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How to Cook and Eat in Chinese

by: Buwei Yang Chao

New York NY: The John Day Company 1945, Hardbound

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(2) page(s): 15 and 23

Every once in a while, it is important to draw people's attention to a golden oldie. Such is the case with Buwei Chao's wonderful volume. I was reminded of it when, in a used bookstore the other day, there sat two copies waiting to be purchased. I did just that and sent them to dear friends, who I know are now enjoying Part I's first six chapters, even if they never cook one of her two hundred twenty-seven delicious recipes.

In this first part, Americans are introduced to types of meals most Chinese prefer including banquets. Also to Chinese table manners, eating and cooking materials and utensils, pre-preparation techniques, and twenty methods of cooking.

For years after this book was published, people cited or just plain copied the words and wisdom of Mrs. Chao from hails from Anhwei. Her know-how and terrific taste, translated by her daughter, had been cherished long before Chinese food was popular in America.

I came upon the book in 1953 after graduation from College. At that time, as a fan of Pearl S. Buck, someone taunted my boast that I had read everything Buck had written, and bet me that I had not. This was one of the few wagers ever lost because Buck had penned the preface, and of course I knew it not. When I did buy book and dinner for the winner and became poorer from the wager, I had to agree with my idol, that cooking from it makes for a meal's perfection.

An illustration of Buwei Chao's attention to detail can best be described in the titles of the first of twenty-one recipe chapters: Red-cooked Meat, Meat Slices, Meat Shreds, Meat Balls or Meat Cakes, and Meat Specialties; these are followed by the usual Beef, Mutton and Lamb, Chicken, Duck, Fish, Shrimps, and other chapters.

Many of the recipes begin with information about the dish, an ingredient, or a technique. Some are dishes seen in common Chinese cookbooks, others for things beloved by food mavens, and these include recipes for tripe, pigs feet, and squid.

Anyone with a love for the Allium family will delight in the Fried Scallion Cake. Those with a penchant for pig, after learning that the first five chapters about meat mean recipes for pork, will wonder at the simplicity of Stuffed Cucumber Soup, Meat Balls with Dried Lilies, and the simple but savory Red-Cooked Meat, be it with carrots, yellow turnips, or squid.

Long before most had knowledge of Mongolian hot-pot cookery, Buwei Yang Chao provided picture and words to lead readers and cooks through the wonders and wealth of ways to make foods and feasts in a Chrysanthemum chafing pot.

Her chapters about rice and noodle dishes, and the one on pastry offer simple but winning ways to make foods such as White Congee, Crossing-the-Bridge Noodles, Steamed Bread, New Year Dumplings, and Spring Rolls; and for Doilies, the American term for wrappers for Peking Duck.

This book is so good and quite complete; new authors of foreign cookbooks would be wise to mimic the style, certainly the bilingual index, and the detail of how to write recipes that work; and how and where to provide tastes of culture and cuisine.

If your local source of used books does not have this gem, most libraries do or can order it for you through inter-library loan. Suggest you get a copy, read and cook from this early introduction to the best of Chinese cuisine. In the meantime, try my favorite of all time ribs recipe, rewritten here for brevity.

Note: This review appeared in the column: Newman's News and Reviews.

Dry-cooked Spare Ribs
2 and 1/2 pounds spare ribs, cut into one-inch lengths
2 cups water
4 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 Tablespoon sherry
1. Put ribs, water, sauce, and salt in a pot, bring to the boil, then simmer one hour.
2. Transfer to a wok or fry pan, add sugar and sherry, and at the highest heat possible, stir constantly until all the water evaporates.
3. Serve immediately or keep the ribs uncovered and in a low oven until you are ready.

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