Book Review: Revisiting the 'Land of Plenty'
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Dec. 1, 2006
Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan cooking
by Fuchsia Dunlop
W. W. Norton & Company, 394 pp., $30
Shi zai zhong guo
Wei zai si chuan
(China is the place for food ...
But Sichuan is the place for flavor)
legendary Chinese saying
Somehow, this book passed under my culinary radar, sitting in a pile of review books for an extended time. A friend recommended it to me, loaning me his copy, and I was entranced. Dunlop's Land of Plenty is a seminal work on the level of the late Barbara Tropp's famed The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking.
Fuchsia Dunlop, a BBC journalist and Cambridge graduate, immersed herself in Sichuan cuisine and culture, living there for two years, while spending her time wandering the alleyways, home kitchens, and cafes of the province, collecting recipes and techniques from cooks and chefs alike. She was the first foreign student invited to study at the prestigious Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and speaks, reads, and writes the local language fluently.
Dunlop lucidly chronicles the history, culture, ingredients, techniques, and recipes of China's most vibrant regional cuisine. Her passion for the food and the detail of her research are evident when one reads any of the illuminating headnotes to any of the recipes in the book. The recipes are written in a simple, straightforward manner devoid of ambiguity; anyone can cook with confidence from this brilliant reference source.
She covers a representative sample of some of the region's 5,000-plus different dishes, including such old favorites (although you might not recognize them in their authentic form) as twice-cooked pork, dan dan noodles, kung pao (actually gong bao) chicken, and my all-time favorite, Ma Po Dou-fu (Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Bean Curd). You'll also learn about treasures such as steamed pork-and-pumpkin dumplings, pork in lychee sauce with crispy rice, or Jade Web Soup (which comes from a verdant area known as the Bamboo Sea). Land of Plenty is essential for any collection, a pleasure to read, and a joy to cook from.