By Lee Hwa Lin
Chinese Cuisine Beijing Style is one of a wide range of cookery books put out by the Wei-Chuan Publishing company, and this particular one is part of a very nice, five-volume ‘Regional cuisine series’. It is hard to pick favorites, but this little book focusing on one of of China’s most famous culinary regions is definitely worth having in your cookery book collection.
Content and Organization
For a short book of only 90 pages, this volume contains a pretty generous 135 recipes. The first section of the book includes some basic preparation methods, including an explanation of how to properly soak and clean the sea cucumbers that get called for in a number of different recipes later in the text.
Each dish is accompanied by at least one photograph (and most have several) and the text, like most Wei-Chuan books, is printed in both Chinese and English.
This last feature , by the way, has has an added bonus of occasionally providing some unintentional amusement due to a particularly ‘unfortunate’ translation but I specially like it as I am teaching myself Mandarin and these books are excellent learning tools. It is amazing how often the actual translation of a recipe title bears little resemblance to the English title provided.
The recipes are all fairly clearly written and use a nicely effective style that is very common for recipes in cookery books from China. In this format, the ingredients are organized into numbered groups and those groups are then dealt with by number in the body of the instructions. The only problem with some recipe instructions is that they are occasionally brief to the point of being terse, and in the case of a few dishes, readers may have some difficulty understanding exactly what is being required. Luckily, the illustrations are all excellent and make up for the few cases where the instructions are a little lacking.
The range of recipes here is very eclectic and reflects the fact that Beijing was the Imperial capital through a long series of dynasties and enjoyed culinary influences from across the whole country and beyond. There are some very simple and subtle dishes like ‘Fresh Scallops with Greens’ and ‘Garlic Fried Fish’ and some more complex preparations such as ‘Crispy Duck Pie’ and, of course, the famous ‘Beijing Duck’. Most ingredients will be familiar and readily accessible to most readers but there are also some more exotic foodstuffs required for a number of dishes that may may take a bit of effort to source. Fortunately, that is less and less of an issue these days and the situation is much improved from when this book was first published.
As with Wei-Chuan’s other Chinese cookery books, this book is written in China, by Chinese, and should thus satisfy even those readers most obsessively concerned with creating dishes that are ‘authentic’. For everyone else, there is a lot to hold one’s interest, and plenty to keep you busy in the kitchen for a good long while.