This is not just a Chinese cookery book - though it does include several recipes. Nor is it just another Chinese travel book - though it does provide an excellent insight into Szechuan (Sichuan) and other Chinese regions; nor is it simply an autobiographical account of living and eating in China. It is all of these things and more.
In "Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper" Fuchsia Dunlop provides a factual but fascinating and entertaining insight into experiences that most of us lack the linguistic and culinary skills and courage to contemplate undertaking first-hand - for example as the only non-Chinese person and almost the only woman on a Sichuan cookery course.
Fuchsia Dunlop writes beautiful prose. Her style of writing, skill with words, content and structure, combined with her enthusiasm for Chinese cookery, create that rare commodity, an un-put-downable non-fiction work. She writes in a compelling way, enabling the reader to see the people and places she visits and taste the dishes she describes.
No one who has read the book could accuse the author of eating anything and everything without a qualm. She absorbs herself in and embraces the regional language, culture and cuisine of different parts of China and describes these sympathetically but not uncritically. She looks at her own eating behaviour dispassionately but critically, seeing herself through both Chinese and Western eyes.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever eaten a meal with Chinese people or who is planning a visit to China.