Rachell's Reviews > The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee
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Nov 03, 2009

it was ok
Read in November, 2009

I had several problems with this book. First, while individual chapters (essays, really) are well-written, they don't cohere as a book. Maybe Lee was trying to take a Chinese-buffet approach to her far-ranging topic, but it's jarring to jump from the harrowing journey of illegal Chinese immigrants being smuggled into the US to the search for the genesis of General Tso's chicken.

Second, Lee brings up deeper themes in her exploration of the world of Chinese food -- the impact of globalization, the experience of immigrants and their children, shifts in (North) American food culture -- but her exploration of them is shallow, and she seems to reach only the most obvious points, like: most "Chinese" food in the US isn't what they serve in China; being an illegal immigrant is dangerous, back-breaking, and bad for your family; second-generation children feel pulled between two cultures; etc. And despite her exhaustive research (check out the bibliography), she makes some glaring omissions: in one of the last chapters, about Chinese food around the globe, she mentions that the most popular dish at Brazilian Chinese restaurants is actually a Japanese noodle dish, yakisoba, without noting that it's actually a Japanification of chow mein. She discusses Italy and its currently xenophobic food culture without pointing out that pasta came from China via Marco Polo (even though she discusses the tomato). And how on earth do you find the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world, or even write a book about Chinese food in the US, without at least mentioning Hawaii, the state with the largest concentration of East Asians? And that's just one chapter.

On the other hand, reading this book lead to me discovering some really tasty char siu cookie things at the local Chinese baker that can only be described as a pork newton. There's always a silver lining, as a fortune cookie might say.
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message 1: by Leo (new)

Leo Morales-Egizi Oh, General Gao, you're a bloodthirsty foe-- but your chicken is delectable!

(obligatory Simpsons quote)


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