The best books on Chinese food

Jonathan Clements Author Of The Emperor's Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals
By Jonathan Clements

The Books I Picked & Why

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

By Fuchsia Dunlop

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

Why this book?

The first westerner to study as a Sichuan cook in China, Dunlop has an overwhelming passion for Chinese food. She flings herself into any situation where she can learn about ingredients, recipes, or techniques, she elbows her way into kitchens and market stalls, and she even tries, without much success, to interest the Chinese in Western food. Love for China and the Chinese spills out from every page, along with charming anecdotes and mouth-watering recipes.


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The Banquet Bug

By Geling Yan

The Banquet Bug

Why this book?

Released in my native Britain as The Uninvited, Yan’s novel offers an unexpected angle on Chinese food by presenting the banquet as the place in China where alliances are forged, deals are done, and palms are greased. Her hero is a member of the Beijing underclass who somehow finds himself gate-crashing big society feasts. Pretending to be a journalist ready to be “entertained”, he discovers food he never dreamed of, but also comes to develop a sense of social responsibility. He starts to inhabit the part he is playing, and becomes not an uninvited guest, but a crusader on the behalf of the downtrodden. Or does he…?


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Slippery Noodles

By Hsiang Ju Lin

Slippery Noodles

Why this book?

Thick with Chinese-language citations, and seasoned heavily with recipes from the pages of history, Lin’s book is a real insider’s view of how it feels not only to taste Chinese food, but live inside the world it creates. She retells famous stories from the history of food in China, and quotes extensively from manuals that are otherwise unavailable to English-speaking readers. A wonderful buffet of a book, that you can pick at and graze upon for days.


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From Canton Restaurant to Panda Express: A History of Chinese Food in the United States

By Haiming Liu

From Canton Restaurant to Panda Express: A History of Chinese Food in the United States

Why this book?

It was hard finding just one book out of the many that have been written about Chinese food’s fortune’s abroad, but Liu ably chronicles a love-affair that is as old as the United States themselves, which begins with would-be rebels throwing chests of Fujian tea into Boston harbor. Liu points to the long history of Chinese in America, and the impact they have had as laborers, miners and cooks, particularly for low-income groups who welcomed the rarity of the warm hash dishes that came to be known as chop suey. This is a book that allows the reader the chance to appreciate the degree to which “Chinese” food in America is in a world, and a class, all of its own.


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How to Cook and Eat in Chinese

By Buwei Yang Chao

How to Cook and Eat in Chinese

Why this book?

First published in 1945, and reissued in many later editions, Chao’s book was immensely influential on the spread of American food in China. An academic and medical professional who fell into Chinese food-advocacy by accident, she presents a series of everyday recipes, “things for folk like you and me” that were nevertheless impossibly exotic at the time she was writing. Her book is a fascinating time capsule of attitudes and assumptions in the era before America could boast of a Chinese restaurant in every suburb, but also a no-nonsense cookbook for the beginner.


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