Yummer Reading

Yummer Reading

The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters

by James D. McCawley

University of Chicago Press, 248 pp., $15 (paper)

For every adventurous Chinese restaurant diner, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing that hand-lettered sign taped to the wall with lines of Chinese script and prices at the end of each line. You know there are culinary treasures represented there (or on the Chinese-only menu) for the asking, but you can't read Chinese, and the staff is reluctant or unable to translate. With the re-release of James McCawley's Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters, a whole new world of culinary delights emerges from the puzzle. With this book, and minimal devoted study, you can eat what the rest of the Chinese world orders with impunity.

It's as simple as breaking the character down into a code based on its calligraphic form, then looking it up in the index to find out what it is, how it's sliced, how it's cooked, and what it's flavored with. McCawley loads the book with exercises for learning (it takes minimal effort to master), sample menus of all types, and a pronunciation guide. His system is innovative and pure genius, and relatively simple to understand once you get the hang of it. You're not going to go out the first time and order like the locals, but you stand a much better chance of finding the elusive Abalone With Bone Marrow and Boneless Goose Feet using this book. This much we know: Our copy will always be with us if there's a chance that we might be eating Chinese.

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