a day off. After three years, we realised we didn’t have to live like this; other people wanted to rent our shop, it was ours to let. Six months after Mustika Rasa closed, Roger seized an opportunity to take early retirement from the Polytechnic where he had taught for over twenty years, so within six months we went from being madly busy to having as much spare time as we wanted.
Roger would be happy to watch paint dry if he had to, but I cannot be idle and ‘Indonesian and Thai Food’ was the first result of this restlessness. I had seen it coming - before the shop was even properly shut down I had left husband and younger son to fend for themselves and had taken myself on an eight-week research trip to Bangkok, Jakarta, Bali and Indonesian Borneo (i.e. Kalimantan), gathering my material. It was a great experience, but I swore I would never travel on my own again. Fortunately, I’ve never had to, and Roger and I always travel together.
The publisher, Judy Piatkus, wanted to call this book ‘Thai and Indonesian’ on the grounds that Thai food was better known in the west. She was right, but I didn’t see why I should encourage the belief that Thai should always come first. She gave way gracefully and published the book in 1988; it stayed in print for a long time, was reprinted more than once, and went into paperback. It was also shortlisted for the Andre Simon Memorial Prize. In 1997 the Crossing Press, of Freedom, California, gallantly took up the book and published a US edition which I think is still around. However, they insisted that Thai must come before Indonesian, and I think would have invoked the First Amendment if I had tried to stop them. Their ‘Homestyle’ series at least seems to make a comfortable home for the book.