By Deh –Ta Hsiung
Although this book does contain a good number of recipes, it is not a cookery book, as such; rather it is nice little introductory reference to many of the ingredients used in Chinese cuisine. At one time, I used to own two other books by the same author, Chinese Cookery Secrets and Chinese Cooking Made Easy, but both were so mediocre that I eventually gave them away during a cull of my library. This one, however, is a definite keeper.
Content and Organization
As you can see from the table of contents, there are 9 main chapters each of which deals with a different category of foodstuffs. There is also a 12-page introduction that attempts to provide an overview of Chinese cuisine and some of the techniques and equipment involved. Obviously, this is far too brief a space in which to do justice to these topics and, indeed, there is very little in here that cannot be found in the introductions to countless other books on Chinese food.
Each chapter contains anywhere from 3 to 24 sections covering an individual food item from within the respective foodstuff category. The longest chapter, and my favorite in the book, is the one dealing with Preserved and Processed Foods. The author provides a little background information on each foodstuff along with details on the appearance and usage. He also provides practical tips for some items, such as on storage, for example, and each section includes recipes showing how the foodstuff might be prepared. Most sections contain two recipes but a few only contain one. The foodstuffs are all pictured and there are a lot of other decent illustrations as well.
I should say, at the outset, that I genuinely like this book and enjoy flipping through it from time to time, but I do have some issues:
First, the layout leaves something to be desired. The pages are organized newspaper-style into 4 columns each and this makes it very difficult to read and visually unappealing. It is rather as if the publishers were trying to save paper and the various topics in each section are all jammed together untidily.
I also have to say that the book is considerably less than comprehensive and that some of the items are either ill-chosen or not covered in sufficient depth. For example, the author includes a section on dumplings, which to my mind are a dish rather than a basic ingredient, but then he only deals with the kind known as Jiaozi and neglects many others (although there is, inexplicably a separate section on wontons). It is true that the author could not be expected to cover all the various foodstuffs in a 240-page book but some better choices could have been made and I think more coverage on some items is really in order. As it is, this book, while interesting to flip through, leaves one wanting a bit more.
Despite my criticisms, I do enjoy this book and I am glad to own it. Quite often, when I am trying to decide on a recipe to feature a particular food item, I will turn to this volume before other cookery books. As I said before, this is not a recipe book in the strict sense, but it is the sort of reference work that anyone with an interest in Chinese cuisine should have in their library. I recommend it highly.