Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself
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Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  887 ratings  ·  190 reviews
Isabelle Lee thinks she knows everything about Chinese cuisine. After all, during her Chinese-American childhood, she ate it every day. Isabelle may speak only "kitchen Chinese"—the familial chatter learned at her mother's knee—but she understands the language of food. Now, in the wake of a career-ending catastrophe, she's ready for a change—so she takes off for Beijing to...more
ebook, 368 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by HarperCollins e-books (first published January 1st 2010)
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Last summer I had the wonderful chance to hear Deanna Fei read from her debut novel A Thread of Sky, about Chinese American women traveling to China.

This summer, I came across Ann Mah's Kitchen Chinese.

Something interesting: Both Fei and Mah published their respective novels in 2010 and wrote as they were living in Beijing. Yet Fei's is a contemporary fiction offering, while Mah's is straight-up chic lit. After several pages of cliches and cheesy writing that made it feel like CHEETAH GIRLS 2/E...more
Juliet Doubledee
I found this book to be a light and fun read. The author (Ann Mah) takes the reader on a journey from the U.S. to China to witness the trials and tribulations of a young writer in her search to find her own voice in print.

The main character, Isabelle Lee, in the beginning of the book is a "fact finder" for a large New York fashion magazine; where she is responsible for confirming information submitted by well known freelancers. Unfulfilled both professionally and personally, Isabelle finds herse...more
Dec 04, 2013 Meg rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: nostalgic Beijing ex-pats
This book was almost exactly what I wanted it to be, and I've been waiting to find it for quite a while.

Ever since I lived in Beijing, I've thought to myself that someone should write a piece of chick-lit set in the Beijing ex-pat scene. It's an exciting and unusual setting, filled with drama and spice - the perfect setting for a racy, quick-paced novel. Ann Mah has finally filled that niche.

Mah's story uses food as a common ground for making China relatable to a traditional Western audience and...more
To call this a brazen imitation of Bridget Jones's Diary is to insult Helen Fielding's witty, observant romp.

I can't remember the last time I've read a novel so groaningly obvious. If I told you there were two love interests, one a self-absorbed pop star and the other a kind, shy, blue-eyed ambassador, what would you guess happens? You're right! Except there's less sex than you thought.

Each and every plot turn hinges on coincidence or misunderstanding. And some of them are just--okay, there's t...more
Kitchen Chinese offers the reader a light and easy to read story. I gave it 4 stars, because I was especially drawn to the adjectives and saliva-producing descriptions used for the meals Li Jia (heroine/lead character) prepared as well as those she enjoyed during her travels throughout China. Will be discussing the book with a group of fellow readers, and am pleased to see my copy of the book has several pages of questions to help stimulate conversation and discussion between us. Also, I am look...more
I really should have known better. I thought it would be a novel about food -- it's called Kitchen Chinese and was written by a food writer. But it's actually chick lit. Reading the back cover, I realize I should have seen the signs: "Isabelle Lee things she knows everything about Chinese cuisine. . . . Now, in the wake of a career-ending catastrophe, she's ready for a change -- so she takes off for Beijing to stay with her older sister, Claire. . . . . In the midst of her extreme culture shock,...more
I’m going to say that I really enjoyed this book. Sure, there are typos, and the foreshadowing isn’t exactly what I’d call subtle, but it’s just such a fun, frivolous book to read. And when it comes to literature, I’d rank frivolity as one of my favorite traits.

Last summer I went through a phase where I became obsessed with reading books about food and foreign countries. Kitchen Chinese was put on my wish list then, but I never got around to purchasing until this semester, after Christmas book s...more

In author Ann Mah's first novel, KITCHEN CHINESE, the main character gets fired
from her job and dumped by her boyfriend of eighteen months--all in the same week.

A hip and savvy New Yorker, Isabelle Lee is an independent, fashionable, modern
young woman who works for Belle magazine. After being fired, Isabelle follows
her mother's advice and moves to Beijing, where she shares an apartment with
her sister, Claire.

In Beijing, Claire arranges for an interview so that Isabelle becomes "the dining
“My first meal in Beijing is roasted duck, or kaoya as it’s called in Chinese. Glossy and brown, with crisp skin and meltingly moist flesh, the bird is cut into over one hundred pieces, in the traditional way.”

Ann Mah’s novel is definitely a winner. The first words left me salivating and, as I delved into Isabel Lee’s new life in Beijing, I found myself laughing and captivated. The story begins with a twenty-something wannabe journalist, who gets herself fired from a New York fashion magazine....more
Imagine The Devil Wears Prada meets Bridget Jones--and heads to Bejing to start over. Kitchen Chinese is a delightful story of a young New Yorker, Isabelle Lee, who packs up to move to Beijing after a job-ending mishap at one of New York's top fashion magazines. When she joins her over-achieving big sister, Claire, Isabelle is immersed into Beijing life, where she finds she--and all the other expats who migrate there--can reinvent themselves in ways not possible back in their home countries. The...more
I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others who like to read about travel, FOOD, and the trials and tribulations of being a young woman searching for identity, love and career satisfaction. It's mainly light-hearted and fun, but it also delves into more serious issues that traditional chick-lit does not. The protagonist, Isabelle, is a likable character - humorous in a self-deprecating kind of way- and I often found myself laughing as I read the book. I also enjoyed the sister's...more
An entertaining enough break from Les Miserables, which is the slog of the century.

I've been interested in Asian-American experience type books for ages, since I read The Joy Luck Club (many apologies to my Asian American Lit professor--I swear I like Maxine Hong Kingston and Linh Dinh and such as them too!). Kitchen Chinese was not especially well-written, but the food talk is fascinating, and the journey of the Chinese-American woman who uproots her life in New York to move to Beijing is grea...more
Would recommend: No

I picked up this book at a Borders close-out sale because I thought it was A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family. I totally missed the “a novel about …” description on the cover. It took me at least 20 pages before I figured out what I’d done, and I pushed ahead to see if the book was worth my time. It wasn’t. The plot was predictable, the heroine unlikable. The descriptions of the food were good, at least. But this one went straight to the donation box.
I loved this book. It provided a perceptive view of contemporary China, leavened with humor and fascinating insights into identity and cross-cultural (mis)communication. Mah is a terrific writer -- she has a flair for the mot juste and has paced the book beautifully. Beijing comes alive. The city's energy and contrasts really jump off the page. The food descriptions were borderline torture -- I had to order take-out Chinese food several times during my reading! I can't wait for Mah's next book!
How could this book be compared to Like Water For Chocolate? The book wasn't horrible, but it wasn't very good either. The writing style was mediocre, the storyline predictable, and the references to food sparse and not that interesting. I didn't hate the book, but I was disappointed. It's chick lit that isn't all that humorous or fun, and if you're looking for second generation struggles and returning to homeland to find oneself, it's here but not done that well.
As an author, I receive lots of requests to write quotes for books. This one jumped to the front of the pack. Ann writes beautifully and has a sharp eye and a fresh perspective. She also has a great blog at

Here's my quote: "Ann Mah's Kitchen Chines is a delicious debut novel, seasoned with just the right balance of humor and heart, and sprinkled with fascinating cultural tidbits. Read thoroughly. Share with friends."
I was expecting a cross-cultural book about a woman who is transported to a world unknown as an expat. What I got was a great fiction cross-cultural story about a woman who is transported into an unknown world and is thrown into the world of expatriates, locals, romance, and the quest for good Chinese food. I love chick lit and I am also very into cross cultural books so this was an exciting marriage of the two genres.
Jul 02, 2010 Harvee rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: food lovers, women, travellers
I enjoyed Ann Mah's writing and the way she combined setting and regional cuisine in her story of the two Chinese-American sisters. I could relate to demands or expectations of parents, and the sometimes testy relationship between a younger and older sibling - these seem to be universal. My full review...
Reminded me of "Foreign Babes in Beijing." Chinese American young woman goes to China and becomes food critic for expat magazine. Her "adventures" in Beijing along with her relationship with her sister who is an attorney in Beijing for an American law firm. Kept my interest, but it's far from a "great" book.
Ann Mah's first novel -- pretty good. Good characters that you quickly come to like, a little romance, lots of descriptions of food and culture. An enjoyable read.
Her Beijing was very different from my Beijing but the food scenes, particularly, brought back so many memories (mostly good) of my time there and in Taiwan. Bookclubs will like this one as will anyone liking yummy food descriptions, light romance, and travel stories.
A really interesting look at the growth of Beijing, as well as the inner workings of Chinese families and culture, with a bit of food knowledge sprinkled in. If any of that sounds at all interesting to you, I'd recommend it -- it was a worthwhile read.
A book that will make you immediately rush to the phone ad order take-out chinese or go to your nearest chinese restauraunt to eat!
I was first interested in this book because it is about food (which I do enjoy, particularly Chinese). I didn't mark it as an especially light read or chick lit, although it turned out to be a little of both, plus some ridiculous cliches and several bizarre and unique aspects and perspectives. On the whole, I found this book to be refreshingly funny (yet this may be because I've recently read some significantly dense and draining books), if only with marginally engaging characters.

I'll commence...more
Quando ho letto il retro di copertina al Salone del Libro 2012 ho pensato che fosse la storia di una giovane cinoamericana che torna nel paese dei genitori, ritrovando le sue tradizioni e le sue radici. Banale, dato che lo pensano tutti quelli che incontrano Isabelle e lei ci rimane male. Isabelle si sente americana e, per quanto finisca con l'amare la Cina, non ha nessuna particolare epifania.
Isabelle viene presentata come la Bridget Jones cinese: scordatevelo, non ha nulla dell'ironia della co...more
Barb Middleton
Kitchen Chinese: A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself, by Ann Mah, did NOT pass the grilled cheese test.

If I’m completely riveted by an awesome book, I burn the grilled cheese.

Either the smoke sneaking out the kitchen door or the smell of burning bread snaps my head out of my dreamy alternate world into reality.

I didn’t burn the bread.

While Kitchen Chinese was a pleasant read, the plot was predictable and parts unbelievable. Isabelle, an American born Chinese is from New York and get...more
Bonnie Kassel
Kitchen Chinese is a charming, well written book with mouth-watering culinary descriptions. Which is good, because you've heard the story a million times. Cute Chinese/American girl loses her job and moves to Beijing to live with her wealthy successful sister. In two seconds (even though she only speaks "kitchen Chinese"), she lands a super job reviewing restaurants for the top expat magazine in China and her sister, of course, lives in an apartment at one of the best addresses in the city. When...more
Jessica Larson-Wang
First thing I have to get off my chest -- I live in Beijing and I found the constant insider references a bit irritating. Yes, there really is a Jenny Lou's and a Babyface and all those streets like Guanghua Lu and Dongdaqiao really do exist, but it seemed very in-your-face to me, especially considering she went out of her way to change the names of some places and things (Beijing NOW is obviously supposed to be That's Beijing or The Beijinger), but not others. Maybe the aggressive name-dropping...more
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Ann Mah is a food and travel writer, and author of a novel, Kitchen Chinese (HarperCollins), and a food memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating (Viking Penguin). Her articles about food, travel, fashion, style and the arts have appeared in the New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, the International Herald Tribune, Washingtonian magazine and other publications.

After graduating from UCLA, Ann bega...more
More about Ann Mah...
Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris

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