Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
Good reference work
on 20 April 2012
This is a beautiful book that is quite difficult to categorise and define. It is not just a cook book, it is not just a guide to Chinese cuisine, it is not just a book about culture...
Yet when examined together it is just a perfect fit. It is not something you really want to dip in and out of, at least on first reading, as you will gain much more benefit by reading it end to end and then, as required, dip back in again.
In essence this is a compilation of a close family's experiences about food, a collection of memories, a tribute by a daughter to her mother and extended family, a celebration of the various superstitions and philosophies in Cantonese society. A real labour of love.
The reader is not assumed to be an expert in Chinese food and culture, yet equally the reader is not treated like a fool. As you read through you gain a lot of knowledge and information which the brain ever-so-carefully files away in different places for later recall. Fundamental basic building blocks such as rice are carefully and reverentially covered in extensive, wonderful detail so one can begin to appreciate how and why certain ingredients can hold such a sway in Chinese cooking. Consideration is also given to the various cooking methods utilised so one can begin to appreciate how small changes can create a large impact (sometimes for the worse). Even how a vegetable is chopped can, within the overall balance of the dish, make a difference. Quite remarkable really!
Throughout the book over 150 different recipes almost appear as an afterthought but that is clearly not the intention. It might be fairer to say that the "surrounding" text which accompanies the recipes is not just filler, but in fact a central, crucial part of the overall proposition. Just like a good sandwich should have a quality bread and tasty filling, the recipes are the tasty filling to the quality bread (of information).
Food as an item for celebration is a large theme throughout the book and the author shares how certain foods are key "members" or participants at any celebration. Many of the ingredients used are harder to find, particularly in more Western markets, and invariably there is a greater degree of complication involved in their preparation. This book may give you more confidence to try things rather than just leave a certain thing out as you have a greater appreciation to the contribution and balance each ingredient can make.
The book is rounded off with consideration of the various beliefs about the healing properties of ginseng, gingko nuts, soybeans and the like. An extremely comprehensive glossary of ingredients typically used within Cantonese cookery is provided to help the wary and provide further background information.
Overall, a wonderful book. Not quite one that would be used for daily cooking when you need to dash through it for inspiration but nonetheless many of the recipes can be a very regular appearance at your table and it is probable that this book will not be gathering dust somewhere on a distant bookshelf...