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Won Ton Lust

by: John Kritch

New York NY: Kodansha International 1997, $24.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 1-56836-178-5

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(1) page(s): 21

Sub-titled: Adventures in Search of the World's Best Chinese Restaurants, this book's journey is a honeymoon trek taken by a Caucasian-Jewish-New York-born award-winning travel writer and his Beijing-born wife. They visit more than three hundred fifty Chinese restaurants in eighteen countries on four continents to taste Chinese fare in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and in countries in South-east Asia, in Australia and in the South Seas, as well as in the United States, Europe, South America, and Newfoundland.

In humor-filled fashion, this entertaining travelogue reports about a search for the Culinary Grail, the world's best Chinese restaurants. The author and his wife eat everything, be it Beijing Duck, which they call Death by Duck in Beijing, cat soup, deer penis, or camel's paw elsewhere. Stomachs may growl as theirs did in some of the many places, but this is a romance, restaurant eatery after restaurant eatery.

The three hundred eighty-four pages are a literary meal discussing too many restaurants superficially, too many dishes dismally, and too many dumplings dyspeptically. The tone is noted in the section titles: 1) Cold Dish: The Long Munch; 2) China: The East is Fed; 3) Hong Kong and Taiwan: Two from Column A; 4) Southeast Asia: Ginger Trail; 5) South Pacific: The Endless Dumpling; 6) North America: Like a Rolling Egg Roll; 7) Europe: Let 'Em Eat Dog; and 8) Desserts: From Hunan to Who Knows.

The nine pages titled 'Joy of Flushing' are typical. Four pages tour Kritch's childhood in Manhattan, five discuss Flushing and mention four restaurants with a recipe from one of them: Shrimp and Clams in Beer Broth which is from Joe's Shanghai Restaurant. One eatery gets but half a sentence worth of attention and says: "Within a few blocks along Roosevelt Avenue, Mei and I sample a genuine purveyor of Sichuan spice called the Golden Monkey, then complete our lunch at the Taipei Wall Sea Street Restaurant, as tiny as its name is big." Other restaurants get a little more, most devoted to comments of the owners or managers, often tangentially related to the food of the place.

The best part of the book is the last eleven pages. Here, you will find their thirty-item dream menu from thirty different globally-placed restaurants and one page about selecting restaurants. The rest lists their top forty, and the sixty-two others called: 'And More Along the Way."

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