The global kitchen

A Taste of series. By Jenny Ridgwell. Britain 07502 0797 3 China 07502 0798 1 France 07502 0795 7 India 07502 0796 5 Italy 07502 0744 2 Japan 07502 0743 4, Wayland Pounds 9.50 each. If General de Gaulle was right in thinking that the French were hard to unite because they had 265 kinds of cheese the reason for the perpetual political chaos in Italy must have something to do with the huge variety of pasta.

A Taste of Italy reveals that there are no fewer than 200 pasta shapes and more than 600 names for them. In some respects the Italian diet is less varied than it used to be - it has been a long time since flamingos and dormice were on the Romans' menu - but roast thrush is still a favourite dish.

This book, however, like the others in this excellent series, contains recipes for more basic dishes such as minestrone soup, bean and tuna fish salad, and pasta with ham and leek that Years 6 and 7 pupils should enjoy preparing at school.

In addition to providing child-friendly recipes these books also explain how the people of other countries grow their food, prepare it, cook it and eat it. But it is the traditions associated with food that many readers of this series will find most interesting.

In some parts of India, for example, it is the practice for lunch boxes to be carried from home to school or office about 11am by people known as dabba wallahs (tiffin carriers).

And in Mexico the Day of the Dead (November 1-2) is celebrated by confectioners. Sugar and chocolate skulls are made for the occasion and people buy them as gifts for friends (the friend's name can be written on a skull for a few pesos more).

A Taste of Japan is arguably the most useful of these books, however, as the Japanese diet - rice, noodles, vegetables, fish and more rice - may be the healthiest in the world. The Japanese live longer on average than any other people and they have the lowest rate of heart disease.

Sensibly, Japanese children are encouraged to eat 30 different foods per day and learn to expect only modest portions. "Let little seem like much, as long as it is fresh, natural and beautiful" is an old Japanese proverb that is still heeded. But unfortunately this book fails to answer the one mystery about Japanese - and Chinese - cooking that has always puzzled Westerners. Why do they still use chopsticks to pick up grains of rice?

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