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

3.41  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,267 Ratings  ·  236 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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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
Juliet Doubledee
Oct 17, 2011 Juliet Doubledee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, foodie
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
Oct 12, 2009 eb rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 25, 2010 Renee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 04, 2013 Meg rated it really liked it  ·  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
Dec 04, 2013 Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 09, 2010 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Apr 22, 2015 Sheabody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written. Does not discuss food as much as the title might lead you to believe, compared to some other culinary narratives I have read. Except for a couple details, book reads like a not-at-all veiled autobiography. Very nice descriptions of Beijing and its ancient neighborhoods -- the Hutong and culinary aromas. Makes me nostalgic for my short visit to the Chinese capital city. Author's/protagonist's life experience is limited, given her young age (20s). Sympathetic story and not bad for a ...more
Dec 04, 2013 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 04, 2013 Yolanda rated it really liked it

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
Feb 23, 2012 Suzanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, fiction
“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.
Mar 17, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 24, 2010 Claire rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 13, 2011 Anne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 27, 2015 RuthAnn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 19, 2015 Chastain rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Chick flick meets Asian foodie meets international Expat community meets Chinese culture. Loveable main character keeps you reading.
May 19, 2014 Vic rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A terrible book. Full of gross fetishization. Language is stilted and flat, revealing either laziness or internalised racism on author's part. Chinese people aren't clueless idiots who go "juh juh juh" or who narrate every incident with simplistic one-or-two-words.

I find it interesting that the most fully realised characters are those that are white, or the closest to white. The author doesn't seem to problematise white expat culture AT ALL. When white-as-snow Geraldine blathered about being ab
Feb 22, 2010 Casey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ann Olson
I very much enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about China, about journalism, about food. The characters were varied and interesting.

There were some sticking points, some inconsistencies that threw off the flow. The biggest part of this was when Isabelle would suddenly be depressed or feeling hopeless about her sister or her work or her parents with just about no build up (125, 214). She'd seem to be fine and having fun, and then she would suddenly feel like everything was wrong. Other little t
Feb 28, 2010 Claire rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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."
Apr 07, 2011 Alaine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 it was amazing  ·  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...
Sep 02, 2014 Kari rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2014
Reading this book didn't make me too hungry, but it could have! I like that each chapter started with a description of a type of Chinese food. I liked the Beijing setting, since I have visited that city a few years ago, and eaten some of the styles of food Isabelle describes, both in the book, and in her column as a restaurant reviewer.
A nice story about identity, finding yourself in the world and the world in you- Isabelle is a Chinese-American, born in America; her mother fled China in the 19
Jul 21, 2010 Trudi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 12, 2010 Janet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: romance, 2010
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.
I wanted to like this book because it has tie-ins to several things I like: foodie stuff and international culture.

From the beginning, this was difficult to get into. Even though I hate the term, this book exemplifies everything I don't like about "chick-lit": whiny navel gazing and dependent on a man for feelings of self-worth.

I started reading this and put it down for a bit. Once I got about a third of the way through, I was able to read through faster and didn't put it down until I finished (
Mar 16, 2010 Mindy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 14, 2014 Gillian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this lazing by the pool in Umbria at the end of last summer.

A word of warning. DO NOT read this book hungry. I was starving the whole way through!

A delightful romp through China, expat life and crazy delicious food.
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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 about Ann Mah...

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“party—Claire only had one attendant, her pale roommate from law school, Kate Addison, who took one look at the whole roast suckling pig and spent the rest of the day slugging Johnnie Walker Red in a deep state of culture shock—but” 0 likes
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