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World on a Plate, The
by: Joel Denker
University of Nebraska Press 2007, $18.95, Paperback
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2008 Issue: 15(2) page(s): 25
Subtitled: A Tour through the History of America's Ethnic Cuisine, this book is a set of seven chapters, the fifth titled: From Chow Mein to Singapore Noodle: Inventing Chinese Food. The others are about Italian, the Fertile Crescent; Greek, Jewish, Indian and Pakistani; and Latin cooking in America. It is an odd mix; the contents of each offering more than may be reality. For example, in Chapter Five, there are statements that may or may not be true, depending upon context; however the author often offers none. For example, on page 108 it says that Boston is "America's third-largest Chinatown." Is that its physical size or numbers of Chinese? Neither can or ever was, even if the year were indicated.
Included is a story about Chungking becoming Chun King. Page 102 speaks of Jeno, its founder, being desperate to churn out bean sprouts by canning them. The implication is no such product was available at the time. His company, called Chun King, began in 1947 and was sold in 1967. Before and during those years, La Choy was making lots of them. Furthermore, they started in business in 1922 when Jeno was in diapers. Is the author so east-coast-centric that he could find nothing about this competitor in Detroit? The web would have told him about this magazine, had he explored it. Why was it not even mentioned?
The book has references at the end, chapter by chapter. They are a good place to begin one's own explorations about Chinese food, but note that only two are in this decade. Enjoy the Chinese chapter in spite of its shortfalls.