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Chinese Kitchen, The (by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo)

by: Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

New York NY: William Morrow 1999, $35.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-688-15826-9

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(1) page(s): 19

This book, Lo's seventh, is the first among the seven to be reviewed in this, our seventh year. For us it is an annual renewal, for her a new beginning. This book's style and content are different from her others. This one flows better, is bigger, has better recipes, and is more delightful to read. After rereading the other six, I came away thinking that someone else wrote it; it is so different and so much better. Her commitment to authentic and detailed recipes that taste like real Chinese food comes through. So does her attention to detail.

Overall, it is a fine volume that anyone interested in Chinese food, particularly Cantonese, should run out and buy. They will not regret having done so and will be able to prepare sumptuous Chinese dishes. There are recipes from all the main regions of China, but born and raised in Sun Tak in Canton, most are Cantonese; they and the others provide tastes of correctness to their particular culinary region. Her heritage does comes through. So does her ability at story telling, at providing historical background, at preaching about the rights and wrongs of Chinese food in America, and teaching about both the ordinary and special dishes that she feels are 'the' definitive Chinese cuisine.

While I adore the book, there are things that bristle. One such is the title page where it says 'from America's leading authority on Chinese cooking.' Certainly Ms. Lo is one, but there are many others. This myopic vision is found in other places including where she says that the only meticulously researched books are Food in Chinese Culture edited by K.C. Chang and The Food of China by E. N. Anderson, and a volume titled Gastronomy by Jay Jacobs. Granted these are fine books. However, her short list of what is good is much too limited. I suggest that for starters she come to my library and peruse many other valuable tomes.

A third concern may be hers or that of her editor's insecurity. The book's jacket offers five commendations, none from a Chinese food expert. All are Francophile cooks or writers. Ms. Lo did write for this magazine in Volume 5(3). We are deeply disappointed that neither we nor any other Chinese authority previewed her book; we did not even get a copy to review.

Fixing that serious omission, we went out and bought the book and now continue our honest evaluation. Anthropologists and sociologists take note: The tales told of personal experiences and Cantonese upbringing in a well-to-do home are fascinating. They expand upon the recent volume of knowledge available in cookbooks by Ken Hom, the Blonder cousins, and Grace Young, to name a few fine Chinese cookbook authors. Lo's excellent first-hand views, impressions, experiences, and caring about all matter of food detail shape the text.

All of Ms. Lo's anecdotes are of interest even when preaching that good Chinese food must be authentic Chinese food. However, her view of authenticity is based upon her experiences and not that of every immigrant. Lo says that Cantonese food is what people think of when they think of Chinese food. Not so for those eating foods of the more recent immigrants. She came in 1959, recent immigrants are mostly from other provinces.

Besides the anecdotal material and the fact that you need to get well into the book to learn that her adages and words are Cantonese transliterations. You do not need to get that far to know that her recipes are up to the demands and the standards of those who were her teachers. Her aunt Pong Lo Siu Fong and her grandmother Ah Paw shaped her culinary expertise; they did one fine job. They and she are to be commended.

Some recipes were terrific; particularly the Sichuan Roasted Rice and the Red Wine Rice. These and other basic recipes in a section of their own and scattered throughout should be made by all who adore and do lots of Chinese cooking. The Lo Soi mother sauce, in the Classics from China's Regions recipe section identified as Old Water, is one of the best. Lo got it from a Hong Kong master chef, glad he shared and so did she.

The Tainan Noodle Soup from Du Shao Yueh Noodle Shop in a city of that name in Taiwan is a meal loaded with so many ingredients and with the taste of that famous eatery. The Red Rice Soup with Shrimp uses the Red Rice Wine recipe mentioned above and two other basic recipes, one a Seafood Stock, the other a White Peppercorn Oil; and there are other ingredients. Though a pain to turn pages, do use the energy required. Much time and effort are needed, but this Fujianese soup is more than reward after preparing it. What a terrific recipe; and so are many others in this Chinese Kitchen.

Enjoy this volume; you will appreciate the time spent. You will also learn oodles about Chinese cuisine. Do not be put off by time or ingredients needed, not even by the fact that should you want to buy unfamiliar ingredients you need to photocopy twenty-four pages from her Chinese larder list with all their detail. Show them to a merchant to get help finding them. A pity there is no convenient shopping list provided, but never mind. Just use your greenbacks and bite into some of the best Chinese food you can make in your own kitchen. It will be delicious food and from 'one' of America's leading Chinese food authorities.
Pickled Peaches
2 pounds fresh peaches (about eight that are hard but with rosy color)
2 cups white rice vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
2 and 1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Wash and dry the peaches, do not slice or peel them.
2. In an oversized jar, put the vinegar, sugar and water and add three and three quarters of a cup cold water. Stir well, then add the peaches. Then cover the jar tightly and refrigerate for three days before using.
Note: These peaches will keep for at least six months in the refrigerator.

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