I adore food related memoirs but most of what I’ve read tends to be set in France. Despite the less common location Fuchsia Dunlop did not disappoint with her book, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. This book is full of adventure, delicious sounding food, intriguing recipes, and some wild ingredients I have to admit I’m not sure I want to try (though I’m super impressed the author did). The author begins the entire book with a story from her first trip to Asia and an encounter with a new food, “The preserved duck eggs were served as an hors d’oeuvre in a fashionable Hong Kong restaurant, sliced in half, with a ginger-and-vinegar dip. It was my first trip to Asia, and I had rarely seen anything so revolting on a dinner table.” But despite her horror while looking at those eggs, she still tastes them. And in fact vows to try any food she is presented with on her trip.
Throughout her travels Dunlop encounters and eat all types of food likely to be unknown and possibly unappealing to a Western palette. But she keeps her vow, tastes everything, and truly has an open mind about it. Over time she even comes to love many of the ingredients she once disliked. This book is kind of The Man who Ate Everything China style. A huge part of what is so wonderful about this book is Dunlop’s open mindedness when tasting all these unfamiliar dishes.
But there is another component to the book as well. Dunlop clearly has a true love of the Chinese culture not only the food, and this shines throughout the entire book. Other authors who have written about China have expressed that it is difficult to really understand the Chinese as the country as a whole can be quite unwelcoming to foreigners. I personally don’t know if this is true or not, never having traveled to China, but this certainly didn’t seem to be an issue for Dunlop. In her memoir she manages to paint a very unreserved and intimate picture of many walks of Chinese life. Perhaps a true love of food is a bridge across all cultures?
However she achieved it, through her eyes we get to see the many wonders of China, from historic monuments to back room noodle shops. We get to know the amazing people of China, meet their families, see their homes, peek inside their lives.
One other thing I really appreciated was that Dunlop did not tell her story isolated from the politics of the times. While it is certainly not the entire focus of the book, the influence of the Emperors and later Chairman Mao are certainly discussed. Clearly both had a lasting effect on China, it’s people and it’s cuisine. I guess you could say Dunlop didn’t write in a food only vacuum.
Dunlop does a wonderful job educating us about the food of China, all the while entertaining us. This is a unique and delightful memoir. I highly recommend you pick it up today!
P.S. If you’ve read this one share your thoughts. I would love to hear everyone’s opinions!