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Review: The Food and Cooking of Southern China

by Terry Tan

2003: Anness Publishing Ltd.  ISBN-13: 978-1903141632

 My library is full of books on general Chinese cooking and these days, unless something looks particularly special, I try to limit new purchases to those that focus on a particular regional cuisine or some specialized type of cookery.  Accordingly, I was rather excited when I came across this title at Amazon.

Unfortunately, purchasing books online, as I am mostly forced to do given my location, doesn’t really allow you to browse through them first. The cover of this particular volumes promises that it will help you ‘Discover the vibrant foods of Cantonese, Shantou, Hakka, and Island cuisine’. Leaving aside the fact that Shantou is a city in Guangdong Province and therefore Cantonese (albeit with its own particular style), the omission of Fujian from the list is rather glaring. Fujian cookery is traditionally one of the eight classical schools of Han cuisine and Fujian, by most reckoning, is definitely in the South. It seems odd, then, that this province should be neglected in a book about the cooking of Southern China and, had I noticed this before receiving the book, I might have twigged to the fact that I was ultimately going to be disappointed…

Content and Organization

As the front cover indicates, there are 75 recipes in this book all organized into standard categories. There is a ten-page introduction covering a variety of topics, but only in a very brief and perfunctory way. There are also some 400 photographs throughout the text, only a few of which are not connected directly with a recipe in some way or other.

Critique

There is nothing in this book to excite advanced cooks. Despite touting itself as specializing in the cooking of Southern China, the recipes it offers are largely pedestrian, run-of-the-mill stuff you can find in countless other books.

The discussion of regional cooking in the south runs to a less than impressive two pages in which Fujian rates less than a full sentence. Mr. Tan simply notes that the cookery of Fujian has ‘simpler culinary traditions’ than Cantonese; an allegation, I suspect, that most Fujianese would hotly dispute.

The only factors operating as a ‘saving grace’ for this book are that it is very lavishly illustrated and the recipes are very simple and easy to follow.

Overall

This book might well make a good gift for a beginner given the simplicity and wealth of illustrations. However, for anyone looking to expand a collection with something actually providing a comprehensive look at southern Chinese cuisine, I would advise them to give this one a pass. There are plenty of better books on Cantonese cuisine and, for a very good coverage of Fujianese cookery I would recommend Cooking from China’s Fujian Province by Jacqueline M. Newman.

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