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Book review – Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China

08 September 2016
Book review – Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China

By Fuchsia Dunlop

Bloomsbury, £26

Land of Fish and Rice is focused on the Lower Yangtze region around Shanghai, an area known mainly for its wine and vinegar but, in the UK at least, not much else. The cookery and its traditions are generally a mystery to us folk in the West.

Fuchsia Dunlop is an authoritative writer on Chinese food, up there with Yang-kit So and the late Kenneth Lo in exploring and, to an extent, demystifying the food that people eat. Her first books, Sichuan Cooking and Land of Plenty, were on Szechuan cooking, as was most of her memoir, Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper.

The cuisine of Shanghai is a gentler proposition than the fire of Szechuan food; easier on the tongue and more approachable for us wimps. This book is a fascinating trip through the Lower Yangtze, its history, literature and, of course, food. Recipes cover an elegant steamed sea bass, Zhoushan fish chowder, Shanghai pork and vegetable wontons and stir-fried rice cake with clams.

There are also plenty of vegetarian dishes and even potato figures fairly prominently. How about cool steamed aubergine with a garlicky dressing, or Ningbo soy sauce greens to partner pak choi, shiitake mushrooms and spring onions with the local Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sesame? Not complicated to make, but very fine to eat.

Meat generally means pork and chicken and, good though these recipes are, it is the fish and vegetable dishes that appeal the most, such as stir-fried cockles with Chinese chives or fish fillets in seaweed batter. The batter here is mostly the usual recipe with added seaweed flakes, but the fish is marinated in ginger, spring onion and Shanghai wine - gorgeous.

This is a seriously good book, thoroughly researched and enthusiastically written. If you are interested in the world's food then this is one for you.

By Shaun Hill, chef-proprietor, Walnut Tree Inn, Llanddewi Skirrid, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

If you like this, you may enjoy these

  • Sharks Fin and Sichuan Pepper Fuchsia Dunlop
  • Classic Food of China Yan-kit So
  • Ken Lo's Memories of China Ken Lo and Kam-Po But

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