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Burmese Days

China Sichuan Cuisine (in Chinese and English)

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Hello everyone,

 

This is my first post, so please tell me if I've made any mistakes. I'd like to learn the ropes as soon as possible. 

 

I first learned of this cookbook from The Mala Market, easily the best online source of high-quality Chinese ingredients in the west. In the About Us page, Taylor Holiday (the founder of Mala Market) talks about the cookbooks that inspired her.

Quote

My major inspiration was Sichuan (China) Cuisine in Both Chinese and English, a project of the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine and the Sichuan Gourmet Association that was published in China in 2010. It was never published outside China and is out of print even in China, but can sometimes be found on Chinese websites. It was, I believe, the first Sichuan cookbook written and translated into English by Sichuan chefs and academics. As such, it goes where the others fear to tread, caring not if we can easily access ingredients such as duck jaws, yak paws and water buffalo scalp, and hesitating not to load the occasional recipe with mounds of chili flakes. But that’s what makes it so exciting and so real.

This piqued my interest and sent me down a long rabbit hole. I'm attempting to categorically share everything I've found about this book so far.

 

Reading it online

Early in my search, I found an online preview (Adobe Flash required). It shows you the first 29 pages. I've found people reference an online version you can pay for on the Chinese side of the internet. But to my skills, it's been unattainable.

 

The Title

Because this book was never sold in the west, the cover, and thus title, were never translated to English. Because of this, when you search for this book, it'll have several different names. These are just some versions I've found online - typos included.

  • Sichuan (China) Cuisine in Both Chinese and English
  • Si Chuan(China) Cuisinein (In English & Chinese)
  • China Sichuan Cuisine (in Chinese and English)
  • Chengdu China: Si Chuan Ke Xue Ji Shu Chu Ban She
  • Si Chuan(China) Cuisinein (Chinese and English bilingual)
  • 中国川菜:中英文标准对照版

For the sake of convenience, I'll be referring to the cookbook as Sichuan Cuisine from now on.

 

Versions

There are two versions of Sichuan Cuisine. The first came out in 2010 and the second in 2014. In an interview from Flavor & Fortune, a (now defunct) Chinese cooking

magazine, the author clarifies the differences.

Quote

Actually first published in 2010, my 2014 edition includes dishes assigned to different experts comparing preparation processes, background information, and more.

That is all of the information I could find on the differences. Nothing besides that offhanded remark. The 2014 edition seems to be harder to source and, when available, more expensive.

 

Author(s)

In the last section, I mentioned an interview with the author. That was somewhat incorrect. There are two authors!

Along with the principal authors, two famous chefs checked the English translations.

  • Fuchsia Dunlop - of Land of Plenty fame
  • Professor Shirley Cheng - of Hyde Park New York's Culinary Institute of America

Fuchsia Dunlop was actually the first (and to my knowledge, only) Western graduate from the school that produced the book.

 

Recipes

Here are screenshots of the table of contents.  It has some recipes I'm a big fan of.

 

ISBN

  • ISBN 10: 7536469640  
  • ISBN 13: 9787536469648

As far as I can tell, the first and second edition have the same ISBN #'s. I'm no librarian, so if anyone knows more about how ISBN #'s relate to re-releases and editions, feel free to chime in.

 

Publisher

  • Sichuan Science and Technology Press
  • 四川科学技术出版社

 

Cover

Okay... so this book has a lot of covers.

At first, I thought this was a difference in book editions, but that doesn't seem to be the case. As far as covers go, I'm at a loss. If anybody has more info, I'm all ears.

 

Buying the book

Alright, so I've hunted down many sites that used to sell it and a few who still have it in stock. Most of them are priced exorbitantly.

 

 

I bought a copy off of PurpleCuture.net on April 14th. When I purchased Sichuan Cuisine, it said there was only one copy left. That seems to be a lie to create false urgency for the buyer. My order never updated past processing, but after emailing them, I was given a tracking code. It has since landed in America and is in customs. I'll try to update this thread when (if) it is delivered.

 

Closing thoughts

This book is probably not worth all the effort that I've put into finding it. But what is worth effort, is preserving knowledge. It turns my gut to think that this book will never be accessible to chefs that have a passion for learning real Sichuan food. As we get inundated with awful recipes from Simple and quick blogs, it becomes vital to keep these authentic sources available. As the internet chugs along, more and more recipes like these will be lost. 

 

You'd expect the internet to keep information alive, but in many ways, it does the opposite. In societies search for quick and easy recipes, a type of evolutionary pressure is forming. It's a pressure that mutates recipes to simpler and simpler versions of themselves. They warp and change under consumer pressure till they're a bastardized copy of the original that anyone can cook in 15 minutes. The worse part is that these new, worse recipes wear the same name as the original recipe. Before long, it becomes harder to find the original recipe than the new one. 

 

In this sense, the internet hides information. 

 

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I've also been eyeing this book on PurpleCulture - would love to hear your thoughts when you get it!

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thanks for the info. the content was so neatly and clearly put together. 

 

It's too bad Flavor and Fortune ended in 2019. I think I would have been interested as a subscriber. 

 

I'm hoping many of the recipes in that book would reproduced by current and future books. 

 

With a population of 1.3B+ people in the country and a food culture, I'm sure it won't be lost in history (since it goes back to 5,000 years or so etc.) 

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Posted (edited)

You will love this book, and you won't regret having ordered it.  Although its a bit rough around the edges it is easily the best book on the subject of Sichuan Cooking available in English and my copy stays in select company on my kitchen counter rather than in my bookshelf, as its constantly referred to.

 

Procuring my own copy is also a bit of a story.  I was in Chengdu for classes at culinary school with a cooking friend, and near the end of the course we set about looking for this book in bookshops and couldn't find it anywhere.  We wanted the book so desperately that instead of giving up, we figured we would go to the publisher's office and ask where to buy a copy.  We googled the address of the publisher, went over to their office building, and explained to the doorman (in very bad Chinese, hand signals, etc.) which company we were looking for.  Somehow he understood and explained to us that they just moved and gave us their new address.  We went to the new address but were unable to figure out which floor the publisher was on (or if they were actually in that building) and got on the elevator and headed up to a publishing firm, in a building filled with publishing firms.  We were on the wrong floor, but the kind people took pity on the poor illiterate foreigners and found somebody to speak English with us.  This woman knew exactly which publishing firm we wanted and took us down to that floor, and introduced us to the people there.  We explained that we were culinary students and were desperate to purchase the book.  They couldn't believe it, and were completely tickled at our interest.  So much so that they fetched the Editor of the book and introduced us and we had a nice conversation about how the book is a cult classic amongst Sichuan cooking enthusiasts in the West and that the book is impossible to procure (at that time it was literally impossible and used copies were going for hundreds of dollars) and that we would love to know how to buy a copy.  He went to a bookshelf, pulled out two copies for the two of us, and gave it to us as gifts, and wouldn't hear of accepting a kuai for it.  We took pictures together and it is one of my best memories -- of many great memories -- of Chengdu.

 

Enjoy your book and use it well.


Edited by IEATRIO (log)
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Posted (edited)

Ladies and gentlemen, ... It arrived!

 

I ended my last post reflecting on all the effort it took to find this book. I acknowledged that in all likelihood, this book would not be worth the work. I'm happy to say I was wrong. This book is a wonderful find, and I hope all of you get the chance to enjoy it one day.

 

The most interesting part of all is this the recipe layout. I've never seen such cleanly outlined recipes. For the sake of an example, here's the Mapo Tofu recipe from the book. As the colloquial Sichuan dish in the West, it should be a good point of reference for many that read this post.

 

Here's a transcription - 

Ingredients

300g tofu, 60g stir-fried beef mince, 20g baby leeks (chopped into sections), 80g

cooking oil

Seasonings A

25g Pixian chili bean paste, 10g ground chilies, 6g fermented soy beans

Seasonings B

3g salt, 5g soy sauce, 1g MSG

Seasonings C

1g ground roasted Sichuan pepper, 200g everyday stock, 30g cornstarch-water

mixture

Preparation

1, Cut the tofu into 1.8cm3 cubes, blanch in salty water, remove and soak in water.

2. Heat oil in a wok to 120°C, add Seasonings A and stir-fry to bring out the aroma. Add

the stock, fried beef mince, season with Seasoning B, and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes;

add the leeks and thicken with cornstarch-water mixture; Transfer to a serving

bowl and sprinkle with Seasoning C.

 

So a lot to go through here. I'm going to split up my comments and critiques into two categories. One that critiques the recipe and one that critiques the recipe layout/choices.

 

Comments on the recipe

Beef

Everything about the beef was a little strange in this dish. They called for the beef pre-cooked and didn't go over the cooking step at all. While this would normally be fine all though a little strange, in mapo tofu, it's bad. The whole point of the beef is to use the fried beef oil as the base for the dish. The mince itself is tertiary. Because the recipe never outlined cooking the beef, the average home cook would most likely not realize that they needed to save the oil for cooking the Pixian bean paste.

 

Aromatics

The first thing I noticed when I read this recipe was that it had no aromatics besides the Sichuan pepper powder if you count that. No garlic. Not even the white portion of the green onion. This struck me as strange till I looked a little deeper at what the hell "baby leeks" are in this context.

Welcome to the wacky world of obscure vegetables and aromatics. Where scientific names are never listed, and regional names differ wildly.

  • Were they calling for Dacong, aka welsh onion (Allium Fistolum)? It's very often used across Northern China
  • Is it talking about actual leeks (Allium ampeloprasum)?
  • Or perhaps it meant Chinese chives, aka garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). No, this has nothing to do with garlic, garlic scapes, or green garlic besides the fact that its an allium.
  • Speaking of garlic, it could be green garlic; immature garlic pulled before the bulb has matured (Allium sativum). It looks quite like a large scallion.
  • Possibly it's garlic scapes, the immature flower stalks of garlic (Allium sativum). They're often removed by farmers to focus all the garlic's energy into bulb growth. Because of this, they're plentiful and cheap across China.
  • I can come up with at least five more, but I think you get the point

The characters listed for it are "蒜苗节20克". From my limited google skills, I've come to the conclusion that they're suanmiao, aka green garlic. A good sub if you can't find any in your area is... well... garlic. I'd add it right after you finish frying seasonings A but before you add the stock. 10-15 seconds should be enough time for it to cook. While you'll miss a lot of the pleasent textural aspects, and the garlic flavor will be more homogeneous in the dish, it should work pretty well as far as subs go.

If you take anything away from this, know that dacong are not leeks, no matter how often they're translated as leeks in the West. They both taste similar, but dacong is tender and soft while leek can be tough and crunchy. Dacong closer to a scallion than an onion in flavor, unlike leek. Also, Chinese leek can refer to dacong, leeks, and Chinese Chives - so be careful with that term.

 

This is why sources like liuzhou's Chinese Vegetables Illustrated thread are so important. 

 

So after that detour, back to the recipe.

 

Critiques of the recipe layout and recipe choices

Seasoning categories 

The seasonings categories are a brilliant idea. It's the linchpin of what makes these recipes so concise and neat. It makes perfect sense when you think of most wok cooking. A basic fried rice or stir-fry are cooked very fast. The timing between adding different types of ingredients is crucial and can be a surprisingly narrow range. Take a look at this basic gailan stir-fry.

I've listed estimated cooking times for each step.

  1. Quick fry of the beef and remove ~45 seconds
  2. Fry the garlic and ginger~ 10seconds
  3. Throw in onion and chili ~30 seconds
  4. Splash of Shaoxing wine
  5. Toss in the (mostly) cooked beef ~15 seconds
  6. Add soy sauce
  7. Quick mix ~10 seconds
  8. Add cornstarch slurry
  9. Quick mix ~10 seconds
  10. Add blanched gailan
  11. Quick mix ~10 seconds
  12. Drizzle with some toasted sesame oil

You can see that once you start, it's a very fast process. This leaves the cook with very little time to fiddle with their recipe books and even less time to deliberate over what to do. Compare that to this version of the recipe, which consolidates each ingredient type into categories.

 

Ingredients - Beef slivers, blanched gailan

        Seasonings A - ginger, garlic

        seasonings B - onion, chili

        Seasonings C - soy sauce, cornstarch slurry

  1. Quick fry of the beef and remove ~45 seconds
  2. Fry the seasonings A ~10seconds
  3. Throw in seasonings B ~30 seconds
  4. Splash of Shaoxing wine
  5. Toss in the (mostly) cooked beef ~15 seconds
  6. Add Seasoning C
  7. Quick mix ~10 seconds
  8. Add blanched gailan
  9. Quick mix ~10 seconds
  10. Drizzle with some toasted sesame oil

While it may arguable be a longer recipe, it feels neater. It takes steps away from the frantic parts of the cooking process and places them at the start, where you have all the time in the world. It forces the cook to create a form of mise en place. Of course, a good cook can use both recipes perfectly well and make great food. But to someone like me, who does not prepare well enough ahead of time while cooking, the second recipe is inarguable better.

 

While the idea may be brilliant, the execution is less than perfect. For example, 2 out of three of the ingredients in seasonings C are used before seasonings C is called for. There is no need for a whole category when you're just going to list for the ingredients individually anyway.

 

Measurements

As you can see, the measurements are all given in grams. I can't count how many cups vs. grams arguments I've read on forums, but I can tell you this is the first truly grams only cookbook I own. Instead of a teaspoon, it calls for things down to a single gram's worth.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. I greatly prefer grams to cups, but for sums smaller than 5 grams~ volume just seems better. I'm willing to be wrong, though, and I'm excited to try this book out. I might need to get a scale with better resolution.

 

Conclusion

I'm very excited to use this book more. I showed the mapo tofu recipe as a point of refrenece for everyone, but this book has much more to it than just mapo tofu. There are so many interesting recipes that I'm excited to try. I'll update this thread if I make anything else fro the book.


Edited by Burmese Days (log)
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15 hours ago, Hassouni said:

How does this book compare to Fuchsia Dunlop's new edition, The Food of Sichuan?

As silly as it is, I actual don't own any of Fuchsia's books. I've just started to get into cooking seriously so I haven't managed to build up my cookbook collection.
Sorry I couldn't be of more help.

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