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eatingwitheddie

Chinese cookbooks

227 posts in this topic

What Chinese cookbooks are your favorites? Most helpful? Least helpful? Why?

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Barbara Tropp's The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking.

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For pure Chinese (not Nonya)

Yan Kit So's _Classic Chinese Cookbook_ because it has most of the classics from many regions and isn't too watered down (but her best are the HK/Cantonese recipes).

regards,

trillium


Edited by trillium (log)

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Florence Lin's Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads

Now sadly out of print, and amazingly expensive on the secondhand market.

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I am a big fan of Nina Simonds stuff, I have 3 of her books.


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

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For pure Chinese (not Nonya)

Yan Kit So's _Classic Chinese Cookbook_ because it has most of  the classics from many regions and isn't too watered down (but her best are the HK/Cantonese recipes).

regards,

trillium

I would second that. I learnt to cook from this book when I was a homesick student in London.

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Ken Hom's Taste of China. Dishes taste like they came out of a humble home kitchen in China (and the pictures aren't staged). Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook (Ellen Schrecker), very authentic.

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The most utterly authentic Chinese cookbooks I have found in the English language are the series published by Wei-Chuan Publishing (related to the Wei-Chuan culinary school in Taiwan). Of the series, my personal favorites (bibles in my kitchen, really, and the only Chinese cookbooks I use) are the following:

Chinese Cuisine

Chinese Snacks

Chinese Dim Sum

Chinese Cuisine Szechuan Style

Chinese Cuisine Taiwanese Style

Chinese One Dish Meals

Chinese Cooking for Beginners

Traditional Rice Cooking

Home-style Rice Cooking

Besides that these are completely authentic recipes, the appeal for me lies in that (1) the books are bilingual in Chinese and in English; (2) they have color photographs of the completed dish and of the various steps of preparation; (3) there is a section with color photographs of, and Chinese characters for, the ingredients, which is helpful when I (not a speaker of Mandarin or Cantonese) shop for ingredients in Asian grocery stores; and (4) my mother cooked from the early editions of Chinese Cuisine and Chinese Snacks when I was little in Taiwan, so these recipes let me re-create the tastes of my childhood -- this alone is priceless to me.

The Wei-Chuan books are the only Chinese cookbooks I recommend if someone wants authentically Chinese recipes. I have looked at the other books that people have recommended on this and other threads and, I hate to say it, but a lot of the recipes in them just are not right. (But if you don't know that the recipe is not authentic and you don't care as long as the taste is to your liking, then there is not really any problem, is there? This recalls the issue of whether it matters that a dish be authentic to the cuisine in order to be "good" . . . .)

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I have 3 of the Wei Chuan cookbooks (snacks, volume 1 and volume 2) and the three Pei Mei cookbooks, purchased in Taiwan in the late 70's.

I also have Tropps Modern Art of Chinese cooking, and one of the things I like in her cookbook is the ingredient lists -- the suggested substitutions were important a few years ago before everything was so readily available in Minneapolis.

I most often, however, do turn to the Wei Chuan cookbooks. They have been very well used. I think they were the first cookbooks I bought for myself when I was a freshman in college and spent several weeks in Taiwan.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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Least helpful: China Moon Cookbook. I finally gave it away. It's necessary to make several subrecipes before making any of the main recipes.


"Save Donald Duck and Fuck Wolfgang Puck."

-- State Senator John Burton, joking about

how the bill to ban production of foie gras in

California was summarized for signing by

Gov. Schwarzenegger.

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Least helpful:  China Moon Cookbook.  I finally gave it away.  It's necessary to make several subrecipes before making any of the main recipes.

I agree. Nothing like her first cookbook.

I tried selling my copy at a used book store, and they said no because they get so many copies in, and told me that some of the copies they get to sell are copies they sold!

I did copy out a couple of the cookie recipes before giving it to the library. A couple of them were quite good.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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The Wei-Chuan books are the only Chinese cookbooks I recommend if someone wants authentically Chinese recipes. I have looked at the other books that people have recommended on this and other threads and, I hate to say it, but a lot of the recipes in them just are not right. (But if you don't know that the recipe is not authentic and you don't care as long as the taste is to your liking, then there is not really any problem, is there? This recalls the issue of whether it matters that a dish be authentic to the cuisine in order to be "good" . . . .)

Hang on a sec. Not right to you maybe. There is a ton of interpertation that gets done on even classics from region to region. The ethnic Chinese person at my house happens to not like the Wei-Chuan books because he says food made from them is too "Taiwanese" for his taste. But he admits that it's his tastes, with his regional biases. When his unit did some training in Taiwan, he hated the rice because "it smelled funny". There are huge differences in taste between people from a country that huge and with a diaspora that big. I once made some classic Cantonese-style choy yuk bao that a Taiwanese guy couldn't eat because he thought they weren't "authentic" ...I learned how to make 'em from my friend's Cantonese speaking no English granny. One person's authentic might be drastically different from another person's. That's regional variation for you.

regards,

trillium

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Agree with Trillium. Sounds like "right" to you means "the way it tastes in Taiwan" or, "the way it tastes if a graduate of the Wei Chuan culinary school prepared it."

This whole thing about "authenticity" --- a yuxiang rousi (shredded pork in fish-taste sauce) in Sichuan is quite different from a yuxiang rousi in Shanghai (more vinegar-y in Shanghai). So which version is "authentic"? How does one even know when one has had the "authentic" version of a dish? Mapo dofu made in a home kitchen in Chengdu tastes different than the version at that city's famous (and old) mapo dofu restaurant --- which is "authentic"? Can I even eat "authentic" Cantonese-style dim sum in Beijing?

I'm guilty of using the "A" word in my original post too, and I'm gonna take it back bec. *especially* when one is talking about a country with as many regional variations as China has, debating "authenticity" is, IMO, a huge waste of time.

So --- to clarify my first post: when I cook Chinese I'm looking to reproduce fragrances, tastes and textures that I remember from my meals (primarily in small, casual eateries, in pple's homes, or on the street .... food that is quite different from true restaurant food) in China. The two books I recommended fulfill *that* particular agenda. And both are user-friendly.

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pei mei #1 and #2 (pei mei #3 looked deathly dull the one time i saw it in the shop)

fuchsia dunlop on sichuan... hopefully she will write more (last I heard she was off to hunan researching her next oeuvre)

apart from that the cupboard embarrassingly bare :-(

J


More Cookbooks than Sense - my new Cookbook blog!

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MMMmm. Many have already mentioned some of the ones I favor...

any Fu Pei-Mei cookbook

any Ken Hom cookbook

the Wei-Chuan series

Florence Lin's Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings and Breads

... let me also add...

any Cecilia J. Au-Yang cookbook

Chinese Immigrant Cooking by Mary Tsui Ping Yee

The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young

The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (her Dim Sum & Dumpling books are equally good)

Chinese DimSum Recipes by Madame Tuan-Hsi Shou

Dim Sum and Other Chinese Street Food by Mai Leung

Dim Sum by Ellen Leong Blonder

Regional differences aside, it's difficult to find a really bad Chinese cookbook unless it's written by an American or the-like trying to replicate something they clearly have no experience with. Fusion books are a whole other animal. Pictures, no pictures, drawings, no drawings really don't matter to me, but will to some folks. When it comes to cookbooks, to me, it's all about the recipes.


Edited by Kristina Motyka (log)

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My favourites are Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen and the Wei Chuan books. I like the latter because most recipes fit on a single page, ingredients are grouped in order of incorporation into the dish and the resulting dish is always good. I like Wisdom because it produces the Cantonese dishes that taste the most similar to those I've had at Cantonese restaurants in Vancouver and at friends' homes.

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oh yeah... I forgot about Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. I loved that book so much I gave it as gifts to 3 different 2nd G Cantonese friends. One of them liked it so much that she bought it for her sister. It's great for its homestyle dishes, things you don't really find in restaurants. The things I make out of it have the partner sighing wistfully about his dearly departed Hokkian granny.

regards,

trillium

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I forgot one more that I use quite often: The Chinese Gourmet - William Mark. I almost always have very good results and the book is informative and a good read.

I also have Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook, but I don't think I've ever made anything from the book. The size of the book is intimidating while the actual recipes don't look all that exciting. I much prefer cookbooks with photos.

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Some of the deepest insights into Chinese cookery are found not in cookbooks, but in essay collections. The aesthetics of Chinese cookery were covered extremely well in three books that were published quite a while ago (they also contain a recipe or two):

Buwei Yang Chao, How to Cook and Eat in Chinese (London: Faber and Faber, 1956).

F. T. Cheng, Musings of a Chinese Gourmet (London: Hutchinson, 1962).

Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin, Chinese Gastronomy (London: Thomas Nelson, 1969).

I also strongly recommend two ethnographic / historical reviews of Chinese cookery:

K. C. Chang (ed.), Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives (Yale University Press, 1977)

E. N. Anderson (ed.), The Food of China (Yale University Press, 1988).


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host

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trillium, just checked the book on amazon: sounds fascinating! Could you tell a bit more about it: especially about the language part. Thank you.

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The Pei Mei books are great, but I'll also second Nina Simonds books, esp because of their widespread availability. Another wonderful book is The Food of China. I'm not sure who the authors are, but it used to be available on Amazon. Great pictures, recipes, and stories.

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trillium, just checked the book on amazon: sounds fascinating! Could you tell a bit more about it: especially about the language part. Thank you.

Well, he tells stories/folklore about the characters (to help you remember them) and dishes with cool names (like A Delicacy for Aging Men or No

Contest Between Fish and a Bear With Eight Legs) and tries to teach you the characters you need to read Chinese menus. He is really witty and not boring. The book is kind of a blend of philosophy, food, fables and language (even some poetry about food).

To tell you the truth, I need to replace my copy, my friend went to Hong Kong to visit her grandmother and stole my copy because she wanted to bone up on stuff. I noticed they've come out with a second printing, which was great because it was out of print for quite a while. Anyway, I remember that he said he would consider the book a success if it confounded librarians and booksellers when it came to catagorize it. I was surprised to find it in the China section instead of the culinary section at Powell's here in Portland.

regards,

trillium

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I like Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young and Every Grain of Rice by aunt and neice team, Ellen Blonder and Annabel Low. Both books are not just cookbooks, but rather a history and story of Chinese life in America. The recipes are family style, home cooking. There are also sections on special occasion foods and dishes, but both focuses more on how food plays a central role in the life of Chinese families.

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I am surprised no-one has mentioned Ken Hom, a prolific cook book author. One of his best is "Fragrant Harbor Taste" featuring the modern Hong Kong dishes. As in French cuisine, some Chinese dishes are codified and few cook book authors deviate from tradition, but, in the majority of cases, every chef has his own distinctive style and when I am looking for a recipe I generally check through half a dozen or so and choose the one that suits my mood of the moment and the ingredients in my refrigerator.


Ruth Friedman

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