Across Asian borders and languages, shrimp is universal, and nearly every country has a distinctive way of preparing it. China, for instance, has salt shrimp; Korea, shrimp pancakes. India fries it. In Vietnam, it's caramelized. And in Malaysia, it morphs into curry.
Five Washington area residents -- two of whom have published cookbooks -- recently shared their favorite shrimp recipes, as well as some family memories. In each case, their passion for cooking is firmly rooted in their family heritage -- even if it took some of them awhile to appreciate that.
Stuart Chang Berman learned to cook from his mother, a Washington restaurateur, and his maternal grandmother ("She brought the flavor of Peking right into her Washington, D.C., kitchen").
Sue Kim and her sisters used to catch grief from their father whenever they would get fast food. "Your mother's cooking is so much better," he'd say. "Why don't you just eat that instead?" Her mother helped devise her shrimp pancake recipe.
Vaishali Deshpande could have chosen any number of shrimp dishes to share, because in India, she says, shrimp is incorporated in everything from pickles to dessert. She chose a spicy fried shrimp recipe because it was her grandmother's.
As a young refugee in this country in the mid-1970s, Diana My Tran taught herself to re-create Vietnamese dishes from memory. For her, learning to cook "was a therapy to help me forget the pain and hardship."
Sunil Rabindranath's parents were both accomplished cooks. He cooks as a way of affirming life and bringing together his native Malaysian culture and his acquired American culture.
Their shrimp recipes are as varied as their origin. Because shrimp can be cooked so many ways even within each country -- it can be steamed, grilled, chopped into a batter, stir-fried or deep-fried -- its appearance and texture are different in each dish. And because shrimp adapts, chameleonlike, to its surroundings, each dish takes on a different flavor as well. All five recipes are quick to make and not too spicy (you can make them hotter by boosting the chili peppers or other spices).
Some tips from the five contributors: Buy shrimp frozen, instead of thawed, and defrost it under cold running water. Though shrimp is cooked and eaten whole -- head, tail and all -- in most Asian countries, you'll still get an authentic taste by shelling and deveining it. And whatever you do, don't overcook shrimp, or it will become rubbery.