So, let’s address the elephant in the room first — white people traveling to “distant lands” to write about the people, culture, and food of people of color. There’s a long and messy history here that readers need to be aware of before they read any book that tackles this subject. It’s fraught. There are critical issues to consider. But I do believe that Dunlop tries to write ethically about Chinese people, food, government, and culture, though it is important to make sure the reader is aware of the lens through which she views the world (that of a privileged British citizen).
That being said, I really enjoyed this book. I loved the writing style. It was a voice that came through strongly and was a fast-paced and pleasurable read. I adore how Dunlop describes food. Obviously she’s a food writer, so she’s very skilled at describing tastes and textures. I just tried dan dan noodles for the first time at our local Szechuan restaurant, and they were just how she described them. The way she says the pepper flavor numbs in a savory way is dead on. I think it really encourages you to try some new types of food and appreciate what other cultures have to offer in the culinary arts.
I was definitely set on edge when Dunlop describes the severe contamination and pollution problems that plague China and the ingredients in their food. It makes me worried about the food I’m eating here in America too. I learned so very much about China that I didn’t know, and most importantly to me anyway that Sichuan and Szechuan are the same province, it just depends on American/British spelling. Which means that the Szechuan House in town has so many of the dishes she describes that I can’t wait to try.
Be careful… this book will make you hungry!