The Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook Complete Meals from around the World

Book Review

Ni Wayan Murni
Hello Bali, October 2006

The Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook
Complete Meals from around the World
Sean Williams
Routledge, 2006


The Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook Complete Meals from around the World. You will make friends and influence people with this book. You will be able to invite friends to amazing dinner parties at which you can serve food from all corners of the World and impress them with your knowledge. The World is divided into nine sections: Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Middle East, South and Central America, North America, Oceania and Europe. Each section has between three and nine contributions, forty-seven in all, mainly from eminent ethnomusicologists and those, like me, interested in food. Each contribution is a complete meal for six people. That should keep you going for about a year without repeating yourself.

Start off somewhere exotic like Tonga. After 3½ hours you could be serving ‘Otai’ a coconut fruit drink to welcome your guests, followed by ‘Ota Ika’ a tasty dish of raw fish seasoned with lime juice, onions, garlic, chili pepper and tomatoes, and ‘Lupulu’ which are baked packets of taro or spinach leaves containing corned beef, fish or chicken (the Tongans like corned beef the best), Puaka Ta’o, baked roast pork and sweet potatoes, finished off with tropical fruits, ice-cream and fruitcake.

For your next dinner party go to Estonia and try the recipes for cucumber salad, beet and herring salad, sauerkraut, blood sausage and creamed semolina on fruit soup. All good peasant fare. Helpfully drinks are also recommended: Saku brand beer and juniper berry soda. Have some bread too. Bread is sacred in Estonia and giving the heel to a young woman will ensure that she has large breasts.

Take your friends on a trip to Namibia and treat them to ‘Braaied’, grilled goat or lamb chops, ‘Mahangu’, sorghum or maize meal porridge with a spicy tomato sauce, ‘Ekaka’, fresh spinach and Oshikuki, doughnuts or pumpkin fritters. These recipes are from Minette Mans’ 88-year old Namibian mother.

I was flattered to be asked to contribute the Balinese section. I provided my family recipes for ‘Base Genep,’ which is a spice paste used in many dishes, ‘Babi Kecap’, pork in kecap sauce, which is eaten during the Balinese ceremonies of Galungan and Nyepi, ‘Lawar’, spicy green beans, which accompanies all ceremonies, ‘Nasi Putih’ steamed rice, ‘Krupuk Udang’, shrimp crackers, ‘Tahu Goreng’, fried tofu, and ‘Pisang Goreng’, banana fritters. We serve most of these in my restaurant in Ubud, which Sean Williams frequented every day during her visits to Bali in the 1980s.

Every contributor was asked to write a bit about the role of music and food in their society. The links between music and food are strong and it is interesting to compare them. This is the first book of its kind and may be responsible for creating a new subject which Sean Williams calls gastromusicology. She is a Professor of Ethnomusicology at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and has studied Indonesian and Irish music since the 1970s. She contributed the recipes from Sunda, West Java and Ireland.

Not only are there anthropological essays with each contribution but there is also recommended listening. So you can entertain your guests with CDs of music from the gastronomic region of the moment. Further, there are recommended reading lists and internet sites to allow you to go into greater depth on your own and really impress your friends. Not just that but we were all asked to contribute a proverb. Mine was ‘Nasi sudah menjadi bubur’ (literally ‘The rice has already become porridge’) or ‘There’s no use crying over spilt milk’. From Bolivia: ‘The angrier the cook, the spicier the dish’. Northern Ghana: ‘Eat the same food every day so you know what killed you’. Egypt: ‘An onion from a dear one is worth more than a goat’. Judeo-Spanish Morocco: ‘She went to buy cilantro and came back nine months pregnant’.

Sean Williams has thought about it all. She’s aware that there are vegetarians and vegans out there and people who keep kosher. For them there’s a helpful chapter called ‘I’m not eating that!’ It gives dietary modifications. She’s also created a special page on her web site which has more information about the meals and printable shopping lists so that you don’t have to copy down all the ingredients before you go out shopping (http://

The one criticism I have about the book is the lack of colour photographs (apart from the glorious cover). I rather think they are essential for a cookbook, but I understand that they increase the printing costs enormously. Sean Williams’ web site, however, contains colour photographs of the dishes, which at least is some compensation.

Finally, I must mention the great tag line on the back cover: ‘It’s Chapati and I’ll Fry if I Want to!’. Alternatives, also from Indian cooking, which almost made it, were: ‘My Pappadum Told Me, ‘Oh, You Beautiful Dal,’ and ‘Paperback Raita.’

I recommend this book warmly to delight body and mind and all the senses.

Ubud, Bali

The Ethnomusicologists’ Cookbook