The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food


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Yet for all I had learned about knives, there were still a couple of basic things I didn't know. First, I didn't know how to use one properly. Watching the jagged shreds of ginger, leek, and pork that fell from a blade borrowed from the school during a private lesson, Chairman Wang commented that I would be lucky if I could make sixty dollars a month cooking in a cafeteria.

After watching a little longer through her thick glasses, she was more generous: "Maybe a hundred dollars, if you don't want room and board" [pp. The blade issue, in other words, is fundamental, as it is for any Jedi or other sacred apprentice. Lin-Liu buys a butcher knife for four dollars, but it has never been sharpened; Chairman Wang advises her that she must find a professional knife-sharpener and tell him that 'the mouth of the knife needs to be opened ' [p. But how to find such a man? Lin-Liu asks for help from the proprietor of her local Sichuanese restaurant: She explained that I hadn't been able to find a sharpener because they didn't have shops or stands; they biked around the city, weaving through the neighborhoods, retracing the same path every few days.

There were fewer of them now because most households had started buying ready-to-use knives. She told me I had to listen for the clanging sound made by the knives that the sharpener had strung together and rattled at his side while he biked along. So does her cooking technique, which of course serves as an abiding metaphor for her growing self-knowledge. The vividness of her expanding expertise in Chinese cuisine is maintained by the judicious peppering of the text with some of the specific recipes she learns: we are given 29 of them in all, clearly spelt out in terms readily comprehensible to Western cooks, and together they form a mouth-watering array of dishes.

Some will sound more familiar than others, but all of them look delectable. One of the most important aspects of Lin-Liu's book is the portraits she paints of the individual people she comes to know in China. Over time, for example, her friendship with Chairman Wang and her family grows; eventually she is able to ask Chairman Wang about her life as a young woman during the Cultural Revolution.

Few Chinese talked about the past; often it seemed as though they didn't dare think about it.

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I did not want to upset her, and the formality of the teacher-student relationship made it harder to ask questions. But the more dumplings we wrapped together, the more comfortable we became with each other. It was as if this traditional family activity had a power of its own that freed us from our constrained roles. This deepening relationship with the Wangs furnishes the basis of what will eventually make Beijing feel like 'home' to Lin-Liu. Eventually the time comes for her certification examination, which is administered in two parts: a written test and a practicum.

Cheating is rampant among her classmates, but Lin-Liu decides to remain true to the spirit of her gongfu training and to take the test for real. While other students smuggle in textbooks for the written exam, and even fully pre-prepped food for the cooking test, Lin-Liu bravely does her own prep work on the spot. Chairman Wang looks on with the full realization of what this has all meant to her young pupil: Chairman Wang watched as I sliced my pork, pressing the tenderloin firmly against the board and sliding my knife horizontally through the meat, keeping the blade as close as I could to the board.

She finally understood. Ziger kao," she said, nodding with approval at my audacity. That's good. Whether you pass or fail, you'll be doing it on your own. She is able to take special joy in having passed the test without cheating. But what will her new certificate afford her in the People's Republic? Not much, it seems; nobody believes that a laowai foreigner -- an interesting word to apply to someone like Lin-Liu, who is convincingly Asian in appearance and speaks Mandarin will work in a kitchen.

I told Chef Zhang that I wanted to become a noodle chef; he didn't have the time or energy to say no' [pp. And so begins the next of Lin-Liu's adventures. If Chairman Wang had been my window into the lives of China's urban middle class, Chef Zhang was my introduction to an entirely different class of people, the struggling migrant workers with little time to complain about social ills or the graft of government officials. Most of them worked seven days a week for a meager salary, most of which they saved and sent back to their rural families, in hopes of giving their children a better life than theirs.

Coming from the southern Chinese traditions, Lin-Liu's family is a rice-eating one, whereas Beijing is in noodle territory. An apprentice all over again, she learns what it means to run a frantic food-service business where the main dish is constantly made fresh, by hand, at a very small profit margin. She also comes to know and admire the hard- working Chef Zhang, and a bright young waitress from Sichuan named Qin. We get a glimpse into this hectic environment, and meet Lin-Liu's friend Hu, whose tragic story eventually emerges.

The whole scene is so depressing, in fact, that Lin-Liu soon moves on. Her next internship, this time in Shanghai, is quite at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, at a tony new place on the Bund called the Whampoa Club. The Whampoa is the brainchild of Jereme Leung, one of the new breed of celebrity chefs that is changing the face of Chinese cuisine and restaurant culture. It is perhaps not coincidental that Shanghai is China's largest and most cosmopolitan city -- it has province-level status all by itself -- nor that Leung is huaqiao overseas Chinese.

Leung is the very definition of high-profile cuisine: 'Patricia Wells called him a "genius" in the International Herald Tribune. Saveur ran a full-page picture of him. Matt Lauer visited the restaurant and ate Jereme's dumplings on Today' [p. In short, his ascendancy not only brought the fresh air of nouvelle chinoiserie from Singapore to the People's Republic; it also thrust China, and this new style of Shanghainese fusion cuisine, into the international gastronomic arena. It is at Whampoa that Lin-Liu learns to make xiao long bao, her mother's favorite dumpling, and one of the xiao chi snacks known as 'Shanghai dian xin' or 'Northern dim sum.

Chef Dan invites Lin-Liu to come work on her skills in his kitchen, and she takes him up on it from time to time, once even cooking lunch home-style tofu with rice for the restaurant's proprietor, Takashi Miyanaka. Chef Dan is another mentor who puts Lin-Liu at ease, and over time she learns more about his remarkable life and his view of the world. And Yin, the restaurant that is anything but traditional, plays another pivotal role in Lin-Liu's search for self: At Yin, I realized that the idea of food being "authentic" was relative.

Here I was in Shanghai, eating Shanghainese food made by a Shanghainese chef, and some people still didn't consider it the real thing I stopped being embarrassed about liking Yin as I knew more about "real" Chinese food. Learning how to eat a foreign cuisine [or, she might have added, how to drink their tea] was like learning a foreign language.

It took years to do it, and even after becoming fluent, it didn't mean that I always preferred the Chinese way of eating or speaking I realized that my taste buds -- just like my personality, my outlook on life, and my political views -- had been shaped by my childhood in America I was happy being who I was, whoever that was. When we leave Lin-Liu, she is engaged to be married -- to Craig, a fellow journalist and fellow American, but of blue-eyed Western stock -- and living happily in Beijing.

My parents had forgiven me for moving to China and approved of my passion for cooking after I visited them in California and made them a seven-course meal that filed their house with the scent of oil, chilies, and peppercorns. She has found her home, and -- not coincidentally -- herself.

The so- called 'ABC' American-Born Chinese shares the vagaries of all children of immigrants in the US -- akin to, of course, but somewhat different from the situation of those immigrants itself. The children of immigrants have their own set of experiences leading to the establishment of self: they have the stability that comes, precisely, from having been born in the new land; and they will also hopefully reap the benefits of their parents' efforts in rooting the family in that new soil.

Certainly both Lee and Lin-Liu have done all this. Like Oedipus, both authors have discovered the deep truth that the most momentous riddle of all is that of one's own identity. So far in this review we have been looking at books that are classed as non-fiction. The Library of Congress catalogues Lee's book, in part, as 'Chinese Americans -- United States -- Social life and customs,' and Lin- Liu's book as 'China -- Social life and customs,' which neatly illustrates the close kinship of these works.

Maggie is in what the French would call 'a situation': in the year following the untimely death of her beloved husband, Matt Mason, she sells their California house, withdraws from her friends, travels the country writing about different communities, and tries to heal. Then comes the bombshell: a paternity suit in Beijing -- against her husband's estate. She asks her editor for time off from work, so that she can go to China to investigate this; instead, she is given an assignment in Beijing: to write a chef profile on Sam Liang, an American-Born Chinese who like Jen Lin-Liu, author of Serve the People has gone back to China to discover his roots, to cook, and to write.

This project will be a bit of a challenge for Maggie: The truth was, she had never really liked Chinese food. Of course, she'd had Chinese food only in America, which was clearly part of the story. She'd always heard people say it was different in China The trouble with Chinese food in America, to her, was that it seemed all the same. Even when a restaurant had a hundred and fifty items on the menu, she could order them all and still get only the same few flavors over and over again.

There was the tangy brown sauce, the salted black bean; the ginger- garlic-green onion, the syrupy lemon. Then there was the pale opal sauce that was usually called lobster whether or not lobster had ever been anywhere near it. But she accepts the assignment, and heads immediately to Beijing -- to pursue both Table's business and her own.

Interviewing Sam, Maggie begins right away to learn about Chinese cuisine across the globe. Some of her lessons will be familiar to readers of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles and Serve the People, but others actually go well beyond anything explored in either of those books: "Chinese-American [cooking] evolved for a different reason -- to get Americans to accept a fundamentally different way of cooking and eating.

They did this by aiming at familiarity, which was kind of weirdly brilliant. Here it's different. It's the opposite. Every dish has to be unique, different from every other. Yet all follow rigid principles, and all aim to accomplish things Western cuisine doesn't even shoot for, much less attain For one thing, we have formal ideals of flavor and texture. Those are the rigid principles I mentioned. Each one is like a goal that every chef tries to reach -- either purely, by itself, or in combination with the others. Then there's artifice Food should be more than food; it should tease and provoke the mind.

We have a lot of dishes that come to the table looking like one thing and turn out to be something else We strive to fool the diner for a moment. It adds a layer of intellectual play to the meal. When it works, the gourmet is delighted Then there's healing. We use food to promote health. I'm not talking about balanced nutrition -- every cuisine does that, to some degree. I'm talking about each food having a specific medicinal purpose. We see every ingredient as having certain properties -- hot, cold, dry, wet, sour, spicy, bitter, sweet, and so on.

And we think many imbalances are caused by these properties being out of whack. So a cook who is adept can create dishes that will heal the diner The right foods can ease the mind and heart.

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ISBN 13: 9780446580076

It's all one system One more. The most important of all. It's community. Every meal eaten in China, whether the grandest banquet or the poorest lunch eaten by workers in an alley -- all eating is shared by the group" [pp. Xian means the sweet, natural flavor -- like butter, fresh fish, luscious clear chicken broth. Then we have xiang, the fragrant flavor -- think frying onions, roasted meat. Nong is the concentrated flavor, the complex, deep taste you get from meat stews or dark sauces or fermented things.

Then there is the rich flavor, the flavor of fat. This is called you er bu ni, which means to taste of fat without being oily. We love this one. Fat is very important to us. Fat is not something undesirable to be removed and thrown away, not in China. We have a lot of dishes that actually focus on fat and make it delectable. Bring pork belly to the table, when it's done right, and Chinese diners will groan with happiness That's just flavor. We have texture. There are ideals of texture, too -- three main ones.

Cui is dry and crispy, nun is when you take something fibrous like shark's fin and make it smooth and yielding, and ruan is perfect softness -- velveted chicken, a soft-boiled egg. I think it's fair to say we control texture more than any other cuisine does.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

In fact some dishes we cook have nothing at all to do with flavor. Only texture; that is all they attempt Once you understand the ideal flavors and textures, the idea is to mix and match them. That's an art in itself, called tiaowei. Then we match the dishes in their cycles. Then there is the meal as a whole -- the menu -- which is a sort of narrative of rhythms and meanings and moods" [pp.

Sam comes by his deep learning honestly. He is the scion of an intensely culinary family: his father, Liang Yeh, had been a chef in China before fleeing the Communist regime. His three 'uncles,' actually dear family friends, are all chefs and food scholars. But his grandfather, Liang Wei, is the most famous of all: born in the final years of the Qing dynasty, and sold into slavery as a boy, he and his friend Peng Changhai found rescue from a squalid fate as young apprentices of Tan Zuanqing, 'the greatest chef of his generation' [p.

Liang Wei studied the food classics, but more importantly, he watched every dish that Lord Tan prepared, with an eye toward mastering his technique. In , with the fall of the Qing dynasty, Liang and Peng left the palace and opened restaurants. More momentously, in Liang wrote an autobiographical memoir -- entitled, in fact, The Last Chinese Chef -- that became a food classic. One of Sam's major projects is to translate this into English.

Several things are going on here at once.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

First of all, of course, Mones is playing with the stratagem of the book-within-a-book: a book about a Chinese chef that involves a book about a Chinese chef. Each chapter is furnished with an epigraph from Liang Wei's book, and Maggie and we get to read quite a bit of it, in Sam's translation -- so much, in fact, that the reader might well be excused for not realizing that the book is as fictitious as Maggie and Sam are.

Third, the realism of the family history is itself enhanced by being rooted firmly in the actual history of China in the early twentieth century. Is there a politics of food? In a passage evidently meant to convey the passionate beliefs of Sam's father, we are told that 'the Communists had made it illegal to appreciate fine food or even remember that it had once existed.

They had the masses eating slop and gristle and thinking it perfectly fine. In America and Europe, too, Chinese gourmets were all but nonexistent' [p. Moreover, 'When Sam had tried to suggest to his father that things had changed, that a world of art and discernment and taste was being reborn in China and that going back might be worthwhile, the old man erupted.

Never set foot there! It is a dangerous place, run by thugs! Maggie needs -- for her own peace of mind as well as for the financial implications -- to discover conclusively whether her husband had indeed fathered the child in question. Sam, meanwhile, is not only translating his grandfather's book, but planning to open a restaurant in Beijing -- one that will celebrate and resuscitate the legacy of traditional imperial cuisine.

And, more urgent than either of these goals, when Maggie first meets him he is preparing to audition for the Chinese national cooking team at the Olympics. There are ten chefs competing for two spots in the northern-style category of cooking; nine days from his first conversation with Maggie, Sam must prepare an imperial-style banquet for the panel of judges. From then on, Maggie's own plot is interleaved with Sam's preparation for the banquet, which is planned, dish by dish, in loving detail.

Not surprisingly, their lives become entwined as well. Will they become a couple? Will Sam win the competition? The answers to these questions, gentle reader, you must discover for yourself. But I will say that, for me, the two most important characters in the novel are neither Sam nor Maggie, nor even Liang Wei, but two characters that Mones did not create: China and Chinese cuisine.

In The Last Chinese Chef -- in both books by that title -- China and her cuisine come as vibrantly and vividly alive as they do in the other books discussed in this review. For this if for nothing else, Mones's novel is well worth reading. Related Papers. DJ new, bright and shiny, no tears no chips no edgewear, Price Not clipped. Seller Inventory Language: eng Language: eng Language: eng Language: eng.

Seller Inventory ABE Book Description HC. Her observations are full of fact, fun, quirkiness and pathos and with great empathy for the people who make, prepare, and deliver the Chinese food we eat. Book Description Grand Central Publishing, Dispatched, from the UK, within 48 hours of ordering.

This book is in Brand New condition. Seller Inventory CHL Language: English. Brand new Book. The Fortune Cookie Chronicles speaks to the immigrant experience as a whole, and the way it has shaped America. Seller Inventory NLF Book Description Twelve, Seller Inventory M Never used!.


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Seller Inventory P Jennifer 8 Lee. Publisher: Twelve , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:. About the Author : Jennifer 8 Lee, the daughter of Chinese immigrants and a fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese herself, grew up eating her mother's authentic Chinese food in her family's New York City kitchen before graduating from Harvard in with a degree in Applied Mathematics and economics and studying at Beijing University.

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The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food

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