Thursday, October 9, 2008

Food and history combined: Fushia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

Just finished Fushia Dunlop’s Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China.

It's a fascinating and enjoyable read, the intertwining of history and food together in a travelogue, plus recipes too. What more can one ask for?

I learnt a lot about China and Chinese food in this book, but it never felt like a lecture. Dunlop writes in such an engaging way and captures the complex feelings of being totally at home in another culture but then realising that you are, and always will be, still a ‘foreigner’ in the eyes of the ‘locals’.

Her affection and love for China and Chinese cookery comes across clearly. There is a real depth to this book, both in terms of research and analysis. It really is a stand out read on so many different levels and also so different from the often shallow living in exotic/romantic overseas place memoirs out there.

I love how Dunlop skilfully dissects both Chinese and Western stereotypes of each other’s cuisine. And interestingly, she identifies how Western countries ignore China as a place where ‘haute cuisine’ happens. She notes that Ferran Adria, the famed chef from El Bulli, actually identifies China as the country above all others where exciting things are happening in terms of innovation and food.

Oh and her descriptions of the food are so sharp you can taste the flavours and textures, especially when she talks about dumplings and noodles. It reminded me of the time I was staying with my family in San Francisco. Every morning for breakfast my auntie made fresh wontons in broth for me - yes homemade pork wontons, freshly steamed and then placed in homemade broth. Mmmm....I felt like a right little Emperor!

Imagine waking up to this every morning:

The book has one of the funniest and touching epilogues I’ve read. I won’t give it all away but it has got to do with a caterpillar and a salad. And the NY Times Review is right, it is a really fun a “swashbuckling memoir studded with recipes.”

Go out and read this NOW.

Plus I have been also checking out Dunlop's blog - cool pictures of red hot chillies - love it!


tseen said...

Great review, Book Boy. I think my mother was given one of Dunlop's books as a b'day present (Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook) - I hadn't really looked at it myself, but will do so now because I like her writing (visited her blog, which was way fun).

And you are a right little Emperor, even without freshly homemake wontons every morning... ;)

Book Boy said...

LOL - well being first born son of the first born in my family is very heavy burden;-)

Her blog is great, i really like her writing style - SIGH, i wish i could write like her.

I'd be interested to see what you think when you've read the book.