Review: Cooking from China’s Fujian Province
by Jacqueline M. Newman
2008: Hippocrene Books ISBN-13: 978-0781811835
Most Chinese cookery books available for purchase (and most in my own collection) deal with Chinese cuisine as a whole and I like it when I come across books that specialize in a particular region. There are quite a lot of Cantonese cookbooks around, and in the last decade or so, Sichuan cookery books have become quite numerous, but this book is the first I have come across that focuses only on Fujianese cuisine.
Fujian, once known as ‘Fukien’, is a province about the size of England on China’s southeast coast right beside Guangdong (Canton). The Fujian people, like the Cantonese, also emigrated in large numbers, particularly to North America, and many have become owners of, or workers in Chinese restaurants. Despite this, one doesn’t often see restaurants that advertise themselves as specializing in, or offering Fujian cuisine. They exist, of course, and New York City seems to have a fair number, but I have yet to come across one myself. Luckily, with this book, I can do a little exploration of this interesting cuisine on my own…
Content and Organization
There are 195 recipes in this book, which is a pretty decent count for a volume of this size. The introduction is very short but it avoids simply repeating a lot of the tired old information you usually get in Chinese cookery books and is actually interesting an informative. There is also a fairly comprehensive glossary of ingredients and equipment used in Fujian cookery towards the back of the book.
Each chapter and each recipe is prefaced with a brief introductory text and there is a section of color plates in the middle of the book containing 24 photographs. Unfortunately, these are the only illustrations in the book and only a few show actual dishes for which recipes are given.
The best feature of this book is the sheer range and variety of dishes. The Appetizer section alone comprises 36 recipes (the largest in the book) and, of these, only a handful are for dishes that one commonly finds represented in Chinese cookbooks. Page after page of recipes are for preparations that are either unique to this book, or else fairly uncommon.
Many ingredients used are exotic, or otherwise unfamiliar to westerners. In addition to recipes using shark’s fin and sea cucumber, several dishes employ wine lees (for which two preparation methods are provided), and there is also a recipe for duck tongues, which I don’t believe I have in any of my other books. Possibly, if I had purchased this book before visiting the Ju Xiang Yuan restaurant in Ottawa, I would have known that duck tongues have bones in them. I was also surprised to learn that the famous dish ‘Buddha Jumps over the Wall’ originates in Fujian. There are actually three separate recipes for this particular dish included here!
The recipes are cleanly laid out but the instructions are very brief and do not contain a lot of additional explanatory information or tips. Clearly, the author had in mind a readership of persons who are quite comfortable in the kitchen and this will limit the appeal of the book amongst beginners, particularly given the unfortunate dearth of illustrations.
Normally, I would subtract a star for a cookery book with so few pictures but the good features make up for this to a great degree. Someday, someone will come out with another book on Fujian cookery that is just as comprehensive and does include good illustrations, but until that time, this book is a great addition to any library of Chinese cookery books.