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Martin Yan's Chinatown Cooking

by: Martin Yan

New York NY: William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins 2002, $34.95, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-06-008475-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(1) page(s): 20

Martin’s done it again, another whirlwind TV program and a book to accompany it. This one touts two hundred recipes from eleven places around the world. Dedicated to immigrants whose pioneering journeys were not too unlike his own, it comes alive and serves as reminder/cooking companion for this latest TV series.

The acknowledgment pages show Martin’s salesmanship. There are ever-so-many companies who made it possible. They enabled this exposure to Chinatown cooking, but do not show enough non-commercial efforts to support real Chinese cooking. For starters, I recommend they send a tax-deductible check or pay for an advertisement in this magazine and to at least one other Chinese not-for-profit organization.

To produce the book, Yan and his team visit eleven cities in seven countries on four continents, each with a well-known Chinatown. An appreciation of Martin and Chinese food, written by Julia Child, starts the book and is a must for all non-Chinese cooks. Look at what adoring Chinese food can do! As a young impressionable woman, she learned to love great Chinese food. She lived in China, worked in Kunming, met her husband there, and she develops a passion for this great cuisine; and it is wartime! Ms. Child sees China from the inside and she appreciates Martin sharing the best Chinatown locales.

The Personal Preface and the Introductory History tell a little about Martin’s journey aborad and a bit about the general history of any Chinatown. The pictures throughout, the lists of restaurants that cooperate to make this book possible, and the recipes in chapters by main ingredient share feelings that those who visit one or another Chinatown often know and appreciate it. The photographers do a fine job to make it so. They give a good look at what Chinatown really is.

Martin does, too. The bit on the difficult task of cleaning squid is great. So is much else. If you hop, skip and jump from city to city, try some of his suggestions. However, keep in mind that Chinese chefs, like Martin did, do hop, skip, and jump from restaurant to restaurant, too. If you love to eat out and want to come home to try a typical dish, be grateful that Martin provides the where-with-all, the recipes, but not where a particular recipe comes from. Instead his recipes are tried and true Chinese fare for the Chinese. They are typical dishes available to all in almost every Chinatown.

Bet his trip really was world class. Bet the Chinatown Deli Duck recipe tastes better in Chinatown because who has that type of oven to make that recipe at home? Bet you can not go wrong trying his two, three, or more suggestions for dishes in each of the suggested restaurants. Should you care to know, there are seven restaurants each in New York and Honolulu, and five each in Macao, London, Toronto, and Yokohama in Japan. There are also three in Melbourne, six in San Francisco, eight in Singapore, nine in Sydney, and four in Vancouver.

The book says Martin is the author of ten best-selling cookbooks. Take another adventure; try all of them and the I am not-sure-how-many-others he has written. We have never seen all of the others and the cookbook collection given to Stony Brook University cries out for the ones that are missing. Visiting the restaurants listed in this book means mostly trips to previously reviewed Chinese restaurants. His other books and this one do open eyes to how great Chinese food really can be.

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