Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shark's Fin And Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop

Author: Fuchsia Dunlop
Original title: Shark's Fin And Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China
Pages: 554
Edition Language: Russian
Series: no

Format: Kindle Edition
Genres: Cookbook, Travel Writing 

English woman moves to Chengdu, China for post-graduate study only to end up as the first Westerner to train at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. The author’s following 14 years of Chinese culinary exploration is recounted in this memoir/travelogue/cookbook. This is a very informative book about Chinese food culture and particularly Sichuanese cuisine.

My thoughts:
      For no reason this book took me ages to finish: a memoir about China written by a western woman. In the end, I was so happy finally to finish it. Dunlop really knows Chinese cuisine and culture, but in her book she does not say much about herself. When she spent all that time in China, was she sick? Did she experience homesickness? She tells us she had a tough time in the beginning of her year in Chengdu, but then stops telling about anything apart from her culinary experience. I find the first parts of the book, which are mostly a memoir of her early experiences in Chengdu in the 90s is interesting and inspiring, while the second part of the book was less gripping.
    The author's love of food really comes forward, and it goes without saying that this is not a book you should read if you are hungry. It's also not a book you should read if you have a soft sport for animals and you are quite conventional in food.
 A well balanced Sichuan meal ‘will awaken your tastebuds through the judicious use of chilli oil, stimulate your tongue and lips with tingly Sichuan pepper, caress your palate with a spicy sweetness, electrify you with dry fried chillies, soothe you with sweet and sour, calm your spirits with a tonic soup’.

   The only thing I can say for sure I did not like are the recipes. First of all, I do not find a mix of memoir and cookbook very enchanting idea. Here I am reading about delicious meal in a train and the next page is actually the recipe. So what I am supposed to do with it in the middle of nowhere? Next thing is cooking itself: to cook Sichuanese dish you need Sichuanese spices and ingredients. I know you can find anything in the shops now, but really anything? So I find this part of Dunlop’ writing is useless and absolutely out of place.
      Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Firstly, I liked Dunlop’s style of writing. Secondly, I think she does a great job of explaining some things about Chinese food that is not immediately obvious to many Westerners. And finally, she does do some interesting exploration of some sensitive political areas as the legacy of Mao and situation in removed regions; as well as spiritual matters:  believes, habits, superstitions. This book let me know the Chinese culture more, even though it is only about ther Sichuan region and through the taste and smell perspective

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