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Review: Yan-Kit’s Classic Chinese Cook Book

By Yan-Kit So

1998: DK Publishing Inc.   ISBN-13: 978-0789433008

 …

I didn’t realize until I was looking up the particulars of this book that the first edition was written over a quarter of a century ago. I have the second edition that was published in 1998 and I think it was shortly after then that I purchased my current copy. Now, when I am consulting a variety of sources for a particular recipe, this is typically one of the ones I look to first and I think it fair to say that Ms. Yan-Kit So’s little volume can be regarded as something of a classic… 

Content and Organization

The book contains an impressive 148 recipes drawn from the four main regional styles of mainstream Chinese cookery: Sichuan, Cantonese, Peking and Shanghai. Usually, Chinese cookbooks elect to divide up the recipes according to food category or else by cuisine but this one, uniquely, elects to do it both ways. There are eight chapters providing recipes grouped by the type of food, and then a section that puts together recipes for entire meals drawn from the four main regions. Somewhat unaccountably, though, this latter section also features an additional seven recipes for deep-fried foods that would one would think be covered as a separate ‘food-type’ chapter along with the other eight.

At the beginning of the book is a fairly standard textual introduction to Chinese cuisine that is then followed by well-illustrated chapters covering ingredients, equipment and techniques. The ‘Techniques’ section is particularly detailed and includes many pictures of the step-by-step variety.

Critique

The recipes in this book are exceptionally well chosen. There are simple, easy to execute dishes like plan fried rice, and some very sophisticated and exotic preparations such as ‘Sichuan style Smoked Duck’ and ‘Lobster with Ginger and Scallions’. The writing style is very clear and easy to follow and even novice cooks shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the majority of recipes.

My only real criticism is the organization and layout. The division of recipes, which at first appears novel, is a bit too haphazard and it ultimately looks as though sections were added as afterthoughts without any decent editorial oversight or planning. The illustrations, although excellent, are scattered here and there throughout the text and it is difficult to understand why they couldn’t have been included on the same the dishes in question. In short, the book is untidy and less a joy to browse than it might otherwise have been.

Overall

Notwithstanding the organizational negatives, I still have no hesitation in recommending this book as one that should grace the library of every serious student of Chinese cuisine. It will appeal to novice and experienced cooks alike for its usefulness and for its value as a source of inspiration.

Available Here...

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hi John – I actually bought this cookbook back in the mid-ninties. I tihnk it is an excellent book, though some of the recipes are a bit week, especially the Hunan, Sichuan, and some of the Shanghai style recipes. I do apprecaite the use of potato starch as a thickener in some of the recipes. It seems to work better. This along with Fu Pei-Mei’s books were the backbone of my learning Chinese recipes.

    March 12, 2012
  2. It *is* a nice book overall. I don’t recognize the name Fu Pei-Mei. Are there any titles you recommend?

    John

    March 12, 2012
  3. Fu Pei-Mei was known as the Julia Child of Chinese Cooking, she had a cooking show in Taiwan for 40 years. I only have her Chinese Cookbook Volume 1. I wish I could get 2 and 3 but they are really expensive and I believe out of print here in the states. You can probably get it on Ebay or the like. She passed away in 2004.

    http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2004/09/17/2003203220

    Her recipes are simple, to the point, and many of them, just good grub. Volume 1 is written in both Chinese and English and was originally written in 1969.

    Another book you might enjoy, though it is not a cookbook is Chinese Culinary Culture. Though it is kind of a propaganda thing, published by the China Travel & Tourism Press, I enjoyed reading through it.

    Good Luck!

    March 13, 2012
  4. I actually googled Fu Pei-Mei after your first post. I see there is one copy of Volume 2 on at Amazon for $104.00 !!

    *BUT* there is another used copy for $7.35 also … here’s the link:

    http://www.amazon.com/Pei-Meis-Chinese-Cook-Book/dp/B000AO4O2G

    I may grab a copy of Volume 1 to have a look.

    Cheers

    March 13, 2012

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