Freelance scribe, almost-professional chef, restaurant consultant and ardent Sinophile Dunlop ensures that you’ll never again look at General Tso or his chicken in the same way.
In this, her first non-cookbook, she examines the entire spectrum of Chinese food culture, from the mystery of MSG to the melding of food and politics to Chinese culinary schools. As was the case with Trevor Corson’s terrific Japanese food treatise The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, From Samurai to Supermarket (2007), Dunlop successfully inserts herself into the narrative, discussing her methodology, her feelings and theories about China and, periodically, her love life. She’s so slick about it that the technique enhances rather than detracts from her episodic story line. In a clever gimmick, each chapter concludes with a recipe, a menu, a glossary or some other sort of culinary tidbit; the recipe for Mu gua dun ji, chicken and papaya soup, looks particularly tasty. It’s become trendy, if not tired, for a food writer or television personality to eat a seemingly repulsive dish, then rave about how shocked they were at its yumminess. Dunlop periodically takes this approach—for example, her encounters with caterpillar and with snake stir-fry—and while she doesn’t add anything new to the formula, her enthusiasm and linguistic dexterity keep it engaging. That’s the case throughout this charming, informative textbook/memoir/travelogue, one of the more noteworthy recent food studies.
Readers definitely won’t be hungry an hour after finishing this satisfying history from a witty Chinese food authority.