Chinese cuisine

A choice of this year’s cook books

What a relief to find ourselves in a non-faddy cook book year. We are not being encouraged to chew only plants, ferment everything, grow burgers in labs or devour insects. It’s not that I don’t look for answers to how we should eat to survive the future, but I know a thing or two about the human appetite and no scheme seems any more sustainable than the way the West eats now. The answer is there – and always has been – but it’s adrift. In The Lost Supper: Searching for the Future of Food in the Flavours of the Past (Greystone Books, £19.99), Taras Grescoe identifies the crucial ingredient:

Sticky, slithery, squelchy, smacky: the authentic Chinese food experience

During the early days of the pandemic, a video clip of a Chinese celebrity slurping bat soup went viral – no matter that it was taken from a travel show filmed in 2016 on Palau, a Pacific island some 2,000 miles from the Huanan wet market in Wuhan, and regardless of the fact that the Chinese don’t like munching on bats in any case. Wuhan was Covid ground zero, and filthy Chinese eating habits were to blame. In Invitation to a Banquet, Fuchsia Dunlop sets out to skewer misconceptions about what she calls ‘the world’s most sophisticated gastronomic culture’. This contention may surprise foreigners brought up on sweet-and-sour pork balls

Chilli con carnage: the red hot pepper and communism

These days it is as hard to imagine Sichuanese food without chillies as it is to imagine Italian food without tomatoes. Both ingredients were among the New World crops that transformed culinary cultures across the globe after Christopher Columbus’s ‘discovery’ of the Americas in 1492. The chilli first appeared in China sometime in the late 16th century. Within 50 years it was rapidly gaining popularity and by the late 19th century it was ubiquitous in many parts of the country. Brian R. Dott has scoured Chinese and other sources to find out how and why this foreign spice conquered Chinese palates. He examines the chilli’s progress in China from multiple