Review: The Great Book of Chinese Cooking
By Piero Antolino
1990 Outlet Book Company, ISBN-13: 978-0517033166
I received this book as a Christmas gift back in 1990 when it was first published. For many, many years it was one of the stars of my cookbook collection and one that I browsed through regularly. Eventually, the cover came off at the back, the pages became splattered with food, and the whole thing got warped and mold spotted from being kept in the window of a basement apartment one winter. Last fall, I tossed the old copy and finally purchased a new one, which, I think, should tell you quite a bit about what I think of this publication…
Content and Organization
The book contains some 400 recipes organized according to what the author describes as the four main geographical regions of China: North, south, east and west. There is a fairly brief introduction that takes a look at general Chinese history and then covers a few different aspects of Chinese culinary tradition. In addition, each of the four regional sections begins with a broad, albeit short, discussion of the associated cooking styles.
The organization of the dishes into the four geographical regions is really quite arbitrary from a culinary standpoint. Other books have done this but it is becoming less common as it fails to reflect what are generally reflected as the traditional cooking schools of the country. Despite this, however, the range of recipes is very good even though the far west (Xinjiang autonomous region, for instance) is not represented.
The illustrations in the book are very good but they are provided for only about one third of the dishes. I would much have preferred it if the non-food photographs, nice as they are, could have been replaced by pictures of a few more finished dishes.
One aspect of the book I do like is that the English names are accompanied by the Chinese character equivalents and the proper Pinyin transliterations. This was one of the fist books I ever owned that did this and, while it is more common now, I credit this publication with having first given me an interest in earning how to read Chinese (at least as it relates to culinary things).
I have somewhat of a nostalgic attachment to this book, having received it as a present so long ago, but it really is a decent cookbook. It is a shame that it is no longer in print (although it is still available quite cheaply) but maybe the publishers might read my recommendation and issue a new publication someday…