Land of Plenty: A Treasury Of Authentic Sichuan Cooking Hardcover – May 27 2003
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Elizabeth David had it easy. All she had to do was eat her way through France and Italy and translate the essence of the encountered cuisines for a ravenous, literate, English-speaking public. Fuschia Dunlop, on the other hand, went to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan in China, where she ended up the first foreign student enrolled at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. That was nearly 10 years ago. After annual return visits and endless research she has produced, in English, a magnificent introduction to the food and foodways of Sichuan. She is in every way the dharma inheritor of Elizabeth David.
You too may start to salivate halfway through the introduction to Dunlop's magnificent Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. Perhaps it begins when she explains xian, "one of the most beautiful words in the Chinese culinary language." It describes an entire range of flavor and sensation, "the indefinable, delicious taste of fresh meat, poultry, and seafood, the scrumptious flavors of a pure chicken soup..." Before you know it you are running headlong into a world of 23 distinct flavors and 56 cooking methods (they are all listed at the end of the book). Sichuan is the place where "barbarian peppers" met up with a natural cornucopia and a literary cooking tradition stretching back to the fifth century A.D. Innovation with cooking technique and new and challenging ingredients remains a hallmark of Sichuan. After describing basic cutting skills and cooking techniques, Dunlop presents her recipes in chapters that include "Noodles, Dumplings, and Other Street Treats"; "Appetizers"; "Meat"; "Poultry"; "Fish"; "Vegetables and Bean Curd"; "Stocks and Soup"; "Sweet Dishes"; and "Hotpot." Yes, you will find Gong Bao (Kung Pao) Chicken with Peanuts--Gong Bao Ji Ding. It's named after a late 19th-century governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen, which brought on the wrath of the Cultural Revolution for its imperial associations. Until rehabilitation, the dish was called "fast-fried chicken cubes" or "chicken cubes with seared chilies."
Land of Plenty is literary food writing at its best, as well as a marvelous invitation to new skills and flavors for the home cook. Read it. Cook it. Eat it. And take pleasure in the emerging career of Fuschia Dunlop, a big new voice in the world of food. --Schuyler Ingle
From Publishers Weekly
Sichuan cuisine, renowned for its spicy notes and hot flavors, is famous in Chinese history and lore for its variety and richness of tastes and layers. Dunlop, who writes about Chinese food and culture for the Economist, has produced a volume that is sure to take its place among the classics of Chinese cuisine. Drawing on her experience as a student at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China and on many Chinese sources, she conveys the history and geography that make this cuisine so different from the other regions and so varied-the region boasts 5,000 different dishes. After discussing the tastes and textures that form Chinese cuisine in general, Dunlop describes cooking methods, equipment and the pantry before diving into the recipes. From such traditional dishes as Strange-Flavor Chicken (aka Bang Bang Chicken) to Hot-and-Sour Soup that have made the region famous, to the simple Zucchini Slivers with Garlic to the appealing Spicy Cucumber Salad, she engagingly describes dishes and their context, much in the style of Elizabeth David and Claudia Roden. Ending with sections entitled "The 23 Flavors of Sichuan" and "The 56 Cooking Methods of Sichuan," the book is a pleasure-both to cook from and to read.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
You will also find detailed sections on basic pantry items and why they are important in the regional diet and how they are utilized, equipment to have on hand and their place in the kitchen in the region, and basic how-to's that fill out the use of the basics in prep and serving. These sections are what set her cookbooks apart from others, and the painstaking detail turns what may seem daunting into very approachable.
There aren't as many photographs of the completed recipes as I'd like, something she has changed in her later books like Every Grain of Rice, but what is included is extremely useful visually. Her photographs on the hotpot ingredients and process are particularly useful. Most of the recipes have great little stories of why they are included and their history. I believe it makes it a lot more interesting and rewarding to prepare and eat the dishes knowing some of the factoids she includes. Is it impressive that I'm cooking something that was named to honour a poet? Yes. Yes it is.
Even with the very annoying downside of the lack of photos for most of the recipes, I am already cooking out of it and finding the dishes easy to prepare given how methodical she is in her recipe writing detail.
I believe it is common knowledge among foodies that there is a big difference between Sechuan and Cantonese cuisine, and that the former is characterized by very spicy foods. Viewing a few episodes with the Iron Chef Chinese will fill you on this. What this book covers is to characterize with great clarity and thoroughness what Sichuan cooking is all about.
The first impression I get is that Sichuan cooking is very highly codified, almost on the same level as French cuisine. This immediately reveals to the reader that, for example, there are easily a half dozen different types of stir fry cooking within Sichuan cuisine alone. It also means that the Sichuan doctrines on taste match or exceed Western culinary tradition. They have, for example, the concept of 'xian' which describes the 'indefinable, delicious taste of fresh meat, poultry, and seafood'. This is in addition to the real magic the cuisine does with the more familiar sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The author effectively captures and communicates the importance of these tastes in Sichuan cuisine to the reader, including experiments so one can experience these tastes first hand.
The second impression I get is that chilis, that is, plants of the genus capsicum from the new world, had as big an impact on Sichuan cuisine as the tomato had on Italian cuisine, at roughly the same time in history.Read more ›
If you're the kind of cook who'd rather eat after hours with the kitchen staff at your local Chinese restaurant than order the Americanised stuff on the menu, this book is for you. Enjoy!
I am enjoying both of her books (Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook) and will be ordering another soon. I believe her books are classic.
Most recent customer reviews
Fuchsia Dunlop strikes again! Many nice recipes and all I tried come out just as in a GOOD restaurant.Published 16 months ago by Henk B Jamin
Fuchsia Dunlop's Land Of Plenty is an impressive gathering of authentic Sichuan recipes personally gathered by Dunlop in the Chinese province of Sichuan provides dishes both... Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2004 by Midwest Book Review
This is a wonderful treatise on Sichuan cooking, but be advised that this book was originally written for the UK market and has only recently been adapted for US readers. Read morePublished on Aug. 30 2003 by Rachel Perlow
this is a WONDERFUL cookbook. i am truly enamored of the in-depth descriptions of the origins of the recipes and accompanying folklore about life and food for the sichuanese. Read morePublished on July 27 2003 by An observer