Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
A true Chinese cookbook, very well written in English
on 11 March 2016
I am a British-Born Chinese guy who didn't learn to cook from his parents, who were the type to believe that a degree in law or accountancy would more than make up for culinary ineptitude. I could never have known that cooking the dishes from this book would be the most impressive thing I do for my Taiwanese girlfriend! This is the place to start with Fuschia's books because it is so well illustrated; moreso than the others. The photographs are inspirational, and give an idea of how dishes might look together as a spread. There is a particularly useful section on menu suggestions, helping the reader to get some basic working combos down when dishes and ingredients might seem unfamiliar. A particular revelation is the section on ingredients, in which actual photographs of the branded products used are shown, with the names appearing in Chinese in the descriptions; this has been a boon when shopping for things in Chinatown. (I have memories of hassling people for the right kind of 'pickled chilli' mentioned in 'Land of Plenty', and nobody knowing what I was quite talking about.) Cold dishes, soups and braises are abundant, and learning to make these things made me realise how foolish I was trying to stir-fry more than two things for a meal; that is the way to stress and stinkiness. One quickly learns that there is a pantry of dried and pickled ingredients, and about a dozen condiments and sauces. Combined with garlic, ginger and spring onions, I have a setup that means I can confidently do something with chicken, eggs, mince or a host of accessible veg. Learning to make the simpler dishes, like smothered rainbow chard, stir-fried cabbage/lettuce with dried shrimp, or a simple stir-fry of broccoli with dried chillis and Szechuan pepper means I can 'do the veg' in a very quick and tasty way that looks the business on the plate, relies on only one fresh ingredient I can usually pick up even in a Tesco Metro or Sainsbury's Local, and leaves me free to think about my protein element. I can't say how useful having this as an iBook download has been whilst wandering down the veg aisles. A few small criticisms: it would be useful if it were explicitly explained how far ahead a dish could be prepared and held before final cooking, since the actual cooking is often a tiny fraction of the prep time, so everything is usually prepped at once and then cooked at once (Ruth Watson's 'The Really Helpful Cookbook' is exemplary here). Another issue for me is the failure to bring some of the recipes up to date and use a microwave, which is definitely better than blanching for the recipes involving peas, beans, edamame and broccoli (see Harumi Kurihara's 'Japanese Cooking' for modern examples of how it can be done). Lastly, I do dearly wish that brave writers would begin to debunk the MSG myth: the very tiny minority adversely affected by it know who they are, just like those with nut and seafood allergies. If Harold McGee says MSG has not been proven to be harmful, it's about time writers on Chinese cooking started to give guidelines on adding an OPTIONAL amount of MSG to dishes should readers wish to do so, since it is as central to the seasoning of much Chinese food as soy sauce and white pepper. These micro-quibbles aside: just buy it; it is a true Chinese cookbook, very well written in English.