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To The People, Food Is Heaven (by Audra Ang)

by: Audra Ang

Guilford CT: Lyons Press 2012, $24.95, Hardbound
ISBN: 978-0-7627-7392-3

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(3) page(s): 20

Not a cookbook, nor a book with a single recipe, there is much in this volume about food and its uses in China. The thoughtful introduction by Ken Hom refers to it as having riveting stories. The author is a former Associated Press reporter, and a Chinese lady from Singapore. She interviews and reports about peasants and other people who feel disenfranchised.

She tells of a family who lost their home and their restaurant business due to Beijing Olympic construction and who make their last edible food, a chicken for her. She insists they share it with her. She reports about sad losses due to the Sichuan earthquake, and a very special kitchen and restaurant that only uses healthy green foods. Some of her stories tell about gaping divides between China's rich and poor, the country's lack of tolerance for dissent, and people's dissatisfaction with those in power.

Yes, her stories are riveting, and I could not put the book down. I even cried when turning the last page. It is filled with foods and facts in Chinese people's real lives in current changing China. I did not expect anything less from this Neiman Fellow at Harvard University who was also a visiting scholar at the University of California's Berkeley Center for Chinese Studies. Her anecdotes kept me glued to its pages.

There are views of ordinary folk and their day to day experiences who do understand the importance of food. She helps readers understand what they eat and why, and how they feel about their food and everything else.

The mouth-watering chapters, all intimate and real, tell about China in its transformation. Grace Young, a James Beard award-winning cook-book author and book editor calls it a sweet, sour, savory, and bitter tale painted with a culinary brush and many complexities and poignancies. How right she is.

No recipes nor detailed food preparations, yet Ang provides history, travelogue, texture, and taste about everyone’s preoccupation with food and the pleasures of eating freshly prepared dishes, savoring every morsel of them in homes, restaurants, bars, and even on the streets. This is a must read about China's common folk who enjoy Peking Duck, boiled chicken, stir-fried eggs, and stir-fried vegetables; other foods, too. It is filled with insight about foods and families, be they about herself, her cleaning lady, or about the many colleagues and people she meets as she meets her deadlines.

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