Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

Overview

Food Writer Fuchsia Dunlop went to live in China as a student in 1994, and from the very beginning vowed to eat everything she was offered, no matter how alien and bizarre it seemed. In this memoir, Fuchsia recalls her evolving relationship with China and its food, from her first rapturous encounter with the delicious cuisine of Sichuan Province to brushes with corruption, environmental degradation, and greed. From the vibrant markets of Sichuan to the bleached landscape of northern Gansu Province, from the ...

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Overview

Food Writer Fuchsia Dunlop went to live in China as a student in 1994, and from the very beginning vowed to eat everything she was offered, no matter how alien and bizarre it seemed. In this memoir, Fuchsia recalls her evolving relationship with China and its food, from her first rapturous encounter with the delicious cuisine of Sichuan Province to brushes with corruption, environmental degradation, and greed. From the vibrant markets of Sichuan to the bleached landscape of northern Gansu Province, from the desert oases of Xinjiang to the enchanting old city of Yangzhou, this unique and evocative account of Chinese culinary culture is set to become the most talked-about travel narrative of the year.

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Editorial Reviews

Dawn Drzal
Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper is both an insightful, entertaining, scrupulously reported exploration of China's foodways and a swashbuckling memoir studded with recipes (not converted, alas, from metric measurements) . But what makes it a distinguished contribution to the literature of gastronomy is its demonstration, through one person's intense experience, that food is not a mere reflection of culture but a potent shaper of cultural identity.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Food writer Dunlop is better known in the U.K., where her comprehensive volumes on Sichuanese and Hunanese cuisine carved out her niche and eventually became contemporary classics. Turning to personal narrative through the backstory and consequences of her fascination with China, she produces an autobiographical food-and-travel classic of a narrowly focused but rarefied order. Dunlop's initial 1992 trip to Sichuan proved so enthralling that she later obtained a year's residential study scholarship in the provincial capital, Chengdu. There, her enrollment in the local Institute of Higher Cuisine, a professional chef's program, created a cultural exchange program of a specialized kind. The research for and success of her resulting cookbooks permitted Dunlop to return to China in a more experienced role as chef and writer; that led to this reflective memoir, which probes into the author's search for kitchens in the Forbidden City as well as the people and places of remote West China. One key to this supple and affectionate book is its time frame: by arriving in China in the middle of vast economic upheavals, Dunlop explored and experienced the country and its culture as it was transforming into a postcommunist communism. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Gourmet and Saveur magazine writer Dunlop (Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook) first traveled to China in 1992, unprepared for the "gastronomical assaults" that ensued. From then on, because it would be rude to leave food untouched on her plate, she vowed to eat whatever food she was offered-whether it was mixed vegetables or frog casserole and stir-fried snake-though to do so was often risky. With provocative chapter titles such as "Only Barbarians Eat Salad," "The Hungry Dead," and "Chanel and Chickens' Feet," this book does not disappoint. Readers are taken on a culinary journey throughout the various regions and provinces of China and are treated to recipes at the end of each chapter. Back home in England, Dunlop finds herself hesitant to eat a caterpillar that made its way into her steamed vegetables. Dare she cross that cultural boundary of eating an insect in the Western world? Dunlop's latest is a fascinating look at Chinese food and customs. Recommended for all libraries.
—Nicole Mitchell

Kirkus Reviews
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.
New York Times
An insightful, entertaining, scrupulously reported exploration of China’s foodways and a swashbuckling memoir. . . . What makes it a distinguished contribution to the literature of gastronomy is its demonstration . . . that food is not a mere reflection of culture but a potent shaper of cultural identity.— Dawn Drzal
Dawn Drzal - New York Times
“An insightful, entertaining, scrupulously reported exploration of China’s foodways and a swashbuckling memoir. . . . What makes it a distinguished contribution to the literature of gastronomy is its demonstration . . . that food is not a mere reflection of culture but a potent shaper of cultural identity.”
Celia Barbour - O
“I didn’t realize what a self-satisfied, Western-hemisphere food snob I was until I read Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper. . . . This is not just a smart memoir about cross-cultural eating but one of the most engaging books of any kind I’ve read in years.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393066579
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/2008
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 515,129
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Fuchsia Dunlop is the author of two cookbooks and a memoir. She writes for The New Yorker, the Financial Times, and Saveur. A graduate of Cambridge University and a fluent Mandarin speaker, she lives in London.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Chinese Eat Everything 8

1 Mouths That Love Eating 15

2 Dan Dan Noodles! 34

3 First Kill Your Fish 47

4 Only Barbarians Eat Salad 60

5 The Cutting Edge 76

6 The Root of Tastes 93

7 The Hungry Dead 114

8 The Rubber Factor 133

9 Sickness Enters Through the Mouth 150

10 Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party 173

11 Chanel and Chickens' Feet 185

12 Feeding the Emperor 199

13 Guilt and Pepper 217

14 Journey to the West 236

15 Of Paw and Bone 255

16 Scary Crabs 273

17 A Dream of Red Mansions 291

Epilogue: The Caterpillar 309

List of the Main Chinese Dynasties 313

Acknowledgements 314

Index 317

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 12, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A journey through China, through food

    An excellent overview of regional food in China. I've used Ms. Dunlop's Land of Plenty so often that the book opens itself to my favorite recipes. Land of Plenty hints at Ms. Dunlop herself and provides many excellent recipes (after all it's a cookbook), where Shark's Fin has only a few recipes (one or two per chapter) with much information about China's regional food and Ms. Dunlop's adventures eating there.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2008

    Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

    I have often wondered why there is such a frustrating dearth of books describing, in detail and in English, the philosophies and protocols of Chinese cuisine. Why hasn't the Chinese equivalent of a Larousse Gastronomique been written or translated into the foreign barbarian tongue? With her first two tomes, i Sichuan Food /i and i The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook /i , bararienne English food writer Fuchsia Dunlop helped to address this astonishing lack. Her witty, passionate, in-depth explanations blew fresh wok hei into the Chinese cookbook world. Her third work, a chronicle of seasons spent living in China, takes the converse tack to Kwong and Yan. It is not about Dunlop's description of a country that belongs to her, but rather about her discovery that she somehow belongs to that country. Her clear, crisp-edged prose - she is a seasoned part-timer for the BBC - does for China what Alistair Cooke's did for America. We watch Fu Xia (as she is known there) learning how to speak culinary Mandarin, gut live fish and balance 23 cardinal flvaour blends at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu we follow her around Hunan trying somehow to gather recipes as Sars panic hits town. We wince as she tiptoes around rural politicos while searching for the best Sichuan peppercorns, and shudders as she notices the scummy Sichuan lake water from which came the delicious hairy crabs she's just eaten. She writes of China's familiar culinary faces - the omnivorousness, the penchant for extreme textures, the disturbing food scares, the strangeness of imperial palace customs - with an outsider's eyes, an insider's palate, and a lover's affection. The best food book I've read so far this year.

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    Posted December 10, 2009

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    Posted July 21, 2009

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