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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 26: a recipe for the ultimate cookbook

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been six months since I first kicked off my own #ThatTranslatorCanCook and #Write52 challenge. Half a year. 26 weeks. That’s 25 recipe translations and 25 musings about translation challenges, ingredient substitutions, and whatever else happens to take my fancy. But not this time. This post is a little different.

I’ve read many a recipe in my day. But this challenge has forced me to venture outside my comfort zone. I’ve travelled to many unfamiliar websites, and I’ve sampled many different cookbooks.

The very act of translation means you analyse the text you’re translating – much more so than if you were to simply read it. You pick up on more. During the challenge, I’ve noticed various different approaches to recipes and cookbooks. Their style, their format, their tone of voice, their layout, and their organisation. Naturally, they follow trends too, and these, and the audience’s expectations, differ depending on the cultural context they inhabit.

As part of this, I’ve developed my own idea of an ideal cookbook, and have a few favourites. The below has been created using a sprinkling of my own thoughts, and hearty helpings of inspiration from my peers on social media – thank you!

A recipe for the ultimate cookbook


  • Legible text

  • Good writing with a distinctive authorial voice

  • Clear, logically-ordered instructions which ‘say what the preparation should be like at each step.' (i.e. Cook onions 45 min or until caramelised) – Thanks to Andie Ho for this one

  • Large, well-styled pictures which inspire

  • Realistic timings for cooking and preparation

  • Well-tested recipes that work for the intended audience and context

  • Localised recipes which use available ingredients or offer possible substitutions

  • Measurements which are consistent, realistic, and localised for the audience


Add all ingredients to a beautifully bound colourful book and sort according to meal, dish type, or if you prefer, season. Add an index by main ingredient to finish.

Possible variations

Alternatively, you may choose to sort according to occasion. Additionally, if you like, you could include some of the following:

  • indication of the level of difficulty

  • interesting anecdotes, cultural references, stories, or even music related to the food

  • possible variations or substitutions for ingredients, inviting experimentation

  • step-by-step pictures – this is particularly helpful for tricky techniques that are difficult to describe

  • measurement/unit equivalents

  • printed on paper that can be written on

Cookbook hall of fame

Below is a list of some favourite cookbooks, and the reason they love them.

Next week

I’ll be back to translating and rambling on about recipes again! It looks like I might have a guest post sometime soon – keep an ear out.


Cover photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

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