The best books on Sichuan province

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Sichuan province and why they recommend each book.

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Land of Plenty

By Fuchsia Dunlop,

Book cover of Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking

Written by another westerner who studied in China and fell in love with the food, in this case the distinctive food of Szechuan. Once again an outsider’s perspective allows for a clear step-by-step introduction to the flavors and recipes of a complex and delicious cuisine.

Who am I?

I am a chef, author, and consultant, living and working primarily in New York City,  best known for my restaurant, Chanterelle, which I owned and operated for 30 years. Chanterelle was much loved and highly regarded, receiving numerous accolades including 4 James Beard Foundation awards and 2 four-star reviews from the New York Times. I also wrote 2 cookbooks, Chanterelle, the Story and Recipes of a Restaurant Classic, and Staff Meals from Chanterelle. Though my first love is French cuisine, I have had a long-standing affair with Asian, primarily Chinese food. I love cooking Chinese for myself, friends, and family, and have also incorporated elements of the cuisine into my professional cooking.

I wrote...

Staff Meals from Chanterelle

By David Waltuck,

Book cover of Staff Meals from Chanterelle

What is my book about?

For “Staff Meals” I chose to focus on the accessible, homey, and satisfying dishes that I prepared for the crew at Chanterelle restaurant, rather than the more complex and refined dishes served to our diners, which are featured in my second book, “Chanterelle”. The eclectic assortment of recipes in “Staff Meals” includes a number of Chinese and other Asian-inspired dishes.

River Town

By Peter Hessler,

Book cover of River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

Considered by many to be the gold standard of the Peace Corps memoir genre, this volunteer’s account is resplendent in its imagery, witty insights, and down-to-earth prose. The depiction of day-to-day life serving as a schoolteacher in China, interspersed with the challenges of learning a new language and culture, and the occasional plunge into the history of the region (anthropologically, geographically, and politically) round out the narrative to give the reader an immersive cultural experience unlike any other. The narrative’s boots-on-the-ground perspective gives the reader a true insider peek at life in China—at turns baffling, humorous, poignant, and, above all, fascinating.

Who am I?

I am a returned U.S. Peace Corps volunteer who served as a community health worker and educator in Zambia from 2004-2006. My highly-anticipated debut memoir, The Color of the Elephant: Memoir of a Muzungu, a Zola Award finalist, releases January 2022. As an avid reader of adventurous, fish-out-of-water tales, I’ve read dozens of memoirs by fellow Peace Corps volunteers who’ve served all around the world from the 1960s to the present day. These are my top picks based on literary merit, engaging storytelling, and pure heart.

I wrote...

The Color of the Elephant

By Christine Herbert,

Book cover of The Color of the Elephant

What is my book about?

An outstanding new voice in memoir, Christine Herbert takes the reader on a “time-machine tour” of her Peace Corps volunteer service as a health worker and educator from 2004-2006 in Zambia. Rather than a retrospective, this narrative unfolds in the present tense, propelling the reader alongside the memoirist through a fascinating exploration of a life lived “off the grid.”

At turns harrowing, playful, dewy-eyed, and wise, the author’s heart and candor illuminate every chapter, whether she is the heroine of the tale or her own worst enemy. Even at her most petulant, the laugh-out-loud humor scuppers any “white savior” mentality and lays bare the undeniable humanity—and humility—of the storyteller. Through it all, an undeniable love for Zambia—its people, land, and culture—shines through. A must-read for the armchair adventurer!

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

By Fuchsia Dunlop,

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

In China there’s an expression that roughly translates, “It’s not a meal without alcohol.” The converse is equally true: Chinese alcohol yearns to be paired with food. This list would thus be incomplete without a book that seriously delves into Chinese food culture. And in many ways, my own journey into Chinese spirits was an unintentional compliment to Dunlop’s earlier book. We both learned from local experts, followed our respective passions around China, and spent the bulk of our time in the idyllic Sichuanese capital of Chengdu. I especially appreciate Dunlop’s willingness to explore uncomfortable cultural dissonances, and the compelling and poignant case she makes for overcoming them.

Who am I?

Derek Sandhaus is an award-winning American author of several books on Chinese history and culture. He worked as an editor, publisher, and tour guide in Shanghai, then moved to Chengdu and turned to drink. In 2018 he co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu with China’s oldest distillery, and now spends most of his time talking about Chinese alcohol to anyone who will listen. He currently lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and a very well-traveled dog.

I wrote...

Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

By Derek Sandhaus,

Book cover of Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

What is my book about?

China is one of the world’s leading producers and consumers of liquor, with alcohol infusing all aspects of its culture, from religion and literature to business and warfare. Yet to the outside world, China’s most famous spirit, baijiu, remains a mystery. This is about to change, as baijiu is now being served in cocktail bars beyond its borders.

Drunk in China follows Derek Sandhaus’s journey of discovery into the world’s oldest drinking culture. He travels throughout the country and around the globe to meet with distillers, brewers, snake-oil salesmen, archaeologists, and ordinary drinkers. He examines the many ways in which alcohol has shaped Chinese society and its rituals. Along the way, he uncovers a tradition spanning more than nine thousand years and explores how recent economic and political developments have conspired to push Chinese alcohol beyond the nation’s borders for the first time. As Chinese society becomes increasingly international, its drinking culture must also adapt to the times. Can the West also adapt and clink glasses with China? 

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