This was a quick read. Even having heard the author interviewed on NPR, and having some ideas of the issues with off-season tomatoes, parts of this bo...moreThis was a quick read. Even having heard the author interviewed on NPR, and having some ideas of the issues with off-season tomatoes, parts of this book were very disheartening, especially the section on trafficking / slavery.
Even though I thought this sounded like an interesting book, I never went to the trouble to get a copy; having read it, I wish I had gotten one sooner.(less)
I enjoyed some of the information in this, but did find that the subject matter was so broad that it kind of had the same problems that a book written...moreI enjoyed some of the information in this, but did find that the subject matter was so broad that it kind of had the same problems that a book written by a journalist summarizing a complicated subject has (rather than a book written by someone who actually knows a lot about that subject).
The whole bit about the tou (italics hers), referring to the Chinese cleaver, was a bit annoying, since tou is just the Cantonese pronunciation of 'dao'.
The super short chapters seemed like a way to work in material that didn't fit in elsewhere.
I did appreciate a lot of the historical background, and, while some of the ideas are just common sense, I think the book accomplishes its goal of helping the reader think about some commonplace kitchen objects in a new way. I think her take on the whole molecular gastronomy / modernist movement is mostly pretty solid as well.(less)
I've been recommending this book even since before it came out, and overall, it's really good. The illustrations and glossary are great (some really a...moreI've been recommending this book even since before it came out, and overall, it's really good. The illustrations and glossary are great (some really appetizing photos!), and she includes lots of handy reference pictures, which should really help people who are trying to find the right ingredients, or who want a reference of how certain cuts should look.
As a vegetarian, I love how vegetarian friendly the book is, and also the fact that she includes so many home cooking style recipes where meat is part of the dish, but not necessarily an essential part - I think it will be helpful to people who are trying to eat less meat, or just use it as an accent.
I definitely see lots of familiar Chinese home cooking dishes - the kinds of cold appetizers, side dishes, etc. that you might not order at a restaurant often, but that you would find on the table of Chinese friends or family members. The recipes for things like tomato and eggs (yes, she knows you need to add a pinch of sugar), potato strips, garlic stems or jiucai (garlic chives) with dry tofu or bacon, etc. are things I could imagine, or have seen, on my in-laws' dinner table.
For the most part, she keeps slight variations together, instead of making separate recipes, but there are a few exceptions (the section with (garlic chives of various types, and fresh garlic stem) paired with (eggs / smoked meat / dry tofu) really could have just said "take one from column A, and one from column B"), but there are a few recipes where you really wonder if they needed to be a recipe (green soy beans, served in the pod, is basically what the name says, though she does have you boil the frozen soybeans with a piece of ginger and some Sichuan peppercorn).
There is quite a bit of overlap with her other two cookbooks, but not in a bad way, and she does make some slight changes (for example, 'bear's claw' tofu instead of regular home-style tofu (the difference is mostly in the shape). While it hews mostly towards traditional recipes, there are some recipes featuring (western style) radish, western broccoli, and other (relatively) "new" ingredients. It's definitely clear that she's aiming for a broader audience with this one, but I think die-hard fans of her earlier books will still find a lot of new stuff to play with.
If you're interested in making Chinese food at home (no matter your level of experience), or if you're interested in what kind of food Chinese people eat at home, or how a Chinese meal should be put together, this book is a really good place to start.
[I never know when to mark a cookbook as "currently-reading" or "read", since you rarely read a cookbook cover to cover](less)
Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. If there were a 3.5 rating, I'd give it the extra half a star. First off, I think it does a great job of exp...moreOverall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. If there were a 3.5 rating, I'd give it the extra half a star. First off, I think it does a great job of explaining some things about Chinese food that are not immediately obvious to many Westerners. Secondly, while the book reads very similarly to some other "foreigner in China in the 90s" memoirs (in both good and bad ways), I found that my eye-rolling at certain bits stopped fairly quickly as I got more engaged in parts of the story. Also, while she doesn't really reach any conclusions, she does do some interesting exploration of some sensitive political areas, including the legacy of Mao and the situations in some of the outlying autonomous regions.
The author's love of food really comes through, and it goes without saying that this is not a book you should read if you are hungry. It's also not a book you should read if you're easily offended by descriptions of eating various types of offal and various types of critters. As a vegetarian, you'd think I might be bothered by this stuff, but honestly, people who think it's Ok to eat Bessie but not Fido or Bambi bug me way more than unapologetic omnivores who eat anything and everything.
I did think the book suffers from a few problems. The author's love of Sichuan and its cuisine really comes through, but I feel like in some cases, she's maybe a little chauvinistic about other regional cuisines. And in later chapters, she unexpectedly brings up some interesting questions about the increasing industrialization of China (and its effects on food, the environment, and animal husbandry), but doesn't really seem to come to any conclusions.
At times, I think there are some cases where she slightly overuses Chinese words, where in other cases, maybe she should have used them more; also, the translations are sometimes deliberately literal ("small eats" for 小吃, rather than, say, "snack") where other times they are maybe too fanciful. The use of standard Hanyu pinyin (without the tone diacritics) throughout is good, but, while most speakers of Chinese will understand the words from the context, it's not quite as useful without having the tone indicated or using the actual character.
In a more nuts and bolts way, I think the book could have been a little more cohesive -- the first parts of the book, which are mostly a memoir of her early experiences in Chengdu in the 90s are a pretty gripping read, but some of the later chapters don't seem to fit together quite as well.(less)
This is a really important book, and I hope fans of Omnivore's Dilemma and its ilk will read it, though I'm not sure that all of them will take away t...moreThis is a really important book, and I hope fans of Omnivore's Dilemma and its ilk will read it, though I'm not sure that all of them will take away the message that Foer pretty explicitly says he is trying to send. I think he does a great job of exploring some of the contradictions in a lot of the other work on this subject by folks like Michael Pollan.
I have enjoyed Foer's other books, but I was worried that this one would employ too many of the gimmicks he uses in his fiction... not to worry - for the most part, this book is fairly straightforward. There are a few such flourishes -- the 3-4 pages of "Influence / Speechlessness" over and over, for example, but I thought that overall, he didn't over-do it. I was impressed to see such a thoughtful treatment of a complicated subject. I think this is a book that anyone who cares about food, animals, ethics, or the environment should read at least once, regardless of his or her feelings about eating animals.
It's clear that Foer enjoys (enjoyed?) eating animals and that the journey to becoming a vegetarian was not an easy one for him. It's also clear (to me) that he's not a moral absolutist. But it's also clear that he's willing to look at the logical conclusions of his own research and live his life based on the conclusion he reaches.
As a vegetarian and mostly-vegan for over half my life, I'm pretty familiar with most of the facts presented in the book, however, I still learned a few new things from Eating Animals. And while I'm not generally squeamish about hearing graphic stories about animal cruelty, I did find some of the material really sad.(less)
As a longtime vegetarian/near-vegan, I bought and read this book with a bit of apprehension - clearly the author was not on an anti-foie crusade, and...moreAs a longtime vegetarian/near-vegan, I bought and read this book with a bit of apprehension - clearly the author was not on an anti-foie crusade, and I wasn't sure it was going to be a pleasant read. However, I was quickly reassured by the authors thoroughness in presenting all the information, and listening to all the different stakeholders.
That's not to say that the book is completely "objective" (as if such a thing were possible), or that the author's own views on the subject don't come through (hint - he's not a vegetarian and he's eaten his share of foie gras), but I think he does a really good job of presenting the information in an informative (and sometimes even funny) way.
What I was more pleasantly surprised by was that the book really delves into the moral complexities involved. While the author isn't a vegetarian, he has clearly thought about the moral issues involved in eating meat, as well as the problems posed by factory farming. I think he poses some compelling arguments that the distress to the animals from the gavage (force-feeding) is not as bad as one might imagine, and he pokes holes in some of the more extreme arguments made by animal rights advocates.
Worth reading for anyone who's curious about where their food comes from, regardless of their stance on the issue of force-feeding.(less)