by Grace Young
List Price: £19.50
Grace Young is a culinary sister to novelist Amy Tan. In The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, along with sharing recipes from her family, Young immerses the reader in Chinese culture and the Chinese American experience of San Francisco's Chinatown, where she grew up. This personal book began with Young's wish to preserve the Cantonese dishes prepared by her parents and extended family. Since they cooked by instinct, the only way to record their recipes was by observing her mother, father, and aunties while they cooked, and by asking endless questions. These kitchen conversations also became a way to elicit untold family history from her deeply traditional and reticent parents.
Each chapter opens with an essay intertwining biographical stories with information about Chinese food and healing. The blending of culinary information and cultural observations is powerfully realized, perhaps because Young shows old-fashioned respect along with a contemporary perspective. The result is both affectionate and enthralling. You can vividly picture the meticulous choreography as her parents make dinner in their tiny kitchen, reaching over steaming pots and rushing the steaming food to the table.
Young delves into the hows and whys of Cantonese home cooking, with particular attention to technique and ingredients: Chinese broccoli with flowers should be avoided because the bright yellow blossoms indicate the stalks are too old. Steaming is valued because it draws out the intense flavors near the bone in chicken, fish, and meat, leaving them tender and moist.
Many dishes are elementally simple. Hot-and-Sour Soup is fired solely by aromatic white pepper. White Chicken is perfumed just with ginger and garlic. Some choices are quick and easy, as in stir-fried Bean Sprouts, while others require long and elaborate preparation, like savory Rice Tamales stuffed with pork, Chinese sausage, and duck egg yolks and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Anyone who enjoys eating Chinese food or has experienced the generational differences in immigrant families will get lost in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. --Dana Jacobi