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March Cookbooks by Fuchsia DUNLOP (Land of Plenty and Revolutionary Chinese) Post mortem discussion

We'd discussed having a thread about this month's cookbooks after the month was up, so that folks could talk about what they liked and didn't like, give tips for hard-to-find ingredients, etc.

I think the March COTM were extremely successful in terms of the large number of participants, the great recipes, the fascinating discussions of both recipes and techniques and the descriptions of searches for ingredients.

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  1. I really enjoyed cooking from LOP. As C kept saying, this was his favorite month ever. After hunting down the ingredients, the recipes used most of them, so I never felt that I was buying a product for a single recipe. And, I found many that I've already repeated (stir fried cabbage, ma po do fu, dry fried chicken, corn and green peppers).

    I do think there is an excess amount of oil in each recipe. I've cut back with no lack of taste. I wish I had made the salted chilis and may do so next time I see some nice red chilis.

    I think part of the success of this month's COTM is the nature of chinese food. It's something where you can sub in and out ingredients due to your personal needs. The recipes are one person's interpretations and access of these dishes and are a guide to the dish. What doesn't change is the cooking technique. But, even these can be adapted. I don't cook with a wok and my dishes still came out fine. However, her directions could be a little more clear and I didn't like how I had to jump to a couple of different points in the book to find out what she really meant (truthfully, I often didn't and fudged it, using my own knowledge of chinese food and cooking).

    Lastly, I'm curious about people who cooked from both books. I mostly used LOP since I owned it and didn't get RCC until last week. RCC never grabbed me, but reading the posts, I do have a mild curiousity towards it. However, when I flip through the book, I lose interest again. Also, RCC seemed to use a lot more oil and had more deep frying than LOP. Which book did you like better and why?

    I know I'll continue cooking from LOP especially since there are more recipes that I want to try.

    1. I had both books out of the library more or less simultaneously. I made three dishes from “Revolutionary Chinese Cooking” (Fragrant-and-Hot Tiger Prawns, Pock-Marked Woman’s Bean Curd, and Stir-Fried Bitter Melon with Chinese Chives; salted chiles are still doing their thing) and ten dishes from “Land of Plenty” (Steamed Pork-and-Pumpkin Dumplings, Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts, Sweet-and-Sour Crispy Fish, Twice-Cooked Pork, Stir-Fried Cabbage, Dry-Fried Green Beans, Traditional Dan Dan Noodles, Xie Laoban’s Dan Dan Noodles, Pock-Marked Mother Chen’s Bean Curd, and Hot-and-Numbing Crispy Shrimp).

      Many years ago I went through a phase where I was doing a lot of Chinese cooking. I have more than a half dozen Chinese cookbooks on my shelves, a couple of which were given to me by my former sister-in-law who is Chinese. The Dunlop books reminded me (1) how much better home cooking is than Chinese take-out, (2) how easy most of these dishes are to prepare once the ingredients are on hand, (3) how a small amount of beef and pork can be very satisfying, and (4) how really good the leftovers can be. I had no intention of buying either book, but the more I read and cooked from LOP the more I decided I had to own it. Not only did it have at least three dishes that I know I’ll make over and over again, but also the basic info on ingredients, tools, and techniques is more informative and complete. And in general, there were far more recipes I’d still like to try in LOP than there are in RCC. I’ve typed out nine recipes from RCC, not including the recipe for salted chiles, but would have had to type out nearly double that number if I hadn’t broken down and bought LOP.

      The dishes I’ll definitely be making again: Fragrant-and-Hot Tiger Prawns, Pock-Marked Woman’s Bean Curd, Gong Bao Chicken, Dry-Fried Green Beans, and Traditional Dan Dan Noodles.

      What I didn’t like about the books: Recipe instructions aren’t always as clear as they might be. The indexes border on shameful, RCC more so than LOP. I would have liked more suggestions on menu planning and what to serve with what.

      What I learned from these books: Her technique of preseasoning the wok before you start cooking is brilliant and allows you to cut down considerably on the amount of oil needed to cook a dish. Less oil is fine, especially if your wok is well seasoned. Chinkiang vinegar is my seasoning discovery of the year; I love that stuff and had never heard of it before. I *can* make dumplings; I just need to practice. I don’t like bitter melon.

      1. I'm still waiting on the Revolution to arrive at the library, so I expect to be returning to this COM in the future. It was fantastic getting a few new ingredients - fermented black beans in particular - into my rotation. I love Chinese food, but don't love Chinese takeout, so now I'm really set for home mapo tofu making, and a different twist on veg ETC.
        One day I'm even going to deal with a whole fish on my tiny stovetop.

        There's still loads of things I'd like to try from these books (and no doubt whatever the new one Madame Dunlop is working on) since I wasn't willing to
        a. cook from recipes every night
        b. cook Chinese every night

        Thanks a million everyone for all the interesting support and discussion.

        Is Yimster still around on the SF board? He's posted some really great Chinese HomeCooking in the past, of a totally different style/region previously. Just fyi for people who have caught the bug.
        : )

        5 Replies
        1. re: pitu

          Not only is yimster still around, he's apparently been following our progress this month: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50153...


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Yes, I still around. My son still get a kick out of naming you on the boards.

            As I get older and wiser, I now know that the more you learn about something how much more there is to learn. So I have not posted as many recipes to show my lack of knowledge.

            But I still enjoy reading the posts. But I have to be careful since oakjoan is out there ready to challage me to a throwdown.

            For pitu, I most cook Cantonese food but have venture out into other areas of China and outside to the rest of the world.

            Maybe someday soon I will post again when my writing skills have improved.

            1. re: yimster

              Yimster! Great to see you here in this thread. And, yes, I am indebted to your son for my screen-name... I posted that story in a thread on site talk. I'll see if I can provide a link... Found it! http://www.chowhound.com/topics/47413...

              I would certainly love read to any recipes and experiences you would like to post about. I had a lot of fun with the Dunlop books, but oh my goodness I have so much to learn.

              P.S. are you familiar with the Dunlop books at all? I would be curious to hear your thoughts...


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Yes, I have all her books. They are enjoyable reading. She has a lot of insights and I find her ideas helpful.

                Recipes maybe later.

                I will show my son this post I know he will get a big kick out of it.

                1. re: yimster

                  I love the Dunlop COM even more now that it has drawn out his excellency yimster!
                  I miss you on the homecooking board!

                  p.s. my library has just notified me that RCC is ready...
                  as with Sunday Suppers, I hope people will continue to post on Dunlop

        2. I posted my overall comments "from a core plan perspective" in my "weight watchers core plan" cookbooks and recipes thread. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/47339... (it's a very long thread; scroll to the bottom.)

          I echo many of the sentiments expressed by foiks who've commented already. I occasionally found the recipes confusing ("stir fry until it smells wonderful"). Also, I think she could have reminded you to rinse certain ingredients in the recipe itself, instead of just assuming you'll remember having read to rinse it in the pantry section. She could have just said, "pickled vegetable, rinsed" in the ingredient listing. With some of the chopping techniques it might have been helpful if she'd provided a page number referring back to the section where she tells you how to "sliver" your meat, for instance. We cooked from these books very intensively for an entire month, but think how even more impossible it's going to be to remember how to sliver your meat or that you should rinse your pickled vegetable if you just pick this cookbook every month or so, but haven't made great notes...

          Sometime the pantry sections of one books was better than the other, though I can't say I paid enough attention to tell if one was most consistently better. I noticed a few occasions where one book would mention that an ingredient needed to be rinsed before use, for instance, whereas the other book didn't. I assume that RC (being the newer book) is overall better than LOP in the pantry department because she learned from experience, but I'm just speculating there.

          I can't really comment on the quantity of oil in the recipes because I was using way less oil than the recipes called for. More oil than I was using would be easier in many cases.

          I do now own both of these books (which started out as library books) because of my little accident with my water bottle, but, I probably would have bought them anyway. I don't have a lot of experience cooking Chinese food of any kind, but, with both of these cookbooks, I managed to cook food that is better than the food I've had in some Chinese restaurants (not the best restaurants, of course). And now that I have a perspective on how much oil the restaurants must actually be using, I know I'll want to cook at home even more to control the quantities of oil. I think these cookbooks will help me do that reasonably well.

          I also very much enjoyed Dunlop's background stories introducing each dish. Some were fascinating.

          Remember to rinse the salted black beans and preserved vegetables before you cook with them. And don't forget to read through the pantry section regarding any unfamiliar ingredients, as well as the "blurb" wherein she introduces the recipes because sometimes she put specific cooking or serving suggestions in the blurb.

          Thank you, everyone, for a great month and to oakjoan for organizing.


          1. This was my first COTM, so I have little to compare the experience to, but I have cooked Asian food for years, with some Chinese recipes. Much of what I read and did was probably colored by that previous knowledge. Her ingredients section was helpful, but I was not able to figure out "suan cai". In RCC it is what is substituted out by Tianjin preserved vegetable, but in LOP there is also a "suan cai", but it is not listed as being substituted out by Tianjin. It is like "suan cai" is two separate things in each book. Perhaps this is a regional language thing between the two provinces, but I would have liked to see this difference explained to me.

            The index, a feature I use heavily in cookbooks, was inadequate in both books. I found her style of not always telling you what to do with ingredients in the ingredient list a little frustrating for my style of cooking. She will give "scallions, green part only" in the list, but not tell you until you read through the directions that she wants them thinly sliced. This is not the case in all the recipes. Sometimes she will tell you in the list. It is easily remedied by writing in the book (if you own the book), though.

            I enjoyed and was more inclined to read the intros to each recipe in LOP than in RCC. The motif of displaying a picture of Chairman Mao on many of the pages was striking in RCC. I found the recipes to be delicious and well worth trying and plenty worth repeating in both books. Some books with Chinese recipes have a feel of just changing out the meat and the vegetables, with little variation in the saucing or method. These books did not feel this way to me. Also, I enjoyed her section on types of flavorings, like fish fragrant, which was in LOP.

            Cooking this much Chinese in a month reminded me of how intensive it can be in the knife work and assembling little dishes of sauce beforehand. That's why I liked a couple of choices she offered where the flavor was more in the ingredient itself, and I found I could buy the ingredient pre-chopped and pre-measured, like with LOP Pork Slivers with Preserved Mustard Tuber. It also reminded me of how easy it is to change an ingredient choice to one you prefer in Chinese cooking. I used my cast iron more than my wok (strange, I know, since I actually do have a nice wok) and I discovered as I expected to that it works well, but faster, and you must turn the ingredients out on a dime. I have a very weak stove, and that is why I was trying this. On a strong stove, the wok is nice, because you can push the ingredients up the side and it is much lighter to handle. I was trying to use momentum to help me stir-fry by having the cast iron hold the heat when the ingredients are dropped in.

            I agree with many comments of the other posters, like less oil can be used in some of the dishes. I've enjoyed reading all of the posts from the other participants.

            1. Would like to urge participants to read her memoir, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper - just released. Very interesting (am 2/3rds of the way through), not just on her experiences in Sichuan and Hunan, but on Chinese gastronomy in general - and the outsider's encounter with it (the importance of texture in foods, and so forth).

              3 Replies
              1. re: buttertart

                I loved these cookbooks and this month of cooking from them. More of my friends and relatives were involved this time. This type of cooking is great for 2 or more people, what with all the prep, etc. My oldest friend and I made a meal a few weeks ago that was not only fabulous tasting but easy, since we had one of us to slice and arrange and the other to actually cook. Maybe it'd be difficult if the other person didn't know a lot about cooking, but my friend and I have been cooking together since we were in Jr. High in L.A.

                I also loved reading about all her jaunts to banquets and market stalls. The descriptions of the vendors carrying their wares on the bamboo poles over their shoulders from which were hanging their soup or noodles or whatever. Her writing is very evocative and made me feel I was there.

                As several people have mentioned, this was the best Chinese food they'd ever had, and much better than take-out or eat-in in most local restaurants. Perhaps that's because we don't know what to order.

                Getting the ingredients was also an adventure, as I and many others have described.

                I enjoyed this month's books and discussions more than any in which I've participated. And it had little to do with me! Thanks to all for making this memorable.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  Nothing better to prolong the fun than her memoir - there are a few recipes in it as well, one for chicken soup with papaya which is on my must-try list. The book goes far beyond the scope of the cookbooks, discussing different provincial cuisines, moral scruples at overindulging oneself given economic/social conditions in China and at consuming various types of food including protected species...
                  Almost finished reading it, just starting the chapter on Shanghai - area food, a subject dear to my heart. Have read a lot of food-related memoirs, this is the best one yet, bar none.

                2. re: buttertart

                  I heartily second the recommendation for this new book by Dunlop (Shark's Fin..) ..I am in the middle of it and already dreaming about a trip to Chengdu! Beautifully written; good sense of humor..terrific read!

                3. I don't have a lot to add to what other posters have said. I really enjoyed my trips to Chinatown to find ingredients, and am glad that I'm now a proud owner of a wok. I only cooked from RCC and enjoyed pretty much everything I cooked. I stopped about half way through the month, as my husband was having issues w/ the chiles, though, as I posted, it was entirely due to his adding all the condiments to dishes. But, I look forward to cooking from the book occasionally again (all those ingredients to use up), and feel a lot more comfortable with Chinese cooking than I did before. I was particularly pleased w/ making egg rolls, though I do want to look for different wrappers. I also feel somewhat more educated about Chinese food, and look forward to trying new dishes in restaurants. As others have written, I did think that sometimes her instructions could have been more detailed.

                  What I enjoyed the most was the tremendous amount of posting and sharing of information for this COTM - as well as moral support given to one another. I have probably participated in less than half of them, but to me, this was the most "interactive" one so far.

                    1. I loved this month's books. I've had great Chinese, but it has been a long long time, and there is certainly nothing I've found in my current area that even comes close. I had no idea that I could make things that would rival the best I've had - what a wonderful revelation. Thanks so much to those of you who suggested these books, and thanks for the great support during the month. I only bought LOP, but think I may go ahead and get the other sometime soon.

                      1. Not much to add as I agree with the comments. Cons were the appendix, some directions and descriptions are too vague, and important things to know about certain ingredients is scattered with no organization throughout the book. Pros - the interactions with everyone which made it so interesting and fun, Dunlop's story-telling and introduction to Sichuanese cooking, and the recipes of course! Hmmm. If I had to choose, top three favorites might be the ma po tofu, potstickers, and Xie Laoban's dan dan noodles. I'll be making a couple of the on-line recipes for the COM for April (Roast Chicken), but plan on finishing the rest of the Dunlop recipes I have marked. Tonight I made Pork in Lychee Sauce with Crispy Rice (report to follow), and still on the list:

                        Steamed Pork and Cabbage Dumplings
                        Spicy Noodles with Soft Bean Curd
                        Spicy Cucumber Salad
                        Sweet and Sour Pork
                        Ants Climbing on a Tree
                        Spicy Steamed Beef
                        Fragrant and Crispy Duck
                        Fish Braised in Chili Bean Sauce
                        Dry-Fried Eggplant
                        Stir-Fried Water Spinach with Chili and Sichuan Pepper
                        Beef with Cumin

                        Whew. I guess I can't stop!

                        Many heartfelt thanks to Beetlebug who gave me this book along with personal notes on her favorites - one of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received. Thank you my friend.

                        1. I've been lurking on the Dunlop thread, and I'm inspired enough to buy one of her books, I think. The cheapest one on Amazon.co.uk is simply called Szechuan Cooking and is half the price of LOP or RCC. Does anyone know if it's any good or not? Thanks.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: greedygirl

                            I just took a look at the Amazon UK Website and would be willing to bet that "Land of Plenty" is the US edition of the book that is called "Sichuan Cookery" in the UK. There's no way, of course, for me to know if they're exactly the same, but one reviewer mentioned three of his/her favorite recipes from "Sichuan Cookery" and those three recipes are indeed in "Land of Plenty." And "Sichuan Cookery" is available in paperback, to boot. Lucky you.

                            1. re: JoanN

                              They are the same - I saw the UK edition for sale in the Shanghai airport a couple of weeks ago and browsed through it. Original title apparently not sexy enough for US publisher.

                              1. re: JoanN

                                Yay! That's great news. It's only £8 so I'm definitely going to get it next time I feel an Amazon moment coming on....

                            2. Off-topic a bit but I've just received an e-mail from a Fuschia Dunlop who works at the BBC! I'm very tempted to ask her is she's THE Fuschia Dunlop - how many of them can there be!

                              eta - it is her! I just looked her up on Google and she does work for the World Service. How exciting! I've just sent her an e-mail back.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: greedygirl

                                You should tell her how much we've all appreciated the books!

                                1. re: LulusMom

                                  Ask her to come to Chowhound!!

                                  1. re: LulusMom

                                    I did! Will let you all know what she says tomorrow.

                                    1. re: greedygirl

                                      Fuchsia has confirmed what you chowhounders already deduced - that Sichuan Cooking is the English edition of Land of Plenty. She also offered to sign my book! Her favourite recipes, if anyone's interested, are the fish-fragrant aubergines and the Gong Bao chicken.

                                      1. re: greedygirl

                                        I'd really like to know if she cooks with that much oil when doing these dishes at home...like the fish fragrant aubergines, or the homestyle tofus...

                                        1. re: pitu

                                          Now I know we work for the same organisation, it's going to be sooo tempting to e-mail her every time I have a question about a recipe (I ordered her book today)!

                                2. I don't have much more to add about this month's COTM, and like others, I enjoyed every bit of it, from the discussions to the search for ingredients, cooking then eating. Cooking with a partner, as oakjoan pointed out, made it easy for me because DH was there to do the actual cooking while I prepped. I would not have been able to stand at the stove for the time needed.

                                  I intend to continue cooking from LOP, the on-line recipes I downloaded, and some additional Sichuanese/Dunlopesque recipes I found. The Dan Dan Noodles Mian were our favorite, I think, but each of the 11 or 12 recipes we tried had it's own particular charm. It's going to be very difficult to have Chinese take-away again....

                                  Many thanks to all for such an enjoyable month of cooking! My friends think I'm batty for spending so much time thinking about then actually executing the recipes. They don't know what they're missing.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Gio

                                    I've learned that most of my friends get very quickly tired of hearing about my cooking plans! Thats one of the reasons this group is so fun and helpful.

                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                      HAHA! Sorry, I can so relate to that. I get so obsessed with my cooking plans, but, really, no one else cares, except the people I cook for, and they barely care.

                                      Right now, I'm trying to decide on dinner.


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        OH! So true! I keep my cooking obsession from most of my friends or they would stop talking to me, I'm sure. When I made what I considered the perfect roast chicken the other day, my raptures were difficult to share. I can just drone on and on about cooking. My poor sister brought up bread machines at Easter dinner and I just wouldn't shut up...

                                  2. I jumped in at the beginning then kinda got distracted; I've enjoyed reading all the discussions. I hope when I next cook from Dunlop that these threads remain viable so I can add to the knowledge herein. I haven't followed the cookbook forums before and I'm obviously enthused by this March previous. :) Very neat idea.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: aelph

                                      The threads do stay around, and particpants (or new participants) often post on them months (even years, at this point!) later. I'm still posting on the Lucques threads. So, please do post on them. You can add the maste thread (or any thread) to your "favorites" - which makes it easier to find.

                                    2. o wow
                                      Look what Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid just published....
                                      "Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China"
                                      Tibet, the Silk Road oases of Xinjiang, the steppelands of Inner Mongolia, and the steeply terraced hills of Yunnan and Guizhou.....

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: pitu

                                        Their books are so wonderful - I believe Candy has been "waiting" for this one to come out.

                                        1. re: MMRuth

                                          And, thank you to our month of cooking with Fucshia Dunlop, I might actually have the confidence to tackle some of those recipes!


                                        2. re: pitu

                                          My copy of the new Duguid and Alford book is due to arrive the first of next month. I am anxiously awaiting the arrival. I will enjoy the read, but during an Indiana summer i will probably wait until cooler months to try the recipes.

                                          1. re: Candy

                                            I broke down and bought it on Sunday - the first time I saw it in the flesh - but have been too busy to crack it open. If a book can be said to be burning a hole in one's pocket, this one is. Must make time to read!

                                          2. re: pitu

                                            I took a peek at Great Wall at the bookstore last night and like all their books, it looks awesome!!!! And it has recipes from Guangxi Autonomous Region which is one of the places we were on our last trip.

                                            if only mother's day were a bit sooner [its the only gift on my list and I have to wait as I've been nagging the family about it for nearly a year now.


                                          3. Coming late to the thread---we were actually in China [though not Sichuan] when it started.

                                            I have both of Dunlop's books and just bought her biography last night. I like her style of writing and find the receipes easy to follow. In our family, Chinese food is a big deal but we are now living in an area where finding really good Chinese out takes a bit more work. So I have been relying on Dunlop's books [and a couple of others] to get us through.

                                            The twice cooked pork is a favorite in our house. We use a really awesome locally made cured bacon. We also like the hand torn cabbage, though one pup was not amused when I made it with purple cabbage. We also like the dan dan mien though I can't seem to make it in a big enough batch--3 pups, me and the husband can eat an awful lot of dan dan.

                                            One thing I find fascinating with those two items---twice cooked pork and dandan--is the number of variations on the theme. I love Dunlop's version but I find whenever I order those dishes in restaurants, they come so many different ways. For example, the twice cooked pork in one restaurant uses more of a loin cut and has cabbage while the twice cooked pork in another uses strictly belly and adds leeks. And in a third restaurant, they added those oval shapped rice noodles to the leeks and belly. Mind you, all variations are WONDERFUL but I got to thinking that this is one of those dishes where you make it like "mom" [or shi fu, if you are reading the bio] and everyone's mom [shi fu] has their own tasty spin.

                                            Anyrate, I have quite a stash of peppercorns to work through and am looking forward to some down time at work and lots of cooking at home.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: jenn


                                              Thanks for the post about Dunlop. As moderator for that cookbook of the month, er, THOSE cookbooks of the month, I found them to be more interesting and engrossing than any other cookbooks we've chosen. They also seemed to involve many people and those people posted often about not only the recipes, but variations, ingredients, pitfalls, triumphs and interesting adventures shopping in Chinese groceries in their respective home towns.

                                              I got both books out of the library and renewed them once. Sad to say I had to give them back a week or so ago, and it was a wrenching experience! I rarely spend big bucks on cookbooks, but I think these are worth it and will be in my cookbook library soon.

                                            2. After using almost all the FD on-line recipes during the COTM, I finally ordered and received just today the Land of Plenty book which I had ordered from Jessica's Biscuit/e-cookbooks.com. We loved all the food we cooked using this book and are committed to at least two meals from the book each week. Thanks to everyone who opened our eyes to a new and exciting departure from our everyday meals.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Gio

                                                I neglected to say that we used Both books which were taken from our local library so that gave us a chance to see and use the RCC recipes as well as LOP. I would recommend both books to anyone interested in provincial Chinese cuisine.

                                                1. re: Gio

                                                  Did you end up having a preference? I only bought LoP, but having cooked from it and read all the posts on both, I'm seriously considering buying RCC too. But I don't want to end up taking up valuable cookbook space if it seems like there is too much overlap or that there isn't a strong reason to have both.

                                                  1. re: LulusMom

                                                    I had both out of the library. I ended up buying LOP and copied out 10 recipes from RCC--a couple that I made and really liked and the others that got great reviews and I thought I'd like to try. I just couldn't justify buying both. It wasn't so much that there seemed to be a lot of overlap as that on the whole LOP just had more recipes I was sure I'd want to make again and even more I hadn't yet tried but wanted to.

                                                    1. re: JoanN

                                                      Knowing that is really helpful. Was there much more variation in the seafood in RCC? Most in LoP was whole fish, and given your experience, I wasn't really feeling ready to go there! But we eat a lot of seafood in this house, and I'd be excited to find more of those recipes. The fish I tried (one of the online recipes, and from RCC) I loved, but if that is the only shrimp, I've already got it.

                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                        In that Sichuan and Hunan are both landlocked, fish recipes will deal more with freshwater fish and are not likely to be as plentiful as a region with a coast [Guangxi Autonomous, Guangdong, Zheijiang, Shanghai, etc].

                                                    2. re: LulusMom

                                                      I own both and don't find there to be much overlap. In her autobiography, Dunlop discusses the differences between Hunan food and Sichuan food. As I recall, she says that Hunan is heavier on chilis --fresh, pickled or dried---while Sichuan food uses chilis in combination with other things like the ever delightful peppercorns. I like both books a lot. My personal interest in Chinese food stems from having 3 pups who were born there. So I've been incorporating a lot of Chinese food into our meals for years now and probably have a couple of dozen Chinese cookbooks. The thing is that each region really is different. Having a book of Sichuan food and having a book of Cantonese food is really 2 very different books with very different ways of using the same ingrediants, much as having a German cookbook and a French cookbook or a Spanish cookbook and a French cookbook would not be seen as having 2 similiar cookbooks.