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Aikesi

Phaidon's Authoritative Cookbook on Chinese Cuisine

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Aikesi

Dear All,

 

I am looking at this supposedly well founded cookbook of Chinese Cuisine : "China : The Cookbook". Which Phaidon (ed.) describes as "the definitive cookbook bible of the world's most popular and oldest cuisine". Written by Kei Lum and Diora Fong Chan.

 

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I love Phaidon's cookbooks. They are really beautiful and inspiring. They have a series in which they want to make a "cooking bible" for a given country. These specific books, of which you may know "The Silver Spoon", for Italian Cuisine, are usually subject to a lot of research before being written by renowned chefs.

 

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As China is such a vast territory, and have such diversity in it's cuisine, I am really curious about the ability of this book to represent Chinese cuisine properly. 

Has anyone here come across this book ? If so what do you think of it ?

If not, what do you think about the concept of such an "authoritative" book for chinese cuisine? I mean, can we even talk about "chinese cuisine" as a whole? shouldn't we exclusively refer to regional cuisine?

 

Salut et merci!

 

LINK TO THE EDITOR's PAGE https://ca.phaidon.com/store/food-cook/china-the-cookbook-9780714872247/

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abcdefg
4 hours ago, Aikesi said:

Has anyone here come across this book ? If so what do you think of it ? If not, what do you think about the concept of such an "authoritative" book for chinese cuisine? I mean, can we even talk about "chinese cuisine" as a all? shouldn't we exclusively refer to regional cuisine?

 

I have not seen it or used it, but from the descriptions, it sounds like a good one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. You're right about Chinese cooking actually being several (maybe eight) regional cuisines instead of one unified whole. But the description says the authors visit all of the main Chinese cooking traditions. 

 

This looks and sounds like the kind of cookbook that would be a pleasure to own. One could read it to get recipe ideas and find inspiration as to what to do with ingredients that are bountiful and in season. 

 

I hope you buy it and let us know what you think after trying some of the recipes and techniques. 

 

That being said, I have doubts about any cookbook which claims to be comprehensive, covering so much material. I also would worry that this book, being written in English, might have changed classic recipes in an effort to make them appeal to prevalent tastes in the English-speaking world. 

 

So much of what makes a classic recipe work is the use of authentic regional ingredients, seasonings and methods. Cookbooks written for western readers often make too many concessions in order boost sales. I would have to actually leaf through a copy to see whether that has happened here or not. 

 

When I work up recipes for ingredients that are popular in my local farmers market, 95% of my background reading is what I find on the Chinese internet, written in Chinese by people who live here. I try to adopt their techniques without changing them, insofar as that is possible. 

 

But I admit to being green with envy. Cannot help but wish I had written such a fine cookbook. As it is, I just have a collection of recipes to show for eight or ten years of thoughtful labor. (Mine are indexed here: https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52430-alphabetical-index-of-food-articles/)  

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Tomsima

@abcdefg

I had the chance to go to a book launch held by Fuschia Dunlop recently, and would be interested to hear what your opinion of her cookbooks are. I felt like she certainly knows her stuff, but a lot of concessions have been made in her books for a western audience, which was disappointing to see

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abcdefg
On 12/7/2019 at 9:55 AM, abcdefg said:

So much of what makes a classic recipe work is the use of authentic regional ingredients, seasonings and methods.

 

Please allow me to amplify that by giving a recent example. Cold weather hit hard here about the middle of this week. Chicken soup immediately moved up to the number one spot in my "must make" food list. Just had to have some good home-made Yunnan chicken soup. 

 

This involved a trip to the farmers market to find the right chicken. The birds are in cages and the seller kills, cleans and chops up the bird you designate. For chicken soup, the most flavorful bird is an old, skinny, "worn out" laying hen 老母鸡。Need to check the age of the bird in several ways, including a look at the configuration of the feet. Must make your way through five or six other kinds of chicken that are on sale, each one best for it's own purpose. No such thing as "universal chicken." If you choose the wrong chicken, your soup will not be great, no matter whether you do everything else right or not. 

 

Then I bought a handful of wild "stinky ginseng" roots 臭参。This is a type of "poor man's ginseng" which is only found near the edge of alpine forests on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, 2,000 to 3,000 meters elevation. They turn the soup into a powerful tonic with impressive preventive and curative properties.  Also picked up some fresh-dug shanyao ("mountain medicine") roots 山药 to boil with the chicken near the end of its cooking time.  (臭参 below left; 山药 below right.)

 

1354231925_IMG_20191205_142137(2)-830px.thumb.jpg.0b67ce2c23c43052f7780a20f74cd745.jpg     1817801890_IMG_20191205_143315(2)-940px.thumb.jpg.7764af33f693d88d91459008b2b8663d.jpg

 

Made it all up in a purple clay pot 紫砂锅, using low heat and a long cooking time. Finish by adding some gouqi 枸杞 (dried Chinese wolfberries) and hongzao 红枣 (dried Chinese jujubes.) Came out real good, but the process would not have been one I could have done equally well if I had been in Texas instead of Kunming. Compromises would have been required. Would have had to figure out practical substitutions and sensible modifications. Might have still been a good dish, but not the same. Also, not sure the somewhat odd taste and smell of the medicinal roots would have gone over well with my family or friends back in Texas. They aren't very accepting of alien, unusual textures and flavors.  

 

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abcdefg
22 hours ago, Tomsima said:

I felt like she certainly knows her stuff, but a lot of concessions have been made in her books for a western audience, which was disappointing to see

 

Agree with you @Tomsima -- I don't know without re-reading them all carefully whether or not this is a trend which has become more pronounced in the more recent books. I'm not disrespecting the fine books of Fucsia Dunlop. She's one of the best. 

 

But after all, the publisher is in the business of selling books. If people look at the recipes and throw up their hands in despair because they don't have even half the required ingredients, a book won't be terribly popular. It won't sell many copies. 

 

Same goes for techniques. As an example, many Chinese cuisines call for "double frying." It's somewhat tricky to do it right; times and temperatures need careful control. Different oils work best for different foods being fried. It's not uncommon to fail the first couple times. Success depends on a trained or experienced eye. So the writer makes changes in the interest of "playing it safe." 

 

 

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DavyJonesLocker

i am pretty forgiving about altering chinese recipes to suit western tastes and  cooking abilities, .... well within reason......, not like a 宫保鸡丁 where it's just full of sugar in the UK (hence the popularity), however altering the oil, sugar, chilli can make a big difference to its acceptability to a western audience. 

 

also some ingredients are difficult to source in the west. I have never seen 陈皮 in the UK 

 

I often add a western(ish) ingredient into my dishes and it goes down quite well with the chinese. Of course I don't mention it before hand as it would cause a uproar! Simple things like adding red wine  can improve a chinese beef quite considerably. Sometimes I add  cardamom pods / cloves to dishes which work out well actually 

 

Chinese themselves adopted imported ingredients to their traditional dishes over the years which has now become a mainstay in cooking as far as I am aware. 

 

I personally like to see dishes experimented with and chefs keep an open mind, it allows creativity  

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