Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking
makes you think Elizabeth David had it easy. All she had to do was eat her way through France and Italy and translate the essence of the encountered cuisines for a ravenous, literate, English-speaking public. Fuschia Dunlop, on the other hand, went to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan in China, where she ended up the first foreign student enrolled at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. That was nearly 10 years ago. After annual return visits and endless research she has produced, in English, a magnificent introduction to the food and foodways of Sichuan. She is in every way the dharma inheritor of Elizabeth David.
You may start to salivate halfway through the introduction. Perhaps it begins when she explains "xian"--"one of the most beautiful words in the Chinese culinary language". It describes an entire range of flavour and sensation, "the indefinable, delicious taste of fresh meat, poultry and seafood, the scrumptious flavours of a pure chicken soup..." Before you know it you are running headlong into a world of 23 distinct flavours and 56 cooking methods (they are all listed at the end of the book). Sichuan is the place where "barbarian peppers" met up with a natural cornucopia and a literary cooking tradition stretching back to the fifth century AD. Innovation in cooking technique and new and challenging ingredients remains a hallmark of Sichuan.
After describing basic cutting skills and cooking techniques, Dunlop presents her recipes in chapters that include "Noodles, Dumplings, and Other Street Treats", "Appetizers", "Meat", "Poultry", "Fish", "Vegetables and Bean Curd", "Stocks and Soup", "Sweet Dishes" and "Hotpot". Yes, you will find gong bao (kung pao) chicken with peanuts, or "gong bao ji ding". It's named after a late 19th-century governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen and brought on the wrath of the Cultural Revolution for its imperial associations. Until rehabilitation, the dish was called "fast-fried chicken cubes" or "chicken cubes with seared chilies."
Land of Plenty is literary food writing at its best, as well as a marvellous invitation to new skills and flavours for the home cook. Read it, cook it, eat it. And take pleasure in the emerging career of Fuschia Dunlop, a big new voice in the world of food. --Schuyler Ingle, Amazon.com
Fuchsia Dunlop is one of Britain's best writers on Chinese Food, and [Land of Plenty] makes this thrilling regional cuisine accessible to the amateur but enthusiastic... cook. --Guy Dimond, Food Editor, Time Out