The seduction begins with a quick glance at the colorful cover art bound to the pages of "The Ethnic Paris Cookbook: Bringing the French...

Share story

The seduction begins with a quick glance at the colorful cover art bound to the pages of “The Ethnic Paris Cookbook: Bringing the French Melting Pot into Your Kitchen” by Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije (DK Publishing, $30).

The book is an intriguing blend of culture, food and art, told through the stories of the immigrants who’ve spilled into Paris over the past 60 years. They’ve arrived from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Senegal and Tunisia, all former colonies and protectorates of France. And their influence has been felt on both the culture and the cuisine.

The authors, both longtime Paris residents and transplants themselves, met at their children’s school and discovered a shared love of the ethnic restaurants and food shops found in the many diverse but unfamiliar neighborhoods of Paris.

Puckett, a native of South Carolina, is a graduate of the Cordon Bleu cooking school and has run a catering business in Paris for several years. When clients began asking for ethnic dishes instead of classic French preparations, her own focus opened up to a more worldly taste palate.

Kiang-Snaije is a journalist born in Egypt of Chinese and American parents. While covering foreign communities in Paris, the interviews would often turn to food.

“Discussing, preparing and eating food from the countries they had left behind was essential — it was a soothing and even healing ritual. It was a poetic way of remembering the good things about their countries,” she writes.

The dishes of North Africa have especially changed the way the French eat. During the First World War, immigrating Algerians first brought couscous to France. “It didn’t take long for couscous to become unofficially French — polls consistently show that couscous is the favorite French national dish, much as curry is in England,” writes Kiang-Snaije. In fact, the first takeout shop in Paris was for couscous.

Authors appearance

Charlotte Puckette and Olivia Kiang-Snaije, authors of “The Ethnic Paris Cookbook,” will present a cooking class, 6:30 p.m. Friday at Sur La Table in Kirkland. $80; register at surlatable.com (click on culinary programs) or 425-827-1311.

Each chapter is devoted to the food of a different culture. They begin with a short history of each country’s relationship to France and how their traditions have influenced their cuisines. A full spectrum of recipes, from appetizers to desserts, tantalize the reader with unconventional dishes that sound too good to resist. Although many of the recipes may be unfamiliar, they’re delicious, well written and surprisingly easy to achieve. This is the kind of food that can be served up for special occasions as well as any day of the week.

Scattered throughout the book are the recollections of the immigrants themselves. For instance, novelist Calixthe Beyala, born in Cameroon and now living in Paris, is one of the most controversial authors of the African literary scene. In her novel, “How to Grill Your Husband the African Way,” she writes seductively of the foods of Africa.

Madame Hisada, who introduced French cheese to Japan, has now opened her own fromagerie in Paris.

With its streamlined design and pale grey walls, it’s a refreshing counterpoint to the traditional French cheese shop. This Japanese woman “might know everything there is to know about French cheese.”

The authors called on another friend, longtime Paris resident and Lebanese artist Dinah Diwan to illustrate the book. The colors and immediacy of the drawings perfectly captures the vibrantly diverse cultures of Paris.

Side bars with the authors’ recommendations for restaurants serving specialties such as Vietnamese phô soup or falafel as well as the best ethnic food shops to visit complete this tour-de-force of one of the best food cities in the world.

CeCe Sullivan:csullivan@seattletimes.com