I wasn’t quite sure what I’d be getting when I saw this book. It looks elegant, regal, elevated…and intimidating. Did I even know there were 35 types of cuisine that came from China? I don’t even think you can call what most restaurants serve in the United States authentic Chinese cuisine, so do I even know what Chinese food is about? That may be why I don’t eat it that much.
As written in the description, “Carolyn Phillips has written a spirited, symphonic love letter to the flavors and textures of Chinese cuisine.” Just this simple description made this book appealing and necessary to own for any cookbook fanatic. She’s also drawn on ancient culinary texts, as well as her own experience.
The book is divided into the regions of China like The Arid Lands, The Central Highlands, and The Coastal Southeast. It is good to note that even the author recognizes that this book is not an encyclopedia or even a book claiming to include everything about Chinese cuisine. Rather, it is a place to start and for those who aren’t privileged to visit China or experience the vast array of cuisines, you will find a little bit of everything here.
For reference, a map of the mentioned regions is included at the beginning of each chapter, as well as a small description of what makes each region unique and how their geography relates to their cuisine. Right after that is a recipe index that is separated into categories. I find this quite helpful after you’ve gone through the book and need to go back and find a recipe again, especially if you’re looking for a specific soup, side dish, entree, etc.
Certain recipes contain her tips, pertinent information regarding specific ingredients or processes, and lessons like scoring fish or making lotus leaf buns. The recipes are not very intimidating even for the cook who is unfamiliar with Chinese cuisine and cooking. The ingredients are not particularly obscure (depending on your location). If you have a Chinese/Asian market nearby, you will most likely not have an issue.
Now, speaking of Chinese/Asian stores. Phillips has thought of everything. If you’ve ever been in an asian market (and you don’t read/speak any language with characters), you’ll know how difficult it can be to find what you need. She has put a glossary explaining the different ingredients as well as the characters and names you will need to know to find them at any store. I love a good buying guide to help me out. It makes attempting recipes I’ve never had much less daunting.
And even better than that, she’s included menu options, divided by region. Not only has she included menus for groups of 4 (the usual crowd), but banquets for 6-8 and even family dinner options. It makes getting started a little bit easier and once you’ve attempted a few of these, you can get creative and combine your own dishes to make a meal.
Because there are so many recipes to mention, I’ll give you a few I’m looking forward to trying out (and hopefully you’ll want to try a few too!):
- Braised prawns (I’m a sucker for seafood)
- Shoabing – a favorite breakfast in northern China
- Rice pearl and Tangerine Petal Sweet Soup
- Lotus Leaf Eight Treasure Rice
- Flower Mushroom Soup
- Meaty Bone Soup
- Blanched Squid with Garlicky Dipping Sauce
- Sweet Coconut Soup
- Hong Kong Milk Tea
- Peng Family Bean Curd
- Cod with Crispy Bean Sauce
- Smoked Whole Fish Hunan Style (husband is a big whole fish fan)
- Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup
- Buddha’s Hand Rolls (think stuffed omelet)
- Eight Treasure Tea
There are so many more, but I think I’ll start with these and get my husband on the wagon. If you’re adventurous, there are recipes for that. You’ll also find lots of soups and dishes that involve chicken and pork.
Overall, I find this book a treasure to own and a wealth of information for those who like to know how certain foods come to be and how cultures influence them. Though there aren’t any food-styled photos, the names are enough to grab you while the descriptions bring you all the way in.
If you’re a novice, it’ll be an adventure. If you’re a seasoned chef/Chinese food enjoyer/lover, you’ll be right at home. There is something quite special about “All Under Heaven” and you might just find a little piece of heaven inside it.
All Under Heaven at Penguin Random House
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.