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Chop Fry Watch Learn by Michelle T. King
STARRED REVIEW

May 2024

Take a culinary tour of Asia with these 4 books

With both sweeping and granular detail, three cookbooks and one memoir offer a scrumptious sampling of Asian cuisine.

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Michelle T. King’s relationship with Fu Pei-mei began in childhood, with the constant presence of Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book in her parents’ kitchen. She did not realize the extent of Fu’s impact or fame as the host of a beloved, long-running cooking show in Taiwan until years later. In Chop Fry Watch Learn: Fu Pei-mei and the Making of Modern Chinese Food, this personal connection with Fu allows King, a “Chinese American by way of Taiwan” (how King depicts the complexity of her cultural identity), to illuminate the often misunderstood nuances within the relationship between food and “a people like China’s—riven by decades of war, dislocation, upheaval, and migration.” As King states, food is not simply a comforting taste of home, but “a fickle mistress: a poor approximation of a beloved dish may simply remind you of everything you have lost.”

King weaves history lessons, personal anecdotes and firsthand interviews into the thoroughly researched Chop Fry Watch Learn in order to paint the extent of Fu’s legacy. It’s a tremendous undertaking, which King tackles head-on as she cycles through a vast number of subjects, ranging from historical Chinese attitudes towards food and the women cooking, to the complicated relationship between Taiwan and China throughout the 20th century, to the muddiness of diaspora identity, to broader ideas surrounding domestic labor, feminism and globalization. King argues that food binds it all together, and readers are sure to find her diligent biography compelling.

Michelle T. King’s Chop Fry Watch Learn is an engrossing biography of famed cookbook author Fu Pei-mei.
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“You are about to read the story of a culinary revolution,” Koreaworld: A Cookbook proclaims as it launches into a frenetic exploration of Korean and Korean-inspired food spanning from Jeju Island to North Virginia. After focusing on more traditional offerings in its first half, this animated celebration jumps to new interpretations of Korean food, such as banana milk cake and Shin Ramyun with pita chips. Authors Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard provide their own musings on different preparation styles—using 7UP to flavor pickles, for example—while peppering in cultural history and modern context. The authors spotlight chefs throughout Korea and the U.S. and all their various influences, which span a bevy of cuisines, from Jewish to Chinese.

The sheer volume of restaurants and people profiled causes the book to meander in a fashion that sometimes feels scattered, but the abundance of eclectic detail will appeal strongly to diehard Korean food enthusiasts. Hong and Rodbard’s familiar rapport with many of their subjects lends a personal feeling to Koreaworld that is accentuated by Alex Lau’s stylish, energetic photography. Anyone interested in exploring the wild, exciting new frontiers of Korean food will find this book a fresh delight.

 

Anyone interested in exploring the wild, exciting new frontiers of Korean food will find Koreaworld a fresh delight.
Review by

How complicated can breakfast possibly get? In Zao Fan: Breakfast of China, Michael Zee writes that the enormity of Chinese cuisine is “both terrific and terrifying”—and what is usually the simplest, smallest meal of the day is no exception. Yet Zee demonstrates a knack seldom seen in English-language cookbooks for succinctly yet fully conveying the vastness and complexity of Chinese cuisine throughout the delightful recipes featured in Zao Fan. From fried Kazakh breads to savory tofu puddings, Zee provides in-depth yet accessible insight into a thorough swath of breakfast foods.

Rarely does a writer’s passion for their subject matter leap as vividly as it does from these pages, which are chock-full of recollections of personal visits to restaurants and observations of traditional techniques. Zee accompanies the recipes with his own photos of the dishes in all their gorgeous mouthwatering glory—meat pies sizzling on a griddle, a bowl of Wuhan three-treasure rice, neat rows of Xinjiang-style baked lamb buns—which provide an authentic sense of immersion, as do his portraits of daily life in China. The neat, color-coded organization of the recipes into logical categories such as noodles and breads provides a remarkable sense of cohesion, making Zao Fan an absolute must for cooks across all skill levels.

Zao Fan collects traditional Chinese breakfast recipes in all their mouthwatering glory.
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Often, cookbooks languish on our kitchen shelves, only to be referenced once in a blue moon—but the exuberant illustrations of Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice: A Thai Comic Book Cookbook will have you turning to its recipes for years to come. In 2020, Thai Belgian cartoonist Christina de Witte sought to further connect with her Thai heritage by taking language lessons, which is how she met Mallika Kauppinen, who started teaching Thai via Zoom after moving to Finland from Thailand. The result is this unique cookbook, in which cartoon versions of de Witte and Kauppinen lead you through the fundamentals of Thai cooking and an array of common recipes whose steps are whimsically drawn out. Tools, ingredients, stirring guidelines, timers, heat levels and more are diagrammed in a manner that provides both joy and exceptional clarity unmatched by most cookbooks.

Short comics offer context—the origin of guay tiaw, or “boat noodles,” for example—or pull you into a slice of Kauppinen’s childhood. Our guides are present throughout, drawn onto photos of their meals—floating in a pool of curry, grabbing fistfuls of rice and engaging in other such hijinks. From the liveliness of its writing to the brightness of its color palette, the vibrancy of every aspect of Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice captures Thai cuisine in such a way that you can almost taste its bold flavors just through reading.

With its vibrant illustrations, Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice captures Thai cuisine in such a way that you can almost taste its bold flavors.

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STARRED REVIEW May 2024 Take a culinary tour of Asia with these 4 books With both sweeping and granular detail, three cookbooks and one memoir offer a scrumptious sampling of Asian cuisine. Share this Article: Get BookPage in your inbox Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday. SIGN UP HERE […]
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How complicated can breakfast possibly get? In Zao Fan: Breakfast of China, Michael Zee writes that the enormity of Chinese cuisine is “both terrific and terrifying”—and what is usually the simplest, smallest meal of the day is no exception. Yet Zee demonstrates a knack seldom seen in English-language cookbooks for succinctly yet fully conveying the vastness and complexity of Chinese cuisine throughout the delightful recipes featured in Zao Fan. From fried Kazakh breads to savory tofu puddings, Zee provides in-depth yet accessible insight into a thorough swath of breakfast foods.

Rarely does a writer’s passion for their subject matter leap as vividly as it does from these pages, which are chock-full of recollections of personal visits to restaurants and observations of traditional techniques. Zee accompanies the recipes with his own photos of the dishes in all their gorgeous mouthwatering glory—meat pies sizzling on a griddle, a bowl of Wuhan three-treasure rice, neat rows of Xinjiang-style baked lamb buns—which provide an authentic sense of immersion, as do his portraits of daily life in China. The neat, color-coded organization of the recipes into logical categories such as noodles and breads provides a remarkable sense of cohesion, making Zao Fan an absolute must for cooks across all skill levels.

Zao Fan collects traditional Chinese breakfast recipes in all their mouthwatering glory.
Review by

Often, cookbooks languish on our kitchen shelves, only to be referenced once in a blue moon—but the exuberant illustrations of Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice: A Thai Comic Book Cookbook will have you turning to its recipes for years to come. In 2020, Thai Belgian cartoonist Christina de Witte sought to further connect with her Thai heritage by taking language lessons, which is how she met Mallika Kauppinen, who started teaching Thai via Zoom after moving to Finland from Thailand. The result is this unique cookbook, in which cartoon versions of de Witte and Kauppinen lead you through the fundamentals of Thai cooking and an array of common recipes whose steps are whimsically drawn out. Tools, ingredients, stirring guidelines, timers, heat levels and more are diagrammed in a manner that provides both joy and exceptional clarity unmatched by most cookbooks.

Short comics offer context—the origin of guay tiaw, or “boat noodles,” for example—or pull you into a slice of Kauppinen’s childhood. Our guides are present throughout, drawn onto photos of their meals—floating in a pool of curry, grabbing fistfuls of rice and engaging in other such hijinks. From the liveliness of its writing to the brightness of its color palette, the vibrancy of every aspect of Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice captures Thai cuisine in such a way that you can almost taste its bold flavors just through reading.

With its vibrant illustrations, Noodles, Rice, and Everything Spice captures Thai cuisine in such a way that you can almost taste its bold flavors.
Review by

“You are about to read the story of a culinary revolution,” Koreaworld: A Cookbook proclaims as it launches into a frenetic exploration of Korean and Korean-inspired food spanning from Jeju Island to North Virginia. After focusing on more traditional offerings in its first half, this animated celebration jumps to new interpretations of Korean food, such as banana milk cake and Shin Ramyun with pita chips. Authors Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard provide their own musings on different preparation styles—using 7UP to flavor pickles, for example—while peppering in cultural history and modern context. The authors spotlight chefs throughout Korea and the U.S. and all their various influences, which span a bevy of cuisines, from Jewish to Chinese.

The sheer volume of restaurants and people profiled causes the book to meander in a fashion that sometimes feels scattered, but the abundance of eclectic detail will appeal strongly to diehard Korean food enthusiasts. Hong and Rodbard’s familiar rapport with many of their subjects lends a personal feeling to Koreaworld that is accentuated by Alex Lau’s stylish, energetic photography. Anyone interested in exploring the wild, exciting new frontiers of Korean food will find this book a fresh delight.

 

Anyone interested in exploring the wild, exciting new frontiers of Korean food will find Koreaworld a fresh delight.

An astonishing 30-40% of food goes to waste in the U.S. “As well as being financially foolish, wasting food damages the planet because it accelerates climate change,” notes food writer and cookbook author Sue Quinn in her latest cookbook, Second Helpings: Delicious Dishes to Transform Your Leftovers, which aims to keep food from our own kitchens out of the trash. Quinn kicks off with a chapter of recipes for base dishes (soup, pasta bake, risotto, to name a few) that teach the reader skills that can be used for everyday meals. She moves to sections on small plates, light meals, main meals, sweet things and bits and bobs, the last of which includes ways to incorporate leftovers such as mashed potatoes, salad greens and the spoonfuls and scrapings left in various types of jarred foods.The book’s structure gives many different options for each recipe, resulting in numerous dishes to use up the items you have on hand. I made the roast dinner enchiladas using some cooked chicken from the night before, sliced peppers and jarred tomatoes, which transformed into an amazing sauce when simmered with Quinn’s suggested mix of spices. Second Helpings is the perfect blueprint for repurposing leftover food into other nutritious, delicious meals.

Second Helpings is the perfect blueprint for repurposing leftover food into other nutritious, delicious meals.
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In The Book of (More) Delights, poet and essayist Ross Gay continues the practice of recording everyday pleasures that made his 2019 volume, The Book of Delights, an award-winning bestseller. In Gay’s hands, the habit has become an exercise in ecstasy, a way to cultivate gratitude and develop a spirit of inquiry.   

Gay’s guidelines for compiling delights—“write them daily, write them quickly, and write them by hand”—has resulted in a collection of 81 essays that span a year. His newest enthusiasms (yellow jackets, Snoopy, paper menus) may seem simple at first glance, but they yield arresting complexities under his observant eye. Each piece in the book is a snapshot moment of relished experience that emphasizes discovery and revelation. 

Gay’s images are precise and poetic (garlic sprouts look like “little green periscopes”; a favorite spoon has “a slight impression—as though touched by an angel—on the handle”), and his reflections on aging, relationships and the passage of time are heartening. Informal yet inspired, off-the-cuff yet beautifully composed, his essays reveal the riches hidden in quotidian experience. With a reading list of works that have influenced Gay’s process, The Book of (More) Delights provides abundant avenues to appreciate our world.  

In his gem of a memoir, Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener, Gay Talese takes stock of his working life as a journalist and author—a remarkable run of roughly seven decades. Now 91, Talese entered the business as a copy boy at the New York Times. Over the course of his career, he helped define contemporary nonfiction narrative through innovative magazine pieces and books like Honor Thy Father (1971), which featured the novelistic techniques of New Journalism. 

Bartleby and Me finds Talese focusing on his early years and inspirations, most notably his fascination with the “nobodies” of the world—figures reminiscent of Herman Melville’s reticent character Bartleby, who toil in obscurity and usually never make the news. These unassuming yet oddly intriguing individuals (to wit, “a seventy-eight-year-old grandfather’s clock of a man” named George Bannon, who rings the bell during boxing matches at Madison Square Garden) have long served as subject matter for his work.  

Talese also shares anecdotes related to writing and research and reconsiders classic works like his 1966 Esquire profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” For the most part, his backdrop is New York, and the volume reads as a tribute to the city as a place of endless evolution. Wistful, understated and urbane, Bartleby and Me is vintage Talese—the exemplary work of a gentleman journalist. 

Fans with an insatiable appetite for the mysteries of Martin Walker will savor Bruno’s Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from a French Country Kitchen. Bruno Courreges, the clever, self-possessed hero of Walker’s popular series, serves as police chief for St. Denis, a rustic village in the Périgord region of southwestern France. Bruno is an exceptional detective and accomplished cook, and in each book in the series, the ritual of mealtime, whether it be a leisurely lunch or convivial dinner, proves to be an important component of his daily routine. 

Inspired by his gastronomic passion, Bruno’s Cookbook, which was co-authored by Walker and his wife, Julia Watson, has more than 90 recipes neatly categorized according to the suppliers of the ingredients, from the winemaker (le vigneron) to the fisherman (le pecheur). The volume is packed with handsome photos, insights into the food culture of the Périgord and dishes to please every palate, including intriguing menu items like Snails in Garlic and Butter, Bruno’s Meatballs with Garlic-Roasted Tomatoes and A Most Indulgent Chocolate Cake. (Of interest to the canine diner: a recipe for Balzac’s Best Dog Biscuits.) Easy-to-follow cooking instructions and copious Bruno-related anecdotes make this a delicious gift for the well-read epicure.

Transporting readers to the green moors of Yorkshire, The Wonderful World of James Herriot: A Charming Collection of Classic Stories provides a detailed portrait of the beloved veterinarian and author.

Herriot, whose real name was James Alfred Wight, published his first book, If Only They Could Talk, in 1970. In that volume, he adopted the narrative approach that made his work so popular, writing from a first-person perspective that blended fact and fiction as he detailed his rounds as a country veterinarian, all in a voice that was poetic, affable and expert. His subsequent books, including All Creatures Great and Small, served as the basis for two PBS TV series of the same name.

The Wonderful World of James Herriot is a sampler of stories from Herriot’s works with lively supplementary text by his children, Jim Wight and Rosie Page. Featuring chapters on Herriot’s career, family life and the Yorkshire region, it offers fresh perspectives on the man and his work. Herriot aficionados needn’t fret—Siegfried and Tristan Farnon put in plenty of appearances. Brimming with personal photos and enchanting illustrations, it’s a perfectly cozy collection from start to finish.

We’ve collected a quartet of treats for the bibliophiles on your list.
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“Think about this: The Italians didn’t have the tomato until after 1492,” writes chef and food historian Lois Ellen Frank. “The Irish didn’t have the potato.” Let that sink in, then get a copy of Frank’s Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients. Written with Walter Whitewater, the book celebrates the “magic eight” indigenous plants of the Americas—corn, beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, vanilla and cacao. The recipes are accessible, budget-friendly and entirely plant-based, such as the three sisters tamale with green chile, black beans, chocolate and chipotle; baked acorn squash with maple and pecans; and green chile enchilada lasagne. In sum, this is a fantastic introduction and tribute to Native American Southwestern cuisine.

Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky celebrates the “magic eight” indigenous plants first cultivated in the Americas.
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In 2014, food historians Victoria Flexner and Jay Reifel cooked up an NYC supper club called Edible History, a perfect pairing of fine dining and intellectual stimulation. Now they’ve spun the concept into A History of the World in 10 Dinners: 2,000 Years, 100 Recipes, which includes recipes for such dishes as Trimalchio’s pig (a roasted suckling pig with sausages) from ancient Rome, and glazed whore’s farts (meringues) from Versailles. “This book will present even the experienced cook with a shocking variety of unfamiliar ingredients,” Reifel writes. “We have missed out on so many perspectives,” writes Flexner. “How do we learn about people who left nothing behind?” Their book is one intriguing answer, and I savor the thought of reading it to my teenage daughter as she makes her way through AP World History.

The chefs at New York’s Edible History share curious recipes from various periods of history in their intriguing new cookbook.
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I simply adore soup. Especially in cold weather, I could eat soup daily. I know I’m not alone. Soup lovers, let us take up our ladles and spoons and hunks of good bread: Shelly Westerhausen Worcel’s Every Season Is Soup Season: 85+ Souper-Adaptable Recipes to Batch, Share, Reinvent, and Enjoy sets us up for year-round slurping. Four seasons of soups, stews, ramen, gazpacho and more are joined by a mouthwatering assortment of garnishes—frizzled shallots, honeyed feta with black and white sesame seeds and tarragon-orange oil among them. Then there are the sides: salads, focaccia, cornbread. This winter I’m determined to try Worcel’s pumpkin and white bean soup with brown butter sage, and her sweet potato and leek peanut stew. Best of all, the soups can be repurposed into other dishes, such as a spicy noodle stir-fry made from the aforementioned stew.

Soup lovers will delight in Shelly Westerhausen Worcel’s cookbook that offers soups, stews, ramen, gazpacho and more for every season.
STARRED REVIEW

September 29, 2021

The five cookbooks that will keep you warm this winter

By Susannah Felts

These cookbooks are packed with recipes sure to satisfy culinary beginners, history buffs, comfort-seekers and beyond.

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Sohla El-Waylly’s Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook aims to be a comprehensive, entry-level guide to cooking. It is mammoth, much like the Joy of Cooking my mom gave me when I moved into my first apartment. There’s a strong emphasis on technique—searing, poaching, browning, all the ways to prepare eggs, pastry 101—and clear indication of expertise required for any given recipe. The design reminds me of how recipes are presented on the internet: full-color, with tags and photo tutorials throughout. But many dishes feel elevated, far from basic, even when they fall under “easy,” such as watermelon chaat, jammy egg tacos and a quinoa crunch salad. I suspect a lot of newlyweds will be adding this one to their kitchen shelves. 

Sohla El-Waylly’s mammoth Start Here is a comprehensive, entry-level cookbook that elevates easy-to-master recipes.
Review by

Gennaro’s Cucina: Hearty Money-Saving Meals From an Italian Kitchen by Gennaro Contaldo focuses on cucina povera, the traditional cooking of rural Italy, where seasonality and a “waste not want not” lifestyle deliciously intersect. If you love to buy loaves of artisan bread but often find them stale before you can eat them up, grab this book. Numerous recipes incorporate past-its-prime bread—you’re probably familiar with panzanella, but here we’re introduced to ribollita, a Tuscan bean and bread soup; cooked bread with rocket and pancetta; and many more dishes that make me want to go out and buy a loaf just to let it sit until I’m ready to cook. But meat and fish are hardly overlooked here, nor is pasta (after all, what is it but a bit of water and flour?) and sweets such as mini ricotta doughnuts and Sardinian sweet ravioli. 

Highlighting the cuisine of rural Italy, Gennaro’s Cucina is a zero-waste cookbook that makes every scrap of food delicious.

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Recipes from Gennaro Contaldo, Sohla El-Waylly, Edible History and more will get you cooking with gas in no time.
Review by

Gennaro’s Cucina: Hearty Money-Saving Meals From an Italian Kitchen by Gennaro Contaldo focuses on cucina povera, the traditional cooking of rural Italy, where seasonality and a “waste not want not” lifestyle deliciously intersect. If you love to buy loaves of artisan bread but often find them stale before you can eat them up, grab this book. Numerous recipes incorporate past-its-prime bread—you’re probably familiar with panzanella, but here we’re introduced to ribollita, a Tuscan bean and bread soup; cooked bread with rocket and pancetta; and many more dishes that make me want to go out and buy a loaf just to let it sit until I’m ready to cook. But meat and fish are hardly overlooked here, nor is pasta (after all, what is it but a bit of water and flour?) and sweets such as mini ricotta doughnuts and Sardinian sweet ravioli. 

Highlighting the cuisine of rural Italy, Gennaro’s Cucina is a zero-waste cookbook that makes every scrap of food delicious.
Review by

Sohla El-Waylly’s Start Here: Instructions for Becoming a Better Cook aims to be a comprehensive, entry-level guide to cooking. It is mammoth, much like the Joy of Cooking my mom gave me when I moved into my first apartment. There’s a strong emphasis on technique—searing, poaching, browning, all the ways to prepare eggs, pastry 101—and clear indication of expertise required for any given recipe. The design reminds me of how recipes are presented on the internet: full-color, with tags and photo tutorials throughout. But many dishes feel elevated, far from basic, even when they fall under “easy,” such as watermelon chaat, jammy egg tacos and a quinoa crunch salad. I suspect a lot of newlyweds will be adding this one to their kitchen shelves. 

Sohla El-Waylly’s mammoth Start Here is a comprehensive, entry-level cookbook that elevates easy-to-master recipes.
Review by

If you’d told me back in the early 1990s (my, um, experimental college days) that a few decades hence bookstores would be selling cannabis cookbooks, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are, and hallelujah. In Sugar High: 50 Recipes for Cannabis Desserts, Chris Sayegh first delivers a primer on cannabis—quite necessarily, as uniformed and skewed perspectives on the plant are abundant—before moving on to how to calculate dosage. Beware: There are equations involved! But if that doesn’t deter you, proceed directly to oil and butter infusions and tinctures, and then on to the sweet stuff, such as dulce de leche coconut blondies, tiramisu and “Literally the Best Hot Chocolate.”

Really, is there any better way to get your CBD or THC than through a luscious chocolate custard? When Sayegh opens his first cannabis bakery, I’m there.

Is there any better way to get your CBD or THC than through a luscious chocolate custard? Chris Sayegh’s cannabis dessert cookbook will show you how.

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