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Chinese Way, The--A Second Look

by: Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

New York NY: Macmillan 1997, $24.95, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-020860381-8

Reviewed by: Susan Asanovic
Fall Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(3) page(s): 21

Subtitled Healthful Low-Fat Cooking from China's Regions, The Chinese Way is impressive enough to deserve a second opinion; and appropriate to this issue of Flavor and Fortune; it is loaded with healthy and vegetarian perspectives.

The characteristic link between poetry and food is evident in Eileeen Yin Fei Lo's writings including: Fu Yung which translates as 'light' or 'beautiful'..the Chinese suggest that you must feel as if devouring a cloud. There is also practical information and updated recipes in this accessible book from one of America's best Chinese food writers.

Unlike the greasy fare of corner take-outs, Lo's food stresses a minimum of oil for flash stir-frying. It also touts many steamed dishes, for which, she says "steaming gives food life." Yes, there is much less fat than in standard Chinese cookbooks, Lo's and others. Typically one or two teaspoons of oil suffice, such as in the delicious Water Spinach with Preserved Bean Curd.

For the uninitiated, there is an easy 'Basics' chapter, and a comprehensive glossary. You will need to stock the basic pantry, but these staples last for ages. Recipes using them are not difficult; most are fast and flavorful. Vegetable Congee takes only five minutes. An example of a uniquely Chinese flavor pattern: onion-flavored oil, preserved bean curd, ginger, and garlic is exemplified in String Beans with Preserved Bean Curd. It is done in a flash of the characteristic 'whisper of white smoke.' Lo adds that the Chinese call string beans 'baby beans' implying perhaps, that the more traditional long beans are the adult variety.

It is important to note that contrary to Western habits, the Chinese use meat as a condiment; one quarter pound of pork serves six, as in Tainan Noodles, and a typical Chinese portion of rice is twice or three times that which is usual in the west. But why then does Lo specify only one-half cup to start you off?

Never mind, just try her Steamed Bean Curd with Scallions and her Green Papaya Salad which is on page 16 in the previous issue of Flavor and Fortune. Also, prepare her Pickled Pear and Melon Chicken Salad or the Wok-Baked Crabs, or the Steamed Bean Curd with Ham called Fu Yung Dan Du. The latter is a great way to introduce people to tofu. Her additional hints offer to ease and further lower fat and reduce folks' sodium content.

There are just minor flaws including: I would have liked to have color photographs of the delicious-sounding dishes; in a few cases, ingredient lists needed clarification; e.g.: What kind of tofu, is it firm, soft, or silken? Ms. Lo sometimes offers the option of adding baking soda to fix the color in blanched greens, as is sometimes practiced in restaurants. From a health perspective, that is a no-no. Also, nutrient analyses are given, but do not always appear to be accurate. How can, in Basic Cooked Rice, a recipe made with white rice as she suggests, have 2 grams of fat? My copy of Food Values of Portions Commonly Used is a classic item for nutrient analysis and long valued before computers did the analysis and arithmetic; it lists four fifths of a cup as 0.2 grams. Was the decimal point moved in error here or the arithmetic ignored? Granted it is admittedly difficult to calculate the nutrient content of Chinese dishes because data for imported condiments, sauces, and some food items are rarely available, but this recipe only uses rice and cold water.

Nonetheless, I always recommend Lo's books, this one, too. If you are vegetarian, there are many wonderful recipes made with great and classic flavors in them, and as Lo says in her introduction, "this book is about flavor, what the Chinese call mei doh....the Chinese kitchen...is about flavor" so do go taste some fine examples of flavor.

Note: This review appeared in the hardcopy column titled: An Extra on the Bookshelf.

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