Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., May 29, 2009
Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in Chinaby Fuchsia Dunlop
W.W. Norton & Co.,320 pp., $24.95
Britain's Fuchsia Dunlop is the West's newest Chinese-food authority, and Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper is her follow-up to her two previous definitive titles: Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan and Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes From Hunan Province. While each chapter of this newest title finishes with a menu, recipe, or food glossary item, Shark's Fin focuses in a different direction for Dunlop: her witty and captivating prose.
This is an autobiographical culinary discovery written by the first foreigner to enroll in the professional chefs' training course at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine, during a time period when China was emerging from the cloud of Communism and rushing headlong into the 21st century. It chronicles her travels throughout China as an accomplished writer, fluent Sinophile, and chef, experiencing hidden food and culture that very few Westerners could have been exposed to. From her first trip in 1992, she vowed to eat anything she was offered, and we get brilliant and often hilarious descriptions of many of those challenging tidbits, but where Dunlop really shines is in her tantalizing insight into the culinary soul and identity of the real China. Shark's Fin is destined to join the ranks of distinguished culinary literature – an engaging memoir that you'll want to finish in one sitting. I recommend you get comfortable, surrounded by cartons of takeout from Asia Cafe and a six-pack of Tsingtao, and enjoy every intriguing, insightful paragraph, cover to cover.