Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China Hardcover – Apr 15 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Alford and Duguid, authors of the acclaimed Mangoes & Curry Leaves, explore the food and peoples of the outlaying regions of present-day China, historically home to those not ethnically Chinese. Part travel guide and part cookbook, this collection looks at the cultural survival and preservation of food in smaller societies including that of the Tibetan, Mongol, Tuvan and Kirghiz peoples, among others. The authors include vivid color photographs of food, people and places of cultural significance. Recipes are tantalizing and mostly simple, and ingredients are surprisingly easy to find. The book is sectioned by food type rather than ethnicity, covering everything from condiments and seasonings to fish and meats to drinks and sweets. Dishes have the hint of the familiar, such as Oasis Chicken Kebabs, Tibetan Pork and Spinach Stir-Fry, and Market Stall Fresh Tomato Salsa, while others are less common but equally tempting, including Kazakh Pulao, Steamed Tibetan Momos, and Home-style Tajik Nan. Peppered throughout are the authors' personal stories, which provide insight into each culture. A handsome and engaging collection suitable for travelers and cooks alike, this book will delight anyone with an interest in this part of the world.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s previous books have won numerous awards. Their most recent book was Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent. They live in Toronto with their two sons.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The pictures in this book are very nice (although mostly about people and places rather than food), and some of the facts about various ethnic minorities are somewhat interesting, but neither of these is why I bought the book. There is very little in the way of in depth analysis of food traditions, styles, philosophies or techniques and the recipes that are provided are, frankly, not that impressive. I can't help get the feeling that this pair went on a great trip and decided to capitalize on it by compiling a set of recipes that 'attempt' to capture the flavors if the places they visited.
Serious 'foodies' will probably be disappointed.
I enjoyed the travel information and the photographs, but what I am chiefly interested in is the food. The recipes represent the food Alford and Duguid actually ate on their travels, food from people's homes and small family restaurants, not expensive restaurant fare. Some recipes surprised me at first, such as a tomato salsa from Guizhou, but a little thought reminded me that the Chinese have adopted foods from other places just like every other culture on Earth.
In most cookbooks, I find only one or two recipes that I really enjoy, but in this one there were many. Two have even become family favourites that show up repeatedly on our dinner table: Stir-Fried Stem Lettuce Lhasa-Style (we usually make it with pea tendrils instead of stem lettuce, per the authors' suggestion) and Dai Grilled Chicken. If you like Chinese food, but are tired of the same old Chinese restaurant recipes, I highly recommend this book.
Since it is supposed to be a cookbook, I shall begin with the receipes. The authors was under the assumption that these receipes are very special and exotic, and Han Chinese oppression alone kept them from becoming popular fares. I think this view is simply ignorant, as I can keep nodding my head and say, "yup, I have seen this before" while flipping thorugh the pages, so somehow these foods (or people) managed to escape to the big cities.
But, in the mean time, there is something fishy about recipes presented within. I was not aware that the Chinese and the Mexicans have been exchanging knowledge in salsa making, nor was I aware of any fish found (in any quantity) in the mountainous regions of Tibet, or in the deserts of Xinxiang. Reading through their experience with their receipes, I couldn't help but think that they just made up a lot of these supposedly exotic receipes, using just whatever was available in their fridge at the moment.
Now I shall move on to the other part. It is now very fashionable, in the current political climate, for us to perceive China as the big evil Socialist machine, in the same way we saw the USSR in the Cold War. True, many of these ethnic minorities in China featured in this book do not share the economic prosperity that the rest of the country has enjoyed over the last two decades. True, clashes take place (a la Rodney King) between the Han majority and the minorities. The authors, in their moral high-horse, often referred these problems as "ethnic representation" or "oppression", without any understanding of the issues.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Beyond The Great Wall layers many elements on a strong foundation of interesting recipes - maps, food anthropology, and travel notes, generously illustrated with the authors' truly spectacular location photos, and evocative studio photos by Richard Jung, each carefully captioned.
The recipes require few special ingredients, and when they do, the resulting combination is a revelation, such as chile paste spiked with Sichuan peppercorns, or pomegranate-marinated lamb kebabs. Each recipe is thoughtfully introduced with suggestions for meal combinations, the dish's origin, thoughts on timing and ease of preparation. Eating your vegetables will be more interesting with new takes on salad, soup and vegetable sides. The Beef-Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad was a huge hit in my house when I was recipe-testing for the authors.
The bread chapter includes flatbreads, a loaf baked in a lidded pot, and little stuffed breads. For experienced noodle-makers, the variations in shaping and saucing are fascinating. For those new to handmade noodles, the pinch method in Earlobe Noodles provides an easy introduction.
The book doesn't pretend to be a catalog of "authentic" recipes, which would have us searching for riverweed or camel meat, and drying yak cheese on a yak-dung fire. Rather, this is a cookbook for those who want to enjoy foods and flavors from that part of the world, respectfully translated into the Western kitchen. And for those interested in tasting at the source, there is advice on planning a trip and sample itineraries. Fans of the authors' previous books will appreciate that the travel stories are attributed to either Naomi or Jeff. Finally, the Glossary is a good read in itself - how sprouting changes the nutrients in beans, or how to choose and make the most of Sichuan peppercorns.
My advice: buy this book and engage it like you would a wonderful ranging conversation with well-traveled, forthright friends.
Since authentic cookbooks of even relatively well known minorities such as tibetans are hard to come by in english (and I suspect in chinese as well), it is a real treat to discover the cuisines of the uighurs and the mongols, and the dai and the hani, albeit for the most part reverse-engineered by the authors. Interspersed between the recipes are the authors' travel anecdotes of varying quality.
Indeed, it is their traveller's perspective passing through and re-engineering the dishes that admittedly exposes my own bias and ultimately my reservations about the book. With the bar for cookbooks set ever higher, the gold standard is for ethnic cookbooks to be written by cultural residents in the locales where the food is from, whether native or adopted, these people have had presumably years of experience making the food, as well as, the language skills and acumen(to get published!) in order to communicate this to us in the western mass market.
i certainly await the day when an enterprising young tuvan or uighur can share her grandmother's recipes with us (perhaps most likely in a blog rather than a glossy cookbook) but until that day comes, this book will remain a treasure.
i've had the pleasure of attending a forum hosted by james oseland, inviting jeff and naomi to discuss their new book. but i paid for my copy and do not have any financial disclosures to declare.
The book does have a lot of historical and geographical information, though, which I think is good for a book like this. For example, there is a chart of Asian language groups (Altaic-Turkic-Mongolic, etc), which you wouldn't normally expect in a cookbook, but which makes it more interesting to read a cookbook like this. And this is really what this cookbook is for: sitting on the couch and touring Asia in your lap rather than cooking up a storm of interesting foods. The book is very large and heavy and makes an extremely impressive coffee table book. Get it for that, but not for culinary satisfaction.
Do they have opinions about Tibet ... quite possibly. I haven't received the book yet. But you waste your energy is posting a review like you did. It works against you, sir, and undercuts your cause. Reasonable people can disagree about the China/Tibet situation (can't they?). But to think that this cookbook is being released now to make a statement against China is just not plausible. China has plenty to be proud of (as the authors have shown in several of their earlier books). Your review does not reflect well on China.