Chinese cookbooks

Time Out reviews the best books on Chinese cuisine

Time Out reviews the best cookbooks covering the cuisines of mainland China. We'll be updating this page with more Chinese cookbooks reviews shortly.

Every Grain of Rice

Fuchsia Dunlop, Bloomsbury, £25

Buy this book

Fans of Fuchsia Dunlop’s cookery books will rejoice at her latest effort to introduce Chinese cuisine into British home kitchens. Similar to her first two publications, this volume also focuses on the food of Sichuan and Hunan, regions famed for their humble, intensely flavoured dishes.

Here, Dunlop makes them even more accessible. In a tribute to China’s tradition of frugal and healthy home cooking, almost every recipe is staggeringly simple, requiring only a handful of basic and inexpensive ingredients. Vegetables play a starring role as she sets out to prove they can taste divine with little effort.

An astonishingly easy starter of ‘smacked cucumber in garlicky sauce’ built up anticipation for the tingle of sweet, sour and spicy tastes that would follow: mapo tofu, a Sichuan classic, is presented without the usual minced beef, resulting in a lighter and perhaps even more sublime version of the original. Even better, I was able to knock it up in about ten minutes.

Vegetarian kung pao chicken, which uses portobello mushrooms instead of flesh, drew gasps of surprised delight from my guests. Yet the meat dishes were equally impressive. Hands-down favourite was the ‘cold chicken with a spicy Sichuanese sauce’.

As with all her books and newspaper columns, Dunlop writes with authority and literary flair. The personal anecdotes that accompany each recipe reflect a deep respect for China’s people, culture and diverse cuisines.

Photographs of the finished dishes and raw ingredients take the mystery out of both the cooking and the shopping. This, along with helpful explanations of techniques, means that even novice cooks should be able to pull off a meal to remember.

Jennifer Joan Lee, Time Out London Issue 2182: June 14-20 2012

Buy this book

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

Fuchsia Dunlop,

Ebury Press, £8.99

Buy this cookbook

Author Fuchsia Dunlop is a young Englishwoman who bridges East and West. She is already the leading writer on Chinese food in the English language, and her previous books – ‘Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook’, and especially ‘Sichuan Cookery’ – have helped rank her as one of the UK’s top Chinese food experts.

But this latest book is not an ode to China’s regional cooking – it’s the story of how Dunlop fell in love with China, and illuminates the complexities of both Chinese food and Chinese culture.

Although not unique, Dunlop’s story is nevertheless very unusual, and the early chapters detail how she ended up living in Chengdu in the south-western province of Sichuan, learning Mandarin, and training to be a chef in the city’s chef training college – she became the first westerner to successfully graduate.

But the real journey is allowing herself to eat and think like a Chinese person, and discard her Western prejudices and squeamishness about the very different Chinese approach to food. We travel with her as she learns to relish eating roasted rabbit heads, a late-night snack in Chengdu; as she adjusts to the appreciation of gristly and rubbery textures; and to the unsentimental treatment of animals that in the West we consider cruel.

As well as the apparent horrors of Chinese food, the delights are beautifully described too, from the sublime street dishes of Chengdu in the mid-1990s to the banquets held in Dunlop’s honour as her fame grew.

However, Dunlop’s love affair with China is not blinkered – we travel with her as she discovers bureaucracy and corruption, xenophobia, the senseless destruction of historic architecture, the terrors of the Cultural Revolution, and China’s huge and growing pollution problem. Much more than just a book that helps explain Chinese food (which it does par excellence), this book is also a brilliant travelogue.

Guy Dimond, Time Out London Issue 1963: April  2-8 2008

Buy this cookbook

Sichuan Cookery

Fuchsia Dunlop, Michael Joseph, £16.99

Buy this cookbook

You might have read Fuchsia Dunlop’s riveting account of her transition from Chinese-speaking lao wai (foreigner) to the first-ever foreign chef enrolled on a professional cookery course in Chengdu.

You may also have seen her reviews of Chinese restaurants in Time Out magazine, and in the Time Out Eating & Drinking Guide – she writes the Chinese chapter almost singlehandedly. Two years before writing this book, she downsized her job as a journalist at the BBC World Service to write this cookery book.

It’s a Herculean labour but also a work of love, immediately apparent in the evocative descriptions of fishes and places. It is also one of the very few really good books on Chinese cookery, and virtually the only one specialising in the sophisticated and diverse cooking of Sichuan.

The depth of knowledge is impressive, but it’s no academic text: besides the essential context and principles of Sichuan cookery, there are scores of recipes which (with the help of the right stockists, listed at the back with tips) can be prepared in a London kitchen. It’s destined to be a classic, and is already one of the essential texts written in the English language (the others are by Yan Kit-So, in case you’re wondering).

Guy Dimond, Time Out London Issue 1610: June 27- July 4 2001

Buy this cookbook