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.
Quite honestly, I cannot write a review of any one of Fuchsia Dunlop's books without switching to another genre of writing, i.e., the love-letter. I am no spring chicken, and have been busy as an amateur cook for some 50 years, but to get a shot in the arm like the one I get from reading and cooking from her books is truly extraordinary. She has given me a new zest for cooking, not just Chinese food, but things that I have not made for years. A tiny wish, after the Earl of Rochester: dear Fuchsia, "please continue as thou art."
The account of how a young middle-class English girl became obsessed with Sichuan cooking, her upbringing, her ruses and her commitment to the hottest cooking in the world in its chinese fastness: student living, uncompromising training, insights into an alien culture - the completely gripping true story of an insane love.
Do I agree with the eleven people who gave it five stars or the person who gave it one star. Actually neither, it is a four star book for me. I picked it up after I had read Serve the People by Jean Lin-Liu. I wanted to read something similar and this sounded like the book. Things I enjoyed included the way the author didn't just stay in one city or region and assert that she knew Chinese food - a mistake that lots of food writers make. She travelled well off the beaten track in search of unusual, yet real culinary experiences. I enjoyed her descriptions of the food she eats along the way. I like that she shared a recipe in each chapter and I am looking forward to making some of them as I am certain she knows her stuff. I particularly enjoyed her tales of travels in Western China where the food was more Middle East than Far East. Late on in the book I enjoyed the way she describes how she almost tired of Chinese food and how she came to realise that the way the Chinese are eating is not sustainable. This book is well worth a read if you want to know more about the food of China.
A fascinating study of Chinese food by a writer who is passionate about the subject and entirely without ego. Whether slurping Dan Dan noodles in her beloved Chengdu, mastering the art of the cleaver at cooking school or travelling far and wide to track down such esoterica as hairy crab or Qingxi Tribute pepper, Fuschia Dunlop comes across as intrepid, honest and entirely likeable.
There are times when you will need a strong stomach. Here she is describing what it's like to eat sheep's lungs: "The pale lungs are smooth as custard, floury as a white sauce, chubby as a cheesecake. In fact, with a little added sugar you might imagine you were eating an English pudding, if it wasn't for the odd tube poking out..."
Fuschia Dunlop's absorbing account of regional Chinese cooking was first published in 2008. As this complex country opens itself up increasingly to the outside world, how interesting it is now to catch sight of the last shadowy wisps of the Cultural Revolution and to look back - just a few years - to the time when China was on the cusp of such seismic change.
In an otherwise faultless book, the paperback edition that I read had small print and poor paper quality. Ms Dunlop deserved better.
I have finally got round to reading this book having bought it when it was first published - I read it over 3 days as I found it compulsive reading. This is pure gastro porn without the pictures - Fuschia Dunlop writes with a passion and eloquence that is lacking in many other books about food. Her writing about places and food are so lucid and vivid that you can smell and almost taste the food. Her description of eating crab is pure unadulterated oral sex. This is a fantastic travelogue combined with a fantastic expose of Chinese culinary skills and explains honestly and without embellishment or self-justification why the Chinese are so obsessed with food including eating animals that are taboo in Western culture...Fuschia, I love you, please write some more books like this - maybe about France or Italy - actually marry me and I will gladly eat everything you that cook!
The book was a delight from start to finish. Having travelled a little in China myself, i empathised with some of the difficulties Fuchsia had, but also resonated with the many great experiences too. The level of detail she goes into both historically and culturally with regard to Chinese food is remarkable. I will be buying her Sichuanese Cook book in the near future as I feel priveledged to have access to such a western talent on Sichuanese cuisine. Well done Fuchsia!!
A fabulous book - I loved every single page and wished I'd been there trying the food. It's obvious what this book is about - if you don't like this kind of thing don't buy it or read it. Stick to lentils.
I loved reading this book so much that I found myself avoiding colleagues on the train in the morning just so I could keep reading. And then continuing to read in every snatched moment during the week. And when can you last remember feeling that way about a non-fiction book? Fuchsia Dunlop's book is a thoughtful and informed evocation of a nation's relationship with its food. It is also an absorbing but never self-indulgent journey through Fuchsia's own relationship with China and its people. It is written in unassuming, delicious, elegant prose and manages to also be, occasionally, laugh-out loud funny. Genuinely marvellous!