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Chinese Food Books

Books about Chinese food, including food history, food culture, and Chinese cookbooks. Most are rated, some are reviewed. You can order an item from Amazon by clicking on it.


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  Chinese Cuisine 101  
 
by Jason Harper (editor)
 
 


 
   
 
 
 

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  The Cultural Revolution Cookbook  
 
by Sasha Gong, Scott D. Seligman
 
 


 
   
 
 
 

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  Beijing Eats: A Food-Lover's Companion to China's Culinary Capital  
 
by Eileen Wen Mooney
 
 


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  The Last Chinese Chef  
 
by Nicole Mones
 
 

Well Cooked Tale
Maggie McElroy is a food writer with little real passion for food. A year after the death of her husband, she has little passion for anything. Maggie is shaken from the fog of melancholy by an unexpected phone call from China. It proves to be a rude awakening. A woman has filed a paternity suit against her husband's estate. Maggie must travel from Los Angeles to Beijing to establish the veracity of the claim. While in the Middle Kingdom, her editor reasons, Maggie may as well write a magazine article about Chinese food. So begins this novel by Nicole Mones. full review

 
   
 
 
 

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Chinese (中文) edition available in Taiwan

  Ginseng, the Divine Root: The Curious History of the Plant That Captivated the World  
 
by David A. Taylor
 
 

Engrossing trawl through the history and business of ginseng
Let's see, what do I know about ginseng? It's a supposed herbal panacea, from China (or was that Korea?). It began invading New Age consciousness and health food stores around the time of Woodstock. It has quite a nasty, bitter taste. Oh, and didn't some clever American farmers recently start growing ginseng and selling it back to the Chinese? Clearly what I knew was not a lot, and after reading Ginseng, the Divine Root, I realized half of that was completely wrong. Two facts underpin David A. Taylor's fascinating book: ginseng has been growing in North America for 70 million years; and North Americans have been selling ginseng to the Chinese for almost 300 years. full review

 
   
 
 
 

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  The Food of China  
 
by E. N. Anderson
 
 

One of the Key Works on Chinese Food History
Published in the late 1980s, The Food of China remains one of the key modern works on Chinese food history. This was the first book I read on Chinese food. That was a mistake, if only because the book is so dense with information that the reading experience was quite overwhelming at the time. So if you are a novice like I was, start with something lighter such as Francine Halvorsen's The Food and Cooking of China before taking the deep plunge with this more academic book. But E. N. Anderson remains on of the two or three authoritative references in my bookshelf that I know I will be reaching for many years to come.

 
   
 
 
 

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  China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West  
 
by J.A.G. Roberts
 
 

How Fried Rice & Spring Rolls Became Part of Our Diet
I had been waiting for a book like this - a major addition to the canon on Chinese food. Lots of great stories from both the east and west. It focuses on the United States and the United Kingdom. Though it is not a problem, the author is oddly detached, from the stories he retells so well from historical records. It is a little repetitive in the use of examples.

 
   
 
 
 

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  All the Tea in China  
 
by Kit Chow & Ione Kramer
 
 

The Perfect First Tea Book
A great general introduction to the topic of tea. The title may be a bit misleading as the book broad-brushes tea on a worldwide basis not just Chinese tea. It covers origin, history, production, health and techniques. Well illustrated, with plenty of useful lists in the back of the book including names of many teas in both English and Chinese.

 
   
 
 
 

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  Asian Ingredients: A Guide to the Foodstuffs of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam  
 
by Bruce Cost
 
 

A Cookbook in Reverse
Asian Ingredients is a cookbook in reverse. The familiar formula dictates that a little of the cookbook is dedicated to some cultural background tidbits and a glossary; the rest is devoted to recipes. Cost, as the book title indicates, offers us a major tour of the foodstuffs with just a sprinkling of recipes throughout. And that is exactly why the book appealed to me. Here you get the best bookish knowledge mixed with personal experience as he places Asian ingredients into cultural context, almost bringing them to life as if historical characters. Soy sauce, he tells us in the introduction, "evolved from ancient methods of fermenting and preserving meat and game." The Chinese value fresh water fish above salt water because the latter are considered to be already partly preserved (less fresh) – salted by the water they swim in. Amongst gems like these are plenty of practical advice for both the market and kitchen. But while the book includes a Region of Use listing for each ingredient, the geographical origin of each recipe is unfortunately left a mystery. The book is also crying out for a separate recipe index. You would not buy this book for the recipes alone but I tried four or five and whenever I wore my reading glasses and did not try to cut corners, I ended up with really good food. Simple Roast Chicken with Sichuan Pepper, for example got the thumbs up from my friend Linda. The photographs being black and white are not always as illuminating as they should be, and there may be a few questionable facts, but all in all this an excellent reference.

 
   
 
 
 

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  The Food & Cooking of China: An Exploration of Chinese Cuisine in the Provinces and Cities of China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan  
 
by Francine Halvorsen
 
 

Great Concept, Lacklustre Execution
Behind this book is a great concept - do a culinary tour of China, write up your experiences, and include 100 authentic recipes gathered on the road. And so I bought it with great anticipation. Well, the result has things to commend it, and I want to like it. But there are just two things preventing me from liking it a lot more, one annoying, the other, odious.

The author, Francine Halvorsen travels to a handful of cities (she does not venture into the countryside) and meets with mainly professional catering-type people. We do learn some interesting things about the cuisine, but if you expect a colourful portrait of how people cook and eat in China, you won't find it here.

So what is annoying about the book? The present tense, mock diary-style, used by the author. Bad choice. Perhaps a magazine article in the present tense would be OK, but in my experience it takes a very fine writer to pull this off book-length. Now the odious: Halvorsen could have journeyed the Silk Road, instead she followed the Sheraton Circuit. It appears the author's tour was sponsored by China Airlines and the Sheraton Hotel group. That's fine if you want to go that route; maybe. But please have some subtlety about it! Pages of blatant advertorial on the splendours of airline food, and endless interviews with Sheraton managers and chefs damage Halvoren's credibility.

There is a useful glossary of terms in English and Hanyu Pinyin, though some may be of dubious accuracy. The author has done sufficient research, but is let down by the quickie feel of the actual trip and the sloppy work at the back of the book.

 
   
 
 
 

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  Chinese System of Food Cures: Prevention & Remedies  
 
by Henry C. Lu
 
 

This is a great, little hands-on introduction to the topic. The majority of the foods Lu refers to are not esoteric, hard-to-get ingredients but relatively common foodstuffs. The quick reference format makes it a fascinating flick-through. It is not without faults though: the cross-referencing is sloppy, and the language can be a little quirky.

 
   
 
 
 

 

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  Chinese Cuisine: Taiwanese Style  
 
by Lee-Hwa Lin
 
 

Good Food but not Representative Enough of the Cuisine
This book seems to have a following, but I suspect that is partly because of the paucity of other books in English on the same subject. In its favour, the introductory essay covers the main points well enough, the text is bilingual, and there are photographs for each dish, and as well, small photographs illustrating some of the basic preparation steps. But aside from the recipe instructions, there is no other information whatsoever about the dishes. For my liking, there are too many fancy banquet recipes (five crab dishes, for example), at the expense of the more familiar, home cooked, local eatery, and street food dishes. For this reason it does not seem to be particularly representative of Taiwan food.

 
   
 
 
 

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  Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine  
 
by Jasper Becker
 
 

A Grim but Intriguing Tale
In reality a book about lack of food rather than food. This is a grim but intriguing tale of how mad Mao's machinations cost the lives of 35 million Chinese people.

 
   
 
 
 

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  Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry  
 
by Frederick J. Simoons
 
 

 

 
   
 
 
 

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  Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan recipes personally gathered in the Chinese province of Sichuan  
 
by Fuchsia Dunlop
 
 

How a Cookbook Should be Written
Fuchsia Dunlop has produced not only a great cookbook, but a lesson plan for any writer attempting a cookbook. Having studied at a cookery school in Chengdu, Sichuan, Dunlop knows the cuisine and the food culture of China's most populous province. With a lengthy, insightful introduction, plenty of lovely anecdotes, and most importantly, all those recipes for what Dunlop describes as "one of the great unknown cuisines of the world …" She is at pains to teach us how to cook the dishes just as they are cooked in Sichuanese restaurants and homes.

Recipe names are in English, Chinese and Hanyu Pinyin, and there is a comprehensive bilingual glossary – two features crucial, in my opinion, to a first class contemporary ethnic cookbook. What the reader comes away with is many great recipes and a real understanding of the food of Sichuan.

 
   
 
 
 

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  Martin Yan's Culinary Journey Through China  
 
by Martin Yan
 
 

A cookbook from the well known TV chef that tries to capture the variety of China's regional cuisines. Apart from the well-illustrated recipes, Culinary Journey Through China, has plenty of cooking advice and interesting titbits sprinkled throughout.

 
   
 
 
 

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  Beyond Bok Choy: A Cook's Guide to Asian Vegetables  
 
by Rosa Lo San Ross
 
 

 

 
   
 
 
 

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  Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives  
 
Edited by K. C. Chang
 
 

 

 
   
 
 
 
 
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