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Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,622 Ratings  ·  302 Reviews

"Not just a smart memoir about cross-cultural eating but one of the most engaging books of any kind I've read in years." —Celia Barbour, O, The Oprah Magazine

After fifteen years spent exploring China and its food, Fuchsia Dunlop finds herself in an English kitchen, deciding whether to eat a caterpillar she has accidentally cooked in some home-grown vegetables. How can some
Kindle Edition, 333 pages
Published August 24th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2008)
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Fuchsia Dunlop has tons of personality and a real talent and fascination with food from around the world. The Chinese eat a large number of things non-Chinese do not, so when she said she'd eat anything, I have be impressed, though I do think she might be slightly mad.

She went to live in China in mid-1990's, and has noticed many changes to the way of life there since then. When she went she could eat for fifty cents or a dollar and be perfectly sated. She often ate at small establishments and tr
Apr 15, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved the premise of this book; travel writer paired with a English born Chinese trained, Sichuanese chef. This is a fun, interesting and easy read but I have to say, I read many parts of this book with my face scrunched. I was able to (barely) get through the "tantalizing" recipes and dishes whose main ingredient was dog, cat, rabbit tongue, deer tail (I can't even fathom that one) chicken feet, goat testicles and rat brains, but it was a bit too much information when the author described the ...more
Matthew Christensen
First off I should say that I love eating in China. In fact, that is what I most look forward to when I am heading to China. The variety and quality of the various cuisines in China is truly extraordinary. I really related to this book, not only for the eating adventures, but also because I also was once a young student in China trying to figure things out around me. Dunlop was a young girl studying Chinese in Chengdu when she became distracted by the heady smells and tastes that surrounded her. ...more
Apr 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It has been a long time since I read a memoir that was this good, written by an English woman who truly immersed herself in Chinese culture and gastronomy for over a decade.

Here is her first encounter in the early nineties in Hong Kong with a food that challenged her very sensibilities:

"The preserved duck eggs were served as an hors d'oeuvre in a fashionable Hong Kong restaurant, sliced in half, with ginger-and-vinegar dip. It was my first trip to Asia, and I had rarely seen anything so revolti
I'm a member of several Facebook groups for various reasons, and every time someone asks for a recommendation for a Mexican restaurant, it starts an argument. One person will recommend this place, but someone else will disagree, saying, "I'm from San Diego; I know REAL Mexican cuisine." Another person will suggest a different restaurant, and again an argument is started by someone saying, "I'm from Corpus Cristi; I know REAL Mexican food." And here I sit, not an expert on Mexican food by any str ...more
Jan 18, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the times I wish we implemented half-stars in our rating system. As a non-fiction book about food, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper is above average. It's informative, easy to read, and engaging.

The book took me a while to get into because for the first quarter of the book. I don't think this would be the case if I weren't Chinese and cynical about westerners who write about my mother-land. In the beginning, I was annoyed by the author who seemed an an over-eager, graceless, nosy fo
Camelia Rose
I love good food but I would not call myself foodie or gourmet, neither did I hear of Fuchsia Dunlop before. It was an accident that I stumbled upon Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper. To call my reading experience a nice one is an understatement. It was an emotional rollercoaster journey. Not a very fast read because I kept pausing, making mental notes and searching through my memories.

Born in Sichuan and now living in Ireland, I made a similar journey as Fuchsia Dunlop made hers, only in the oppo
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fuchsia Dunlop, food critic, author of cookbooks, and Sinophile, lived in China in the mid 1990s and has gone back several times over the years, making her probably the world's foremost English expert on Chinese cooking. Living and eating in small towns in various provinces and learning their cooking styles, she becomes, like the Chinese people, "a professional omnivore." She takes cooking classes, bravely becoming the first Westerner and first woman in many of these places to try her hand, and ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
There are books about the food of a place, and there are books about culinary adventures. Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper is more of a food ethnography, as the reader experiences the specific food cultures of China along with Fuchsia. She morphs from being scared of gelatinous texture to thinking more like a Chinese person than an English person in regard to food.

"Texture is the last frontier for Westerners learning to appreciate Chinese food. Cross it, and you're really inside. But the way there
Dec 02, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book had all the makings of an intriguing quick read: a memoir about China written by a western woman. But in the end I was just as happy to finish it as I was to start it. Dunlop really knows Chinese cuisine and culture, but I feel like I still don't know much about her. When she spent all that time in China, did she date? Did she exerience homesickness? How did she deal with problems when she was so far away from her support system? As she points out, her first trips to China were before ...more
Dec 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the first half engrossing. It's filled with loving and knowledgeable detail of both sides of Sichuan food, the cooking and the eating. The author's probably uniquely qualified to do this (in the English-speaking world) having been bewitched by the food to drop her academic studies and become the first Westerner to enroll in the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. She's a fine, unostentatious writer, and seems like a lot of fun.

The second half, detailing her further food adventures in Ch
Dec 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very informative book about Chinese food culture and particularly Sichuanese cuisine. When a Brit discusses Chinese food culture, inevitably a lot of analysis of Anglo (and by extension Anglo-American) food culture comes us. Americans and Brits with our chicken breasts and fish filets…so very different from the Chinese, who value food textures that many people of mainstream UK/US background have not been raised to appreciate in this era! I learned a lot about classical Chinese food culture as we ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I'm an epicurian whose planning a trip to Taiwan, and when I came across this book in the store I knew that it was written with me in mind. Fuschia's depiction of the culinary Chinese, integration with history and current events provides the reader with a splendor of knowledge. Her ability to describe Chinese delicacies too, the range of chew factor and textures, prepares the traveler for what's to come. I enjoyed reading this book, and I'm more excited than ever to dive into the dishes that awa ...more
Michelle D.
Jun 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I have been cooking my way through Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop for about two years now. I finally decided to read her memoir, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, to my great delight and enjoyment. An incredibly well-researched study of Chinese regional cuisines as well as a thoughtful, passionate, sparkling memoir.
Apr 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've heard Fuchsia Dunlop's work on NPR as a Chinese food expert and checked out her book on Sichuan food from the library. As I was browsing, I noticed she had a memoir too, was interested in how an English woman became an expert in Chinese cooking and cuisine, so I borrowed the memoir too.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper is not for the faint of heart. As an American, I'm often removed from what exactly meat is. Not so much for the Chinese. Chicken feet, rabbit heads, any and all animal offal, Fu
Jan 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: ... omnivores with intent ...
This might have been called A Culinary Tour Of China Counterclockwise, as the author spirals her way out to the corners of the country. Starting in the heartland of Sichuan Province, Dunlop makes her way past thousands of soups, noodles, dumplings and hot chillies toward Hunan Province. From there east to Hong Kong, then north to Beijing and then west to Kashgar in Sinkiang --a real 'Great Game' city if ever there was one- and then a final counterclock swing, down to Fujian Province at the coast ...more
After the first half of this book, I was resigning myself to a book by a chef and eater completely who is head over heals in love with Chinese (specifically Sichuanese) food and culture. The stories all revolved around food wrapped around personal stories experiences. It wasn't mind shattering but it was still good; if you like food. and let's face it, you are probably reading this because you love food (and maybe you love her amazingly wonderful cookbooks). And then it happens - the curveball. ...more
This book has 'me' written all over it. So much so that I wish I had bought it rather than borrowed it from the library. I may have to invest. Fuchsia goes abroad under the intention of studying Chinese and having a nice cultural experience. After becoming disillusioned with the Chinese way of teaching language and realising that she's not learning a thing, she chucks in her course and starts hanging out in cafes and restaurants, chatting to the locals about what they are cooking, and eventually ...more
Joseph Hlebica
Sep 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read only two noteworthy books on China, this and Peter Hessler's amazing Journey Through Time. Notably, both were written by gifted young journalists who cut their teeth in Sichuan Province. I am just a few chapters into Dunlop's engrossing romance on the adventure of discovering China and Sichuan's legendary cuisine. Thusfar, every word she has penned to evoke the sensory explosion of life in Chengdu rings true for me. Like Dunlop, I went to Chengdu ostensibly for academic purposes, but ...more
I have never read a culinary memoir before, so I wasn't sure of what to expect. I was in line to buy a copy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to read on a flight, and saw this book, and on a complete whim decided to get it as well. I opened it to read only a few pages to make sure I didn't just throw away $16.95, and didn't put it down. I love this book. One: it makes me really hungry. Two: the descriptions remind me of Singapore and all of its deliciousness. Three: in learning about the food ...more
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really gripping collection of essays, and one particularly suited to my tastes. Dunlop manages to pass along a deep love and interest in Chinese food and culture without romanticizing or exoticizing her subjects. The first few personal essays find her discovering her interest in Sichuanese cuisine while studying in Chengdu in the early 1990s. Then the essays morph into a broader travelogue, reflections on experiencing and understanding Chinese food culture as a Westerner, and narrative essays ...more
Hannah A.
Dec 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper is a memoir; the experience of one person at a given time, told through the lens of her own culture, background, and experience. She takes you on a journey where you see with her the labyrinth of Chengdu streets, hear with her the clanging cups and conversations of Hong Kong tea houses, and taste with her the tender sweetness of steamed crab. Her storytelling highlights the sweet of China, telling the most enjoyable parts of culinary discovery and camaraderie, and ...more
Jun 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's always a little embarrassing when a laowai, or foreigner, knows and cares more about Chinese culture than I, a Chinese-American. But this is my problem, and not anyone else's. This initial feeling of embarrassment of having somehow failed my culture by virtue of ignorance quickly evolves into motivation to learn more, and so I delved into Dunlop's book and reveled in the stories regarding her experiences in China and the unique qualities of regional Chinese cuisine.

Dunlop's writing style is
Oct 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating combination of memoir/food writing/history/cultural description of China by Fuchsia Dunlop, an English food writer who first went to China in the mid-1980s to study at Chengdu University. She ditched her classes, managed to get accepted to a state cooking school (where she was the only woman and only non-Chinese student), and then began her travels through China, eating "omnivorously." (Which covers a lot of territory in Chinese cuisine, where "snout to tail" is an ancient ...more
Sybelle van Erven
Feb 04, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I guess I can't really say I read it. I tried though. I have been eating vegetarian for over 2 years now. This book is torture to me (and would have been before then too). Way too much killing going on (of animals). I found the descriptions of life in China not so great either. I quit only one third through the book.
Jul 27, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This writing sucks and I don't want to read about animal gore man.
Mary T
Dec 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Где-то за месяц до прочтения этой книги я обсуждала будущий отпуск со своим другом и в шутку он сказал "А давай поедем в Китай?". На что я уже вполне серьезно ответила, что я там смогу есть только пустой рис. Что мы знаем о китайской кухне - остро, странно, непривычно? Острая еда сомнительного происхождения, с пугающими соусами и невероятными сочетаниями ингридиентов. Перефразируя известную фразу о границах русского либерализма, могу сказать что мой собственный гастрономический либерализм и даже ...more
AdultNonFiction Teton County Library
TCL Call #: No copies

Madeleine - 3 stars
We read this for the TCL Book Group "Foodies".
I was less than enthused. It's a very good memoir about China from 1990 on but the author seems strangley checked out. Or maybe strangely dialed in to the point of being more Chinese (foreign) than British. For example, she's floored when critics lambast her for publishing her cookbook with the smiling face of Chairman Mao on the pages. She says she understands that Hitler was bad but it wasn't until the negati
Sep 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While I believe it's possible to embrace a culture that isn't your own and do so in an appropriate, not appropriative way, Fuschia Dunlop doesn't seem to know how.
I tolerated her ignorance of local custom, her cavalier attitude about trespassing in foreign countries. I audibly shouted "what?!" on more than one occasion of egregious usage of white, western privilege.
What finally turned me off so fully I quit reading? The author's attempt to smuggle a pepper plant from China to England.
Literally a
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Fuchsia Dunlop is a cook and food-writer specialising in Chinese cuisine. She is the author of Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, an account of her adventures in exploring Chinese food culture, and two critically-acclaimed Chinese cookery books, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, and Sichuan Cookery (published in the US as Land of Plenty).

Fuchsia writes for public
More about Fuchsia Dunlop

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“Sichuan pepper is the original Chinese pepper, used long before the more familiar black or white pepper stole in over the tortuous land routes of the old Silk Road. It is not hot to taste, like the chilli, but makes your lips cool and tingly. In Chinese they call it ma, this sensation; the same word is used for pins-and-needles and anaesthesia. The strange, fizzing effect of Sichuan pepper, paired with the heat of chillies, is one of the hallmarks of modern Sichuanese cookery. The” 0 likes
“There were no ready-made sauces, except for the slowly fermented chilli bean paste; we mixed them ourselves from the essential seasonings: sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and sesame paste in various combinations.” 0 likes
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