Title: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China
Author: Fuchsia Dunlop
Her main base of operations over the years has been Sichuan province but she has spent significant time in other parts of the country, much of it in fairly remote regions. Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper includes material about her explorations of Kashgar in the far, central Asian west and Gansu province in the north. Hunan, Mao's home province, gets a couple of chapters. Both Hong Kong and Beijing get their due. Dunlop does not shy from the issues of concern to western sensibilities: exotic or even illegal ingredients, pollution, animal treatment, adulteration, etc. Reminders of China's troubled modern history are constant.
I enjoyed the book thoroughly, though it did leave me feeling cheated by the Chinese food I've eaten during my life. The true variety of the cuisine is astonishing, every region boasting its own ancient traditions. By Dunlop's own admission, there's too much to experience in a single lifetime, let alone one book. What passes for Chinese food in most of the United States is so predictable and pedestrian compared to even the simplest street food Dunlop describes. For as much time as I've spent in Asia, I have to this point had minimal interest in China but this book makes me want to go and just eat and eat and eat.
Dunlop also reminded me of the downside of ex-pat life, the lonelier side, the part where you miss people all the time, whether you're at home or abroad. Mind you she was about 13 years into her chronicle before she started writing about China-fatigue but it was there. Her book also makes me think about food on our own future travels. Even mid-range restaurants can take a big chunk out of a family trip budget. It's important to keep in mind that the most meaningful meals are the ones closest to what the natives are eating, no matter where you go in the world.
Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month. This month's link list is below. I'll keep it open until the end of the day. I'll post June's tomorrow. Meetings are the last Friday of each month. Next gathering is June 30th.