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Chinese Cookbooks [split from Boston]

  • lipoff Sep 22, 2010 12:13 PM
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[Note: this thread was split from Boston at: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6363... -- The Chowhound Team]

She means something different. In the "Measurement" chapter she writes:

"I want to make it clear that the number of servings from a Chinese recipe is very hard to tell. It depends on how many dishes will be served at the same time. To prevent confusion, I give two kinds of serving methods and numbers in my recipes:

1. American serving: means only one main dish is served along with soup, vegetables or appetizer.
2. Chinese serving: means two or three main dishes are served at the same time."

There was some discussion of Joyce Chen over on the Southern New England board recently: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/734267

Basically, I agree with tatsu, although I think her cookbook is pretty evenly split between what I might call "authentic-style" and "American-style" Chinese dishes. There are some better Chinese cookbooks from that era, although this is a fine one too.

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  1. Which are the better cookbooks?

    14 Replies
    1. re: FoodDabbler

      i assume that you are asking about that era?

      I think that Pei Mei's cookbook was from the early 60s.

      http://www.cyberattic.com/stores/rich...

      1. re: cambridgedoctpr

        also, Robert Delfts book, The Good Food of Szechuan may have been from that era.

        I lost my copy of Pei Mei's very good cookbook but still have a copy of Delfts which i think may still be in print.

        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

          Pei Mei's books may not be in print, but they are available off Amazon, etc.

          1. re: FoodDabbler

            there are more contemporary chinese cookbooks that i use; I thought that you were interested in older cookbooks; i think that both of these showed up in the late 60s;early 70s.

            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

              Yes, I am interested (for the purposes of this discussion) in older books. My Amazon comment was merely meant to say that you can get older books, too, through Amazon from its third-party sellers.

          2. re: cambridgedoctpr

            The list of recipes alone doesn't help determine whether the recipes were either authentic, or Americanized in reasonable ways for the time (for example, substituting beef meat for beef offal while keeping the spicy and numbing sauce.)

            Fuchsia Dunlop has a relevant article on General Tso's Chicken, which was invented by a refugee from Hunan province, but is almost unheard-of in Hunan. I'd argue this is exactly the kind of historical fiction most people think of when they think of "Szechuan" food, and here it's quite well documented.

            http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/04/mag...

            I thought I had a copy of Pei Mei, but I certainly can't find it now. I did find "Chinese Cuisine" (1972, from Wei-Chuan cookbooks) by Huang Se Hei, in a translation by NIna Simonds, and "Ming Lai's Chinese Cookbook (1981--she worked for Pei Mei and Wei-Chuan's cooking schools.) AFAIK, the Wei-Chuan books continue to be updated, and at least one Borders in the Boston area (Copley, I think) stocks some of them. Sadly, I don't have the second Wei-Chuan book, or the author's book on "Chinese Snacks". Meng Lai's book also includes Chinese, which makes it much easier to figure out which obscure preserved vegetable a particular recipe is asking for. And, I have to wonder how widely these books were distributed in the US at the time of publication.

            While both of these cookbooks may seem dated compared to the information we now have access to, they're also recognizably authentic--for example, the Hot and Sour Soup recipes contain shredded squid and chicken blood, and sea cucumber and duck's blood, respectively. These books are full of obscure (to me) and interesting recipes, such as fried duck stuffed with taro, which I've only had once, at "Mark's Duck House" near DC, and make me wonder what gems are hiding in the untranslated menus from Pearl Villa and Joyful Gate.

            I looked at Delft's book once, but it didn't make a strong impression on me. I know there's one around town somewhere, or maybe at the Strand in NYC.

            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

              Delfs's Good Food of Szechwan" is 1974. Also Mrs. Chiang (which I misspelled upthread). Irene Kuo's Keys is 1977.

          3. re: FoodDabbler

            My favorite from that era is How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, by Buwei Yang Chao. Actually Mrs. Chao wrote that book in Chinese and her daughter, Rulan, translated into Chinese when she was a freshman at Harvard/Radcliffe. Rulan Pian, who is now 88, is currently an Emerita Professor at Harvard. As far as I can tell, she invented the term "stir-fry"!

            1. re: lipoff

              I have the third (?) edition (1964 I think) and was pretty impressed. The first edition dates from 1945! I'd be curious to know how that compares to the 'modern' version. Wikipedia cites another book from 1974 called _ How to Order and Eat in Chinese to Get the Best Meal in a Chinese Restaurant_ as well as this blog post.

              http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/...

              1. re: lipoff

                I found an online bookseller offering the book for 16 cents. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. My thanks to you and cambridgedoctpr for your suggestions.

                1. re: FoodDabbler

                  The Chinese Cook Book by Wallace Yee Hong (first published in 1952) is a pretty solid early Cantonese cookbook. My mom used to make the sweet and sour pork recipe from this book, which is an excellent version comparable to anything ever served at House of Roy back in the olden days. (It does make me sad that I know of *no* place to enjoy an old-fashioned sweet and sour, which, properly made, is a perfectly respectable dish.)

                  However, reading the book through nowadays, I'm truly impressed by how many recipes there are for authentic Cantonese dishes along with the Chinese-American standards. (He, too, is an early user of the term "stir-fry.") There's a fine recipe for basic soup stock, and even instructions on how to make your own soy sauce (three different versions) and oyster sauce!

                  1. re: Allstonian

                    my favorite contemporary chinese cookbooks are by Barbara Tropp though i must say that the recipes in the china moon cook book are challenging though good.

                    china moon was my favorite chinese restaurant; it was situated in SF.

                    If you read her book, you will see some similarities with those of J-G Von Gerichten, another favorite of mine.

                  2. re: FoodDabbler

                    Which book?

                    And, whoever split this thread should've extracted all of the relevant posts, not just some of them. (It's not clear to me that it should've been split at all, since it wasn't a thread on Chinese cookbooks in general, it was about whether relatively authentic Chinese cookbooks were available when Joyce Chen was running restaurants in Boston.)

                    1. re: KWagle

                      "How to Cook and Eat in Chinese"

                      I also found an edition of Pei Mei with Chinese and English text, and a new copy of "Chinese Snacks" (Amazon).