Cookbooks

Chinese Gastronomy by Hsiang Ju Lin and Tsuifeng Lin

Chinese Gastronomy – Introduction

Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks.

Lin Yutang

This quote from the famous Chinese author is apt, as it is his wife and daughter who are the authors of Chinese Gastronomy. In fact Lin Yutang also pens the introduction to the book.

First a few words about the authors because it is highly relevant to an understanding of this important book. We will discuss Lin Yutang first because he did have a strong influence on earlier publications of related books in the 1950s and 1960s. Our copy of Secrets of Chinese Cooking from 1961 heralds the recipes as coming “from the family of Lin Yutang” on the dust cover.

Lin Yutang was well known throughout the Western world and within China as a leading author of Chinese culture, especially after the 1939 publication of his long-running “My Country, My People”.

In the forward to this book Lin Yutang makes a number of observations about the Chinese people, their philosophy and their food.

The Chinese people with their down-to earth philosophy have always regarded eating as one of the things that reconcile us to this earthly life. It is this philosophy which enables the Chinese to discuss pork and philosophy under the same rubric and praise a man’s philosophy but condemn his fillet.

And further:

This Chinese culinary genius is often appreciated rather than understood. I have witnessed China’s culinary conquest of the West in the last decades. However, Chinese food has remained a mystery.

We think that this book helps to peel back the layers of this “mystery” and reveal how texture, flavour, location and fine ingredients all play a part in appreciating the true nature of Chinese cuisine.

We also need to mention the contribution of his wife and daughter the co-authors of Chinese Gastronomy. They were not only the ones who developed and tested the recipes but were also key contributors to the text which often delves into philosophy and history.

In fact, his daughter, Hsiang Ju Lin later published an exemplary book entitled “Slippery Noodles” which was a survey of the history of food appreciation in China going back to the beginnings of human civilisation.

We really like the fact that the authors of this book have not tried to separate the food from the cultural and historical context. In fact they have put these front and centre.

Chinese Gastronomy clearly claims that Chinese cuisine is one of the most sophisticated on earth – and with this proposition we cannot argue. We love French food, we are entranced with Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian food and a close friend, who is a talented Middle Eastern chef has opened our eyes to the delights of Lebanese food.

However the sheer depth and sophistication of Chinese cuisines continues to act as a magnet that draws us towards this fascinating country.

There are also some truly beautiful coloured plates in Chinese Gastronomy showing stunning Chinese art that is vaguely related to food.

And then there is the poetry. There are many poems presented in the book including this snippet by Shih Ching:

And bamboo sprouts, and tender shoots,

And sauces fine, and fragrant fruits,

With their rich perfume fill the air.

Oh! But it was a banquet rare!

Unlike most Western books on cooking, the chapters of Chinese Gastronomy are divided into topics such as Flavour, Texture, Regional Cooking, Curiosities, Plain Cooking and Classic Cooking.

In the chapter on Flavour the recipes start with a delightful range of recipes for one of the world’s great dishes – congee. This boiled rice dishes is one of our favourite comfort foods which is equally appealing late at night or early in the morning as a perfect breakfast dish.

The authors of Chinese Gastronomy then move on to other favourites such as fish head in casserole (why don’t we pay more attention to the head of the fish in the West – it is just so good!), bamboo with pickled mustard greens, and finally an extended set of recipes for the voluptuous ‘cream stock’ which is a satiny, silky, deeply-flavoured sauce that has no cream, just essence of flavour from the careful handling of a stock derived from duck, chicken and pork.

Chinese Gastronomy also includes recipes for preparing jellyfish and a lovely recipe for meatballs which they call Pearly Meatballs which is a pork meatball covered in glutinous rice. We have included our adaptation of this recipe on this site under the name of Chinese Pearl Meatballs.

Chinese Gastronomy is a great book written by sympathetic authors. It is a necessary inclusion in your cooking library.

We are also lucky to have a copy of the earlier book published by the same authors. It was originally published under the title Cooking with Chinese Flavour in 1957 in the United Kingdom and then expanded and re-published by Prentice Hall in 1960 under the title Secrets of Chinese Cooking.

This book is also included in the Foodtourist Top Fifty Cookbooks list.

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