My personal opinions

I got my first insulting comment message yesteday. How perfectly thrilling, a baptism of fire! Now I really feel I can call myself a blogger.
A reader took exception to my saying that Spanish cookbooks are almost never worth buying, being written with the literary flair of an Ikea manual.
Please believe me, I didn´t mean to insult Ikea manuals.

Aside from the fact that I did use the word almost, let me explain. I just mean that I, personally, me, myself, don´t think we can thump our collective chests in pride at the state of cookbook publishing in this country.
Here cookbooks have always been seen as reference books. Something to have in the kitchen, under the sewing basket and an empty jam jar containing a button, some twine, a couple of nails and a buy1get1free coupon from the supermarket.
A book you turn to when you want to cook bacalao al pil-pil, or be reminded of the quantities for making pound cake.
They never have a little text above the recipe explaining what it is and what it´s good with. So if you know what pil-pil is, good for you. And if you don´t, you´ll have to read the recipe through and try to imagine what it is. This sounds like a lot of hard work.
Also, and this really does drive me up the wall, the indexes are pathetic. If you´re looking for something, you have to remember the exact name, or you´ll never find it. Not for us the kind of comprehensive cross-indexing, all the chocolate recipes being listed under chocolate, as well as under their given names.
As for the look, well, it´s utilitarian, for the most part. When there are photographs, they´re not very good, or even, as in José Andrés´s latest book, taken directly from a TV program. Nice look, don´t you think, each picture with a 625 line fuzz?
Not all books are like that, of course not, but many are. In my opinion (all mine), the best are those El País Aguilar makes. Yes, I´ve illustrated a couple, but don´t let that fool you, I illustrate a lot of stuff I wouldn´t touch with a ten foot pole.
Rosa Tovar´s Las claves de la cocina, for example, is excellent, and has a lot of additional information to each recipe. But it´s contained in blurbs, which is annoying. And the book is organized according to the pots or pans in which dishes are made. You can imagine that without a proper index, it can be a little trying.
Also, these are paperbacks, tall, narrow and very heavy. They can´t be made to lie flat on a counter while you´re cooking. Cutting boards and pickle jars have to be balanced on top to keep them open, which results in a cluttered working space.
Furthermore, they´re prized at 21€ and over. So that I can understand why someone might choose a glossy edition of Donna Hay in translation over them. Cuts of meat are different, you probably won´t find many ingredients, and not everyone has measuring cups, but at least you´re assured of a book that´s beautiful to look at and is user-friendly.
For my money (mine, all mine, hard-earned by yours truly) the best cookbooks are made in England and the USA. Some people say that´s because people there can´t cook, and need all the instruction they can get.
If they´re happy with that, well, let them, who cares? As long as I can complement my trusty, boring, dependable 1080 recetas de cocina with the Moro cookbooks, I´m very happy too.

16 comentarios:

Anónimo dijo...

Did you know that your trusty 1080 recetas has now been translated into English?! I'm quite excited and hope to take a peek at it soon!

Pille dijo...

Oh, I agree with the index bit - I find it sooooo frustrating when there's no good index!! And I've pretty much stopped buying recipe books. I've got zillion recipes in my bookshelf/website/magazine pile, I don't need more. What I do need, however, is inspiration and context and stories and luscious photographs and/or quirky drawings to make me want to prepare a dish..

Anónimo dijo...

i was thinkihng of telling you about 1080 but i got to the end of your post and saw you yourself mentioned the book

i guess i'm a real blogger too, 'cause from time to time i also receive insulting comments

thanks for your post



(el próximo te lo dejo en español, que me siento un poco formal con esto del inglés :-)

Anónimo dijo...

I chuckled when I read your review post, thinking of the many Spanish cookbooks I reference when I cook. You're right that a balance of pared-down instruction manuals and vague/charming chatter is needed.
Incidentally, other nationalities have this problem too, I think: my German cookbooks are very formal, and I use the English translation of Italy's 'The Silver Spoon' all the time. (Perhaps it's more that these are older books...)

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) dijo...

As someone with more than her share of American and English cookbooks (maybe more than 500 at this point, including old and new ones), I have to say that not all American cookbooks are wonderful. Some publishers, in their haste to publish, skip the all-important step of meticulously testing recipes. It is so disappointing to buy a cookbook and then find that a large number of recipes simply do not work well, or the instructions are so poor that a cook who is less experienced would never be able to follow the recipe. More cookbooks are good than not good, but there are plenty that aren't worth the money. I guess that's why you have to keep buying more -- to find the good ones!

Anónimo dijo...

I agree with you 100%, Spanish cook books are so spartan that you have to know what you are cooking to get the recipe right. I also buy American or British books and are suscribed to a superb American magazine. I have also found some very good French books.

lobstersquad dijo...

Su-lin: that´s very exciting, I think it´s great that the great reference book will finally be available to the world.
Pille: you said it so well, I´m tempted to paste your comment into my post!
amor: well, lucky for us, the good comments outnumber the bad ones, hopefully. muchas gracias por comentar
Ingrid: yes, I guess it can be that they´re older, but the new ones seem to be following the mold. And I agree, German, Italian and French books are like this too. I just find them a bit dull.
Lydia: oh, we have the no-test books too, never fear. I was only talking about the form, but the content can be downright suable, sometimes. But as you say, a good excuse for shopping.

Anónimo dijo...

¡Completamente de acuerdo!

Excusame el coment en español que hoy estoy espesita como para pensar en inglés.

La verdad es que he estado mirando todos mis libros y no hay ni uno español, aunque ayer en la Fnac me tentó el de Recetas de Arzak, aunque no lo vi por dentro.

Aun así debo de ser una de las pocas personas a las que no le gustan las 1080... pero creo que es básicamente porque no tiene fotos, xD realmente lo que me llama de hacer algo es poder ver el resultado y poder analizar la foto, normalmente puedo extraer conclusiones bastante acertadas de como se ha elaborado antes de realizar la receta.

La verdad es que donde mejor se ve el panorama literario culinario es en las revistas de cocina que encontramos en los kioscos... si, hay buenas (Apicius, por ejemplo, inasequible para mi) pero el resto son recetas recicladas a lo largo del tiempo, con una presentacion un poco penosa y una maquetación que dan ganas de clavarte tipos de imprenta en el orto.

Aun así recuerdo algunos recetarios de El Mueble que eran bonitos y esas cosas pero manifestaban un incomprensible abuso de Torta del Casar en el 80% de las recetas.

En conclusión, tenemos cosas buenas sí, pero fuera nos ganan en proporción.

¡Menudo tocho! xD


Anónimo dijo...

I've never seen a Spanish cookbook so I can't really say, but as someone who is not so pro in the kitchen it helps to have all the "additional information", pictures, details, narrative, inspiration I can get :) (and a good index of course...)

So, that being said, do you have a good recipe for bacalao al pil-pil? My hubby would be in the moon if I could cook it! :)

Casey dijo...

I know absolutely nothing about Spanish cookbooks, but I loved this post. Plus: aother delightful drawing.

Paula y Simón dijo...

¡¡Ximenaaaa!! Tú sigue opinando, que pa eso está esto... jeje... Y absolutamente de acuerdo en lo que se refiere a los libros de cocina, que yo extendería hasta los libros en general (a riesgo de que me tiren algún tomate)...

Anónimo dijo...

Totalmente a favor de tus opiniones sobre los cutre libros de cocina españoles... Te apoyo al 100% Un saludo Jorge Fogonazo!

lobstersquad dijo...

duraglar: es verdad que las revistas son mejores, pero igualmente me parecen mejores las guiris. elle à table o olive son bien divertidas, y tienen mucho mejor fotografía.
y gracias por el comentario largo, me encantó!
joey: never made pil-pil, blushing with shame now...
casey: you now know all you want to know about them, believe me.
paula: tú lo has dicho, maja. no quería ir por ahí, pero el panorama general es igual de terrorífico.
Jorge: gracias por venir, y ahora estoy deseando hacer la tarta de zanahoria de rose, superplan para el fin de semana.

Anónimo dijo...

Pero que te dijeron??? Yo crei que lo de insultar se dejaba para los foros de Futbol. Un beso desde las Polonias

Anónimo dijo...

Hola Ximena:
First of all, your blogs are amazing.
A longtime lurker, I feel compelled to comment to support "1080 recetas". Ok, granted, it is spartan & if I don't know what bacalao al pil-pil really is, I may run into trouble. But for basic dishes, when Ortega starts saying she chooses to explain everything plain & simple "para que el plato le salga a la mano menos experta", she means it. Her "tarta de queso" is the best no-crust cheesecake I have ever baked.
I own cookbooks in Spanish, German, French & English & I totally agree with you: cookbooks from England & the USA are by far the best. I don't care being thought of as a dumbo by their authors, as long as my 3-something-hour efforts in the kitchen are rewarded with a plate filled with something not too far away from what the glossy picture on the side promised me. I don't mind fighting with "oz" & trying to figure out how many grams butter there are in a "stick"....

lobstersquad dijo...

Paprika: you´re right, it´s a good book, and I use it from time to time. I just think it uninspiring, I´d never start from it, flicking through pages to come to a decision.
And the oz fights, argh, they´re terrible! But worth it.