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Authentic Chinese Cookbook Recommendations


BrandonPHX
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I really like Eileen Yin Fei Lo's The Chinese Kitchen as far as authenticity is concerned. There are several recipes from lesser known regions of China. It even has a chapter on the authentic equivalents of americanized chinese dishes such as egg drop soup, general tso's, chop suey, etc.

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I've got an odd book I'm experimenting with just now.

One Hundred Recipes of Chinese Food by the Foreign Language Press Beijing, 1990

I'd bought it more than a decade back on our first trip, and then set it aside as the instructions didn't do much for me. Now that I've got a little better feel for technique, I was leafing through this and was struck by some of the items.

Tonight is Wine Fragrant Hen, which looks very reminiscent of something I ate out of an old fuel drum in Guilin last year. It calls for a long time at low heat in the clay pot, so this could be good.

There's also a recipe for chicken in a watermelon that has me waiting for watermelon season.

We'll see how this comes out.

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I've got an odd book I'm experimenting with just now.

One Hundred Recipes of Chinese Food by the Foreign Language Press Beijing, 1990

I'd bought it more than a decade back on our first trip, and then set it aside as the instructions didn't do much for me.  Now that I've got a little better feel for technique, I was leafing through this and was struck by some of the items.

Tonight is Wine Fragrant Hen, which looks very reminiscent of something I ate out of an old fuel drum in Guilin last year.  It calls for a long time at low heat in the clay pot, so this could be good.

There's also a recipe for chicken in a watermelon that has me waiting for watermelon season.

We'll see how this comes out.

I love "odd" little cookbooks. It is frustrating that the same recipes appear so often in cookbooks (not just Chinese.) But sometimes we find little gems that give insights into either an idiosyncratic regional style, or perhaps a personal or family specialty.

Is the "Chicken in a Watermelon" like the classic "Chicken in a Wintermelon" dish? It would be fun to have a variation on that.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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I've got an odd book I'm experimenting with just now.

One Hundred Recipes of Chinese Food by the Foreign Language Press Beijing, 1990

I'd bought it more than a decade back on our first trip, and then set it aside as the instructions didn't do much for me.  Now that I've got a little better feel for technique, I was leafing through this and was struck by some of the items.

Tonight is Wine Fragrant Hen, which looks very reminiscent of something I ate out of an old fuel drum in Guilin last year.  It calls for a long time at low heat in the clay pot, so this could be good.

There's also a recipe for chicken in a watermelon that has me waiting for watermelon season.

We'll see how this comes out.

I love "odd" little cookbooks. It is frustrating that the same recipes appear so often in cookbooks (not just Chinese.) But sometimes we find little gems that give insights into either an idiosyncratic regional style, or perhaps a personal or family specialty.

Is the "Chicken in a Watermelon" like the classic "Chicken in a Wintermelon" dish? It would be fun to have a variation on that.

BB

I've got the book open now.....I hadn't come across the classic, and this may be it, as the thrust of this book was to capture representative dishes from all of the 8 cuisines.

Watermelon Filled With Chicken Xi Gua Ji

In general, you boil a chicken then take the water it was boiled in, season and reduce a little, then pour it back over the bird.

Then you toss the bird, liquid, pork, mushrooms and bamboo into a pot cover, and steam it for a few hours.

Then you cut out "rhombic forms" from the upper part of the watermelon.

I love that. "rhombic forms"

Separate a piece of this to be your lid, then hollow out the watermelon, and take out the seeds.

You want a fairly thin wall. Then you can decorate this with carvings, characters, or pictures of Elvis, and then blanch the skin and then cool it with water.

Put all of the other ingredients into the watermelon, then put the deseeded pulp (cut into chunks) on top of the chicken. Then pour in the steaming liquid.

Seal everything into the watermelon with some toothpicks.

The put the whole stuffed watermelon into a steamer and cook for ten minutes.

This sounds great! Yoonhi'll kill me after she sees the mess I've made, but it sounds great!

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That's interesting. The chicken is done when it is put into the watermelon.

I don't have a recipe at hand, but I think that the wintemelon version actually cooks the chicken in the melon. Of course, winter melons are much sturdier than water melons, and they have a great flavor of their own.

On the other hand, water melons are so easy to get in season. I have never even considered doing the "winter", but the "water" would be fun for a summer party.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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That's interesting. The chicken is done when it is put into the watermelon.

I don't have a recipe at hand, but I think that the wintemelon version actually cooks the chicken in the melon. Of course, winter melons are much sturdier than water melons, and they have a great flavor of their own.

On the other hand, water melons are so easy to get in season. I have never even considered doing the "winter", but the "water" would be fun for a summer party.

BB

One big failing of this book, they don't identify what the origin is of the dish.

Which region is the wintermelon from?

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Here's a question;

Of the Eight Schools; Beijing, Shandong, Jiangsu, Anhui, Sichuan, Hunan, Fujian, and Guangdong, the two that we're not very familiar with (at least not overtly) are Jiangsu and Anhui. These are, from what little I know, typified by "delicate" flavours.

Sooooooo.......

What dishes should we be looking for as archetypes for Jiangsu and Anhui?

Because inquiring minds need to know!

:smile:

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Here's a question;

Of the Eight Schools; Beijing, Shandong, Jiangsu, Anhui, Sichuan, Hunan, Fujian, and Guangdong, the two that we're not very familiar with (at least not overtly) are Jiangsu and Anhui.  These are, from what little I know, typified by "delicate" flavours.

Sooooooo.......

What dishes should we be looking for as archetypes for Jiangsu and Anhui?

Because inquiring minds need to know!

:smile:

I imagine that cuisines like Jiangsu, Anhui and Fujian are at the heart of Ce'Nedra's original question. Books tend to combine the first two into the Shanghai school, with Fujian loosely attached to Guangdong. Since I am strictly an arm-chair traveler/cook, I refer to my books for what answers are there. Obviously, that has limits - but it leads to lots of insights and good meals.

Lee Hwa Lin's book on Shanghai, from Wei Chuan, has some wonderful steamed pork dishes that show that "delicate" flavors can be "sweet" and "fat" flavors. I guess the hard part is to differentiate between the "provincial" cuisine of Jiangsu and the cosmopolitan cuisine of Shanghai.

Yong Yap Cotterell's book has lots of recipes labelled Jiangsu, so I would look there for insight.

Another interesting book is Pei Mei Fu's vol III, regional banquets. She gives a "Kiang-Che" (Jiangsu-Jejiang) menu that looks quite good.

Of course this is nothing like going and trying the cuisine.

By the way, arm-chair exploration of Chinese cuisine via books published in English during the last forty years is very confusing. Between Wade-Giles, Pinyin and various ad hoc transliterations of Mandarin, Cantonese and some local variants, simply flipping through cookbooks looking for "clues" can be frustrating.

Kiangsi = Jiangsi, Kiangsu = Jiangsu but Jiangsu != Jiangsi!

When I was little, I had a jigsaw-puzzle map of the USA where each state was a piece. That really fixed the map in my mind. I wish I had something like that for China, and perhaps S.E. Asia.

Two asides:

1) Speaking of Jiangsi, Deh-Ta Hsiung gives a few nice recipes in his regional Chinese cookbook. Plugs for the author's native area are a good source of insight.

2) Back to the steamed wintermelon soup - there are lots of recipes "out there".

Some assemble ready-cooked meats with vegetables for a short (one-hourish) steam, others use uncooked chicken or duck, and typically go for a few hours.

In Chinese Technique, Ken Hom actually mentions watermelon as an alternative to wintermelon, but his recipe is of the simple, vegetarian sort.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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What dishes should we be looking for as archetypes for Jiangsu and Anhui?

In Yin Fei Lo's The Chinese Kitchen, there is a recipe for Soybeans Anhui Style. It's basically pureed soybeans and is the only recipe in the entire book originating from Anhui. It's hardly a reason to consider it representative of an entire region but Anhui recipes bit hard to come by.

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More and more I find myself cooking Chinese food. The other thread on Chinese cookbooks, the "Over the Great Wall" thread and this one have lit that fire in me even more. I spent yesterday morning taking BART over to Chinatown to pick up a couple of sandy pots, extra steamer racks, a new chopping block and more.

While I cook chinese food often, my menus (up till now) have not been too varied. I saw this thread and am asking myself "what is Eastern Chinese" cuisine? I don't pay too much attention to the regions, or at least haven't till now, other than knowing Cantonese is to the south and Peking to the North. Szechuan I've never considered in terms of direction.

Today I needed to pick-up some Chinese Chives to season a 16" wok I picked up yesterday and in the same shopping center (in Concord, Ca) there is a nice used book store. I was surprised to find as many Chinese cookbooks there as I did. On my last visit there I had picked up Barbara Tropp's "The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking" which I have found to be a really good and useful book. Today I wound up buying 6 books there and there are several more I may go back for. (My wife will have a fit when she finds out I got 6 so I wasn't going to press my luck!)

At least one of the books I got does have a section on Eastern Chinse cooking. This is Kenneth Lo's book, "Chinese Regional Cooking." I haven't had a chance to look much at the other books, and don't know if anyone has any feedback on them. "The Key to Chinese Cooking" by Isabelle Chang, "Don't Lick the Chopsticks" by the "Ma" family, "Long-Life Chinese Cookbook" by Madame Wong, ""Far East Cafe" by Joyce Jue, and "The Cooking of China" by Emily Hahn.

Looking on-line for books by authors, I also came across a book called "The Classic Food of China" by Yan Kit So. I don't know anything about this book but am intrigued by the fact that I'm seeing the book priced at a low of $58 dollars up to several hundred dollars. Does anyone know what is so special about this book? Is it worth it?

Well, off to make some White Cut Chicken and check back here later.

Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

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I'm talking different regional foods such as Teochew, Hakka, Fujian, Northeastern, etc. Too often do we get books (as great as they are) discussing either Western-Chinese or Cantonese-style cooking and it's becoming quite a struggle to find a recipe that focuses on something like the food from Chaoshan.

A good sign, however, is that I've noticed an increasing interest in Sichuan/Hunan cooking when I browse at bookstores. It's nice to know that people are branching out and not thinking of a 'sole' style of Chinese cooking.

I was also pleasantly surprised when chrisamirault recently posted about "Beyond the Great Wall", a new cookbook which explores, amongst others, Xinjiang (yay!), Tibetan, Yunnan cuisine -I suppose everything that's not eastern Chinese.

(check out the thread here http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=115247)

But in this thread, I'm still trying to focus on eastern Chinese cuisine (i.e. mainly 'Han' recipes, not necessarily different ethnic groups) yet different regions not so well known.

Can anybody make some recommendations?

THanks in advance :)

Hi Ce'nedra

Like others, I'd recommend The Gourmet Regional Chinese Regional Cookbook.

A number of years ago I also stumbled on some smaller format cookbooks published by Lansdowne Press.

The three I have are:

The Cooking of Szechwan and Hunan

The Cooking of Peking Shantung Anwhei

The Cooking of Canton and Kwangtung

All were edited by Carol Jacobson and published in 1983.

I'm not sure if any others were published.

They are an Australian imprint so you may be able to find them in second-hand bookstores in Sydney.

Good luck finding them.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Not too long ago I found a copy of The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking by Barbara Tropp. Personally I think this is a superb book. While the book is nearly 600 pages, the first 100 pages are devoted to technique and equipment. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think a difficulty with some cookbooks is the assumption that one knows the proper techniques for creating the dish.

Beyond this book I just bought 6 more used Chinese cookbooks and have 3 more new ones on oder. I look forward to getting to them, but Barbara Tropps book was certainy one that has helped fuel my desires.

Charles a food and wine addict - "Just as magic can be black or white, so can addictions be good, bad or neither. As long as a habit enslaves it makes the grade, it need not be sinful as well." - Victor Mollo

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...  On my last visit there I had picked up Barbara Tropp's "The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking"

...  This is Kenneth Lo's book, "Chinese Regional Cooking."

...  "The Key to Chinese Cooking" by Isabelle Chang

... "Don't Lick the Chopsticks" by the "Ma" family

... "Long-Life Chinese Cookbook" by Madame Wong

... "Far East Cafe" by Joyce Jue

...  and "The Cooking of China" by Emily Hahn.

.... "The Classic Food of China" by Yan Kit So

Just some quick thoughts before I get to work:

Barbara Tropp's book is a "must have".

Kenneth Lo's books are wide-ranging, but I rarely use his recipes.

I don't know the Isabelle Chang book. There is a book with the same title by Irene Kuo which is superb.

The Ma family books are great for insights into everyday cooking in a interesting family. Daughters have married and moved and blended influences with what they learned at home.

"Far East Cafe" is not just Chinese, but is an excellent book. I use her recipe for "char siu" (roast pork.)

Emily Hahn - The Time-Life books are great for their time (Or is this another book by the same author?). I have yet to cook from this book.

Yan Kit So's books are excellent - available new for reasonable prices.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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  • 1 year later...

I am interested in compiling a list of Chinese (or other Asian) Cookbooks with "authentic" recipes. By "authentic", I mean "as cooked in China" (or other Asian countries) with limited exceptions such as Smithfield ham substituted for Yunnan ham (Xuanwei ham).

There ae many decent cookbooks but I am interested in those by real Chinese (or other Asian) cooks or by those who have studied authentic cooking in China (or other Asian country).

The link "Cooking - Food - Recipes - Cookbook Collections" on my site contains my 1000+ cookbook collections, recipes, and other food information: http://dmreed.com

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I am interested in compiling a list of Chinese (or other Asian) Cookbooks with "authentic" recipes. By "authentic", I mean "as cooked in China" (or other Asian countries) with limited exceptions ...There ae many decent cookbooks but I am interested in those by real Chinese (or other Asian) cooks or by those who have studied authentic cooking in China

Presumably you'd start with the official national cookbooks from the period that celebrated Chinese culture, prior to the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. There are multiple many-volume versions, all titled Famous Dishes of China when I last heard. Don't know if they've been translated completely into European languages, however some were, in the 1970s, in a small book mentioned several times in this thread, Kenneth Lo's popular paperback Chinese Regional Cooking, one or two hundred recipes IIRC. Recipes from Famous Dishes, translated by an expatriate mainland Chinese (with personal observations added). Some have titles like Braised Noodles of People's Public Dining Room #22, and they reflect what I saw of Chinese practice when I first went there nearly 30 years ago -- inexpensive ingredients, sparing use of animal protein, skillful use of natural flavor enhancers ("umami") -- not to mention Lo's tirade in the introduction about MSG, aka "flavor powder:"
This ingredient, originally introduced from Japan, has been much abused and indulged in by Chinese cooks overseas.  [From memory]

Other books in this thread are also recipes from China, including Yan-Kit; and the unusual Mrs. Chiang: oral recipes and recollections recorded and translated by Chinese-studies scholars who brought her with them to the US. I know her Sichuan book, something of a standard in the US, it helped spread that cuisine, now taken for granted in US, and it was so popular that used copies are steadily cheaply available.

I second the recommendation for Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook; I don't know why this book is not better known. The Dunlop books are wonderful, but you won't improve on Mrs. Chiang's huiguo rou, for example, and her ultra-simple Hot Pepper Flakes in Oil is a really useful condiment, particularly for dumpling lovers. Scan the secondhand shelves for this one.

If Chiang is less well known in US today than in past years, it shows the result of newcomers depending too much on just-published or "in-print" titles. The far larger pool of books not currently "in print," but easily available (used), includes many more with timeless value, which may have been widely known when new, but before the memory of someone new to the cuisines.
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the suggestions are greatly appreciated. I have some of the books and I will look into the others.

BTW I recently made chili oil with the world's hottest chili, i.e., Indian Ghost Chili (over a million Scoville units!)...it is tasty and definitely picante!

I should revise my definition of "authentic" and call it "traditional-authentic"...many authentic recipes came come from Hong Kong and other places and would qualify as "new-authentic", e.g., I recently saw a recipe from a cookbook with "authentic" in the title and the recipe uses asparagus which is a relatively new ingredient for Chinese cooking. I suspect that the recipe is definitely delicious and I would be happy to try it.

I am not quite sure what the cutoff date for "traditional" would be but, for my interests, I would place it sometime after the introduction of New World chilis.

what is unusal about Mrs. Chiang?

Edited by dmreed (log)

The link "Cooking - Food - Recipes - Cookbook Collections" on my site contains my 1000+ cookbook collections, recipes, and other food information: http://dmreed.com

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what is unusal about Mrs. Chiang?

No doubt many things; but I used the name above as shorthand for her books, sorry if that was confusing. Her popular "Szechuan" cookbook (Harper and Row, 1976, reissued 1987, ISBN 006015828X for the reissue) is unusual in being recipes and oral recollections obtained through extensive interviews by the Schreckers, US Chinese-studies scholars who brought Chiang to the US from China. (Chiang herself, I'm guessing, would have been born around 1900-1910 based on some of the content, and may not have spoken any English.) Occasional supplemental material appears, such as this comment I've quoted before from a Harvard scholar from China, describing his experience of the original Ma Po Tofu (or Mabo Doufu) in Chengtu when he was young, prepared "by the famous pock-marked old lady herself:"

You ordered by weight, so many grams of bean curd and so many grams of meat, and your serving would be weighed out and cooked as you watched. It arrived at the table fresh, fragrant, and so spicy hot, or la, that it actually caused sweat to break out.

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      I’ll start with Sichuan peppercorns as these are what prompted @Tropicalsenior to suggest the topic.
       
      1. Sichuan Peppercorns
       
      Sichuan peppercorns are neither pepper nor, thank the heavens, c@rn! Nor are they necessarily from Sichuan. They are actually the seed husks of one of a number of small trees in the genus Zanthoxylum and are related to the citrus family.  The ‘Sichuan’ name in English comes from their copious use in Sichuan cuisine, but not necessarily where they are grown. Known in Chinese as 花椒 (huājiāo), literally ‘flower pepper’’, they are also known as ‘prickly ash’ and, less often, as ‘rattan pepper’.
      The most common variety used in China is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo) or red Sichuan peppercorn, but often these are from provinces other than Sichuan, especially Gansu, Sichuan’s northern neighbour. They are sold all over China and, ground, are a key ingredient in “five-spice powder” mixes. They are essential in many Sichuan dishes where they contribute their numbing effect to Sichuan’s 麻辣 (má là), so-called ‘hot and numbing’ flavour. Actually the Chinese is ‘numbing and hot’. I’ve no idea why the order is reversed in translation, but it happens a lot – ‘hot and sour’ is actually ‘sour and hot’ in Chinese!
       
      The peppercorns are essential in dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fǔ) mapo tofu, 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung-po chicken, etc. They are also used in other Chinese regional cuisines, such as Hunan and Guizhou cuisines.

      Red Sichuan peppercorns can come from a number of Zanthoxylum varieties including Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Zanthoxylum schinifolium, etc.
       

      Red Sichuan Peppercorns
       
      Another, less common, variety is 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo) green Sichuan peppercorn, Zanthoxylum armatum. These are also known as 藤椒 (téng jiāo). This grows all over Asia, from Pakistan to Japan and down to the countries of SE Asia. This variety is significantly more floral in taste and, at its freshest, smells strongly of lime peel. These are often used with fish, rabbit, frog etc. Unlike red peppercorns (usually), the green variety are often used in their un-dried state, but not often outside Sichuan.
       

      Green Sichuan Peppercorns
       

      Fresh Green Sichuan Peppercorns

      I strongly recommend NOT buying Sichuan peppercorns in supermarkets outside China. They lose their scent, flavour and numbing quality very rapidly. There are much better examples available on sale online. I have heard good things about The Mala Market in the USA, for example.

      I buy mine in small 30 gram / 1oz bags from a high turnover vendor. And that might last me a week. It’s better for me to restock regularly than to use stale peppercorns.

      Both red and green peppercorns are used in the preparation of flavouring oils, often labelled in English as 'Prickly Ash Oil'. 花椒油 (huā jiāo yóu) or 藤椒油 (téng jiāo yóu).
       

       
      The tree's leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen them out of the provinces where they grow.
       
      A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.
       
      If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

      ‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly, I suggest, because there was no other!

      Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

      In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.
       

      A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.
       
      But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.
       
      Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.
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