Review: A Taste of China
By Ken Hom
2005 Pavilion Classic Cookery. ISBN-13: 978-1862057074
My paperback copy of this book appears to be a reprint of a 1990 edition that, apparently, was very lavishly illustrated. This reprint has no pictures whatsoever, unfortunately, but it is still a fairly decent cookery book despite failing to live up to the subtitle touting it as the ‘definitive guide to regional cooking’…
Content and Organization
The book contains 90 recipes in some 240 pages. The organization is a little unusual and doesn’t seem to group recipes according to any of the usual schemes. There is a fairly lengthy section covering the foodstuffs of Chinese cuisine in some detail but, oddly enough, this appears as the second chapter rather than as an introduction or final glossary as is more common.
Mr. Hom has a nice, easy writing style and his recipe instructions are very straightforward and easy to follow. The recipes themselves, taken as a whole, are fairly well chosen and do indeed represent the many regions of China but, unfortunately, the organization leaves a lot to be desired.
As noted above, the book offers itself as a ‘definitive guide’ to Chinese regional cooking but it is difficult to see how this claim is at all fulfilled. There is a section on Cantonese cookery and, as stated, recipes from all across China, but there is no effort at all to present the dishes in any logical order, nor much in the way of discussion on the characteristics of the many regional styles. There is a fair amount of interesting tidbits of information here and there but it, too, is presented in the same sort of haphazard way that underlines the lack of meaningful organization. The recipes are not the same old tired ones that get repeated over and over again in hundreds of other books but it would have been nice if they were presented in some sort of logical order.
To be honest, had I had a chance to browse this book ahead of time instead of buying it sight unseen online, I may not have purchased it. That being said, I am not entirely unhappy with it because I have found quite a few interesting dishes here and there and I still occasionally flip through it. It has survived a few culls of ‘deadwood’ from my library thus far but it is certainly not one of the gems of my collection.