Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, by Fuschia Dunlop. is full of great stories about food, cooking, and China. About half the book is about Sichuan: how she came as a student to Chengdu, fell in love with the food, and enrolled in the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. You can almost taste the fish-frangrance eggplant even before she tells you about some of the standard flavor profiles of Sichuan.
She seems to have a strong tendency to go native. Among the Chinese, she plunges into the food, learning to love “the rubber factor” of intestine and sea cucumber. When she travels in Tibet, she sympathises with the Tibetans. When she travels in Xinjiang, she sympathises with the Uighurs.
She keeps traveling, to Hunan, Mao’s homeland; to the Forbidden City and banquet cuisine; to Hong Kong, which means dim sum. Towards the end, she wavers, disgusted by the wealthy showing off that they can afford to eat bear paw and shark fin, by the pollution, by adulterated food.
But in the end, she goes to the southern Yangtze region,and rediscovers some familiar (to foodies) names: Jinhua ham, Shaoxing rice wine, Zhenjiang vinegar. And Hanzhow cuisine redeems her.
I already have her Sichuan cookbook, Land of Plenty on my shelf. Now I want to check out her Hunan cookbook.