title: Street Food Diaries
author: Matt Basile
publication date: October 7, 2014
publisher: Penguin Group Canada
This is a cookbook inspired by stories, smells, that perfect dish, something clever written on a chalkboard, a loved one, a desire to be more than just a food trucker or restauranteur. Ultimately, inspired by everything and anything.
— Matt Basile (Street Food Diaries)
I was a little nervous when I got my hands on Matt Basile’s debut cookbook – Street Food Diaries. Why? Because I love Matt’s food. I tried his food at a Toronto Underground Market waaaaay back in October 2012. Before the food truck (Fidel Gastro). Before the restaurant (Lisa Marie). Before the TV show (Rebel Without a Kitchen).
Having eaten his food several times and watched his (well-deserved) success continue to grow, I didn’t want to ruin it by not liking his book because, really…Matt’s a nice guy. Who wants to say anything bad about such a nice guy?
But after spending about 20 minutes flipping through the book, I knew I had nothing to worry about. I love this book! Ok, ok, step back. Be objective – don’t gush… I really, really like this book!
the first nibble:
This book can be described in one word – fun! Inspired by the street food movement, these are foods that are not meant to be dinner party fare (although they could be), but rather, these are recipes for when your friends come over to hang out and watch the game. Or a lazy Sunday family brunch. Or a picnic. This is food that is meant to be enjoyed and shared.
With an intro that’s very personal and highly entertaining, Matt’s style of writing is carried throughout the book, which is sprinkled with lots of stories and funny anecdotes.
The photography for Street Food Diaries was shot by Matt’s business partner and partner in life, Kyla Zanardi, and her images share the same fun, lively feel of the writing, making you want to dive headfirst into cooking.
On my first pass through the book, five recipes that jumped out as ‘must try’:
- Baby Back Bao Buns, pg. 71
- Red Snapper Fish Tacos, pg. 139
- Eggplant “Meatballs” with Jalapeno Mint Dipping Sauce, pg. 158
- Pad Thai Fries, pg. 160
- S’More French Toast Sammiches, pg. 267
number of recipes (as stated by book): “over 85 irresistible and original street food recipes”
recipe list? Yes, at the start of each chapter, there’s a list of recipes contained in that chapter
table of contents: Since I’m the type who loves reading my cookbooks cover to cover, an irreverent table of contents doesn’t bother me at all – it’s not how I look for recipes anyway. The Table of Contents from Street Food Diaries just makes me adore this book even more.
photography: Whenever I see the term “food porn”, I’m now going to think of Kyla. This gal is TALENTED.
The photos in Street Food Diaries are exactly what you would expect from the title – don’t expect any perfectly-plated, no-crumb-out-of-place food shots. There are a lot of messy, drippy, saucy shots of food. And they are all gorgeous. Drool-worthy gorgeous. Plus, in between the food shots are photos of people enjoying food and smiling. Lots of smiling.
Major bonus points for having a finished dish photo for EVERY SINGLE RECIPE (do you know how rare that is in a cookbook?) This is something I really look for in cookbooks – yes, I need to know what the dish is supposed to look like – I like having a goal to strive for!
photo to recipe ratio*: out of 87 total recipes**, 87 recipes had at least one accompanying ‘finished dish’ photo or step-by-step photo (photo : recipe ratio = 1 : 1)
* this is a manual count, so numbers may be slightly off due to human error (mine)
** only ‘main’ recipes are counted – recipes that appear as part of another dish are not counted
– separate ingredient list? yes
– serving info given? yes
– prep/cook time given? no
– recipe format: paragraphs
The recipes are well laid out, with a separate ingredient list and easy-to-read instructions. Some recipes are introduced with a personal story or tidbit on what makes the recipe special. As I mentioned earlier, many of the recipes are perfect items to make when you have people coming over (just take a look at the Table of Contents!).
Although it was tough to choose a favourite section – I mean, there’s a chapter called “I Love Bacon”! – I definitely bookmarked quite a few recipes in the Brunch section. I love breakfast and brunch foods and find that many of my cookbooks focus on lunch and dinner (or dessert) so seeing all those great options for a late breakfast makes me want to sleep in this weekend and have breakfast for lunch AND dinner.
For cookbook readers like me, what makes these recipes fun to skim are little comments that Matt sneaks into the instructions once in a while.
the last bite:
With the fun writing, beautiful food photos and personal stories, this was one of the most enjoyable cookbook reads that I’ve had in a while. It felt like more of a journey through street food than a cookbook (which might have been the intent), although it stuck mainly to Canada and the US. I’m really hoping that Matt and Kyla are working on a sequel with even more street food-inspired recipes (perhaps from travels outside of North America?)
With a variety of recipes that include appetizers, main dishes, side dishes and breakfast/brunch items, there’s something for every meal. Sadly, there aren’t as many desserts as I would have liked, but I will still have fun creating a lot of these recipes in my kitchen in the very near future.
p.s. Fans of Matt’s food will be thrilled to know that the recipe for his popular Pad Thai Fries is included in the book – I know several people who will be making these fries a priority in their kitchens!
Matt was gracious enough to spend some time answering some questions for my Author Q&A series. You can read my interview with him here.
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