Jill's Reviews > Shark's Fin And Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

Shark's Fin And Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop
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's review
Feb 12, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: food-literature
Read in February, 2010

This book was quite a revelation. I'd been a little hesitant when I first borrowed it from the library - explorations of Asian cuisines by Westerners tend to degenerate into the literary equivalent of Fear Factor or adopt an Orientalist standpoint (e.g. Anthony Bourdain). But I figured that a book that had won the Jane Grigson Award in the US couldn't be half bad.

As it turned out, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper was a thoughtful and informative read. Yes, it did go into the usual bits about the myriad weird things that the Chinese consider edible. Yes, Dunlop talked about the sense of dislocation and loss in translation experienced by a foreigner in China. But there were these revelatory moments when, reading a passage, something clicked in my head. I've been eating Chinese food (or more accurately, Cantonese food) all my life. But it wasn't until reading "The Cutting Edge", Dunlop's chapter on the precision required when cutting ingredients in Chinese cookery, that I got the connection between cooking styles (the need for small pieces when stir frying), eating styles (the use of chopsticks requires tender food) and the art of cutting. And I'd never really thought about my penchant for chicken feet, jellyfish, cartilage and sea cucumbers until I read "the Rubber Factor", Dunlop's description on how she discovered the pleasure of texture. It's completely true - you don't like these foods because of their taste (they don't have much taste) - one derives pleasure purely from the textural experience.

I don't normally buy books these days on account of limited shelf space. But I think I'll be making an exception for Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper.

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