planetkimi's Reviews > My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen: 100 Family Recipes and Life Lessons

My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo
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's review
Dec 31, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: cookbook, autobiography, non-fiction
Read in December, 2007

My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen is a treasure that relates historical recipes in their cultural context. In this book, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's autobiography is interwoven with the recpies she recalls from her youth in China.

I'm a pescetarian, so unfortunately I won't be trying a majority of the recipes Ms. Lo records. Despite the self-imposed limits of my particular diet, I greatly enjoyed reading about Lo's culinary inheritance, including the peculiarities of Lo's maternal grandmother's diet. Lo's eponymous grandmother chose to eat vegetarian diets under certain circumstances such as the arrival of the New Year or the occasion to host Buddhist nuns for dinner.

One of the particular bits of Chinese dietary trivia that I learned from this book is that Lo's grandmother reports that to make up for the absence of chives, leeks, and shallots in the devout Buddhist's diet, Buddha declared that "vegetarians" are allowed to eat clams, mussels, and oysters (p 59). Even more interesting is the notion that the french fry-munching US may ultimately owe its preference for ketchup to China! Lo notes that "on the island of Amoy, there is a mixture of fish essence and soy sauce called keh chap, that is believed to have been a precursor" (p 251).

Lo attempts to preserve her native language for her English-speaking audience by transliterating and then translating aphorisms that she heard from her grandmother and other family members. She also thoughtfully includes a chapter that is a glossary of ingredients - descriptions and care instructions, along with the Chinese characters for each ingredient. (She notes that if it comes down to it, the reader can always show the characters to an Asian grocer, and hopefully the grocer will be able to point out the exact product.)

Lo also attempts to bridge the technological gap between the cookware of her grandmother's day and modern cookware in the West. (I had not even thought about the differences in wok-making and ovens in the past fifty years, but I'm glad she brought it up!)

As just an autobiography, My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen definitely stirs the reader's interest.

As for the recipes themselves ... I'll find out soon!

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