A list of Chinese culinary books that I like and I think it is worth a look.
You already know I like Chinese soups. I also like spending time at the bookshops or the library browsing books. After I started working on this soup site, I gravitate towards cook books, especially those with Chinese soups. I like Asian culinary books that have good pictures and step-by-step instructions. It really is "a picture paints a thousand words".
When it comes to Chinese cooking and if you are not familiar with it, it is good to buy a cook book geared towards beginners and contains lots of pictures of raw ingredients, techniques, cooking tools, final products and stockists. They may be more expensive but they make better guides.
I have a couple of favourites and I selected a few titles that I thought are worth the time and money. I gravitate towards culinary titles by Asian (especially Southeast Asian) authors rather than US authors.
The Asian Cook focuses on cooking tools and techniques. There are handsome photos of tools and food. Representative recipes are included. I like the fact that the recipes include the different types of tools used. It is a nice touch. Covers 5 regions in Asia:
It covers traditional utensils as well as modern versions. It also include a list of suppliers of these tools in UK, US & Asia.
An extra star for covering a jam unique to Southeast Asia: kaya. This is a coconut egg jam and is a staple in breakfast toast. Those of you who had fallen in love with our local kaya toast can now try to replicate it back home.
This book ends off with a short bibliography and an index. Librarians always see books with indexes and bibliographies in more favourable light because they take more effort to compile.
In short, this is a good introduction to the Asian kitchen. Not exhaustive but a very good start. Not too many Chinese soups recipes are featured here though.
Anita Loh is a Hong Kong-born food writer and critic currently living in San Francisco.
Asian Greens: A Full-Color Guide, Featuring 75 Recipes is an illustrated guide to a wide range of Chinese vegetables including background, description and alternative names. It also include suggestions on how to choose, store and cook these vegetables.
I think it is great for anyone who wants to try Chinese cooking. Bring it along to an Asian grocery shop and play a game of "spot the vegetable".
The Asian greens are divided into:
Leafy & flowering greens
beans, fruits & seeds
Recipes included cater to a more western than Asian audience.
Because Anita hails from Hong Kong, many of the Chinese names of the greens are derived from the Cantonese dialect rather than the Chinese vernacular which is mandarin. But ample photos of the Asian greens and completed dishes compensate for that.
While gathering some facts on wontons, I came across this delightful book titled Swallowing Clouds: A Playful Journey Through Chinese Culture, Language, and Cuisine at the library. The title caught my eyes because swallowing clouds is a literal translation of wonton in the Cantonese dialect. I know this book will definitely talk about wontons.
It is written by Anthony Zee, a professor of physics at the Institute of Theoretical Physics, University of California. Before you start to think ... how boring (no offence to physics buffs), this book is actually very readable. It was so well received that it was nominated for the James Beard Award and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award.
The springboard for the book is a Chinese restaurant menu. Professor Zee used the entries in the menu to kick off his discussion about Chinese cuisine, language and culture. It is chock full of family anecdotes, the epistemology (i.e. origin) of certain Chinese characters and of course, the history of Chinese food. As I rightly guessed, it includes an entire chapter on wontons (page 67 to 78):
his family secret recipe for wontons and the wonton soup
an explanation of the Chinese characters making up wonton 云吞
his musings about a saying involving the wontons
Although this culinary book is over 300 pages long, it is a very easy read because Professor Zee's writing is lively and humourous. I only wish that it has more photos. The rather plain cover and use of simple illustrations does not do justice to the fantastic content.
A Spoonful of Ginger : Irresistible Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens won the IACP Julia Child Book Award and the James Beard Foundation Book Award for health in 1999.
In this book, Nina Simonds relates her story about seeing a Chinese herbalist in Singapore who diagnosed her as being too yin and ordering 2 warming dishes for her: baked lamb with Chinese wolfberries and a pot of double boiled chicken soup.
There are about 200 recipes in this culinary book with a good collection of herbal soups.
Chinese herbal soups can be too different for people who are new to it so Nina Simonds adapted the recipes a bit. This is a good introductory approach.
I have always enjoyed watching Floyd on TV, cooking up a storm in someone else's backyard, vineyard, barnyard...
I didn't catch Floyd's China on TV but it was a delight reading the book although strictly speaking, he was only in Beijing, the capital of China.
The thing going for Floyd in this book was his effort to be as authentic as possible with his Chinese dishes. Unlike many Chinese cookbooks written by non-Asians, he doesn't try to "westernise" the dishes. So, he is forgiven for mistaking Beijing as the representative of China's cuisine.
The second thing going for Floyd's China is a generous list of soup recipes:
Duck and cabbage soup
Thick spicy and sour soup
Pork and tomato soup
Chicken and ginseng soup
Fragrant soup with spinach and meatballs
Bamboo shoot and meatball soup
Thick mackerel and spinach soup
Thick beef chinese soup
Fish noodle soup
Delicate string noodle soup
Fillet of beef noodle soup
Noodle soup with garlic spare ribs
Noodle soup with beef sate
Last but not least, I find Floyd very endearing in this book.
Michael Tong is the owner and executive chef of Shun Lee West and Shun Lee Palace in New York City. The Shun Lee Cookbook is a collection of dishes served at his restaurants. If you are a fan of his food, you will like this book.
There are 8 soup recipes such as Hot and sour soup, Shanghai wonton soup, Steamed egg custard soup with clams, Westlake duck soup and Velvet chicken and corn soup. More than 50 colour photos of the finished dishes for your reference with an index and suggested stockists where you can get your oriental supplies and kitchenware in the US.
I am going to be accused of favouritism. This is the third book on this list by Terry Tan. I don't care.
When I first started this website in 2006, the interest in Southeast Asian food on the Internet is not very high. More than a decade later, I sense a change. There are a lot more of content on the food in this region. I'm happy that food I grew up with is getting international attention.
This book is not for the fuss-free cooks. You need to put in some attention in order to recreate local dishes at home. There are a lot of ingredients needed to create the complex and nuanced flavours of Southeast Asian food.
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