Fuchsia Dunlop is Britain’s (maybe the Western World’s?) authority on regional Chinese cooking. Initially her work related to the Sichuan province, where she lived and learnt. However, this book focuses on China’s Lower Yangtze region – the ‘land of fish and rice’. Dunlop neatly and adeptly explains the history of the region’s cuisine, ingredients typical to it and the flavours that are achieved, as well as introducing culinary themes: a revolt agains ostentatious and extravagant food; seasonal, local produce; the appeal of frugal traditions; and gastronomic heroines.
It’s all fascinating and accessible, and makes you want to travel and cook.
This brings me to the recipes, so many of which are technically exotic and new, yet have a familiarity which ensures you’re likely to cook them. It’s a relief to see that most of the ingredients are accessible, and few of the recipes are lengthy. If you can get your hands on Chinkiang vinegar, Shaoxing wine and light soy sauce, perhaps the odd sheet of dried tofu, then you’re pretty much half way there.
The recipes divide into appetisers; a variety of meat, poultry, fish, tofu and vegetable dishes; soups; rice; noodles; dumplings; and a few sweets to finish. They could form the basis of a few exploratory cooking projects for you and whoever you live with, or a more extravagant feast night with friends. So many of them are tempting.
From oil-exploded prawns to Shanghai golden egg dumplings with Chinese cabbage, this book is not a window to the intricacies of Chinese cooking, it’s an unlocked trap-door and transporter. To my mind, it’s a rare gem.
Format and design
A deep, voluminous crown quarto; matt uncoated paper with moody, evocative photos of the food, and the occasional travel picture to provide context. It feels sumptuous – something to sink into.
Recipes that tempt
Where to begin? Wuxi meaty pork ribs; steamed chopped pork with salted fish; Shanghai noodles with dried shrimps and spring onion oil. So many others.
Who is it for?
Probably more for the adventurous cook than beginner – though there’s plenty in here that’s simple and low effort. You’ll be someone (or the person you’re buying it for) knows that real Chinese food is not sweet and sour pork and lemon chicken; and wants to learn how to cook it.