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on May 19, 2008
As the Introduction states, the world's borders would look very different if based upon food and culture. Chinese Muslims don't eat pork, and in rural Tibet, chicken is considered inedible. There are papayas in the south of China, and millet in the hot arid regions.

Beyond The Great Wall layers many elements on a strong foundation of interesting recipes - maps, food anthropology, and travel notes, generously illustrated with the authors' truly spectacular location photos, and evocative studio photos by Richard Jung, each carefully captioned.

The recipes require few special ingredients, and when they do, the resulting combination is a revelation, such as chile paste spiked with Sichuan peppercorns, or pomegranate-marinated lamb kebabs. Each recipe is thoughtfully introduced with suggestions for meal combinations, the dish's origin, thoughts on timing and ease of preparation. Eating your vegetables will be more interesting with new takes on salad, soup and vegetable sides. The Beef-Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad was a huge hit in my house when I was recipe-testing for the authors.

The bread chapter includes flatbreads, a loaf baked in a lidded pot, and little stuffed breads. For experienced noodle-makers, the variations in shaping and saucing are fascinating. For those new to handmade noodles, the pinch method in Earlobe Noodles provides an easy introduction.

The book doesn't pretend to be a catalog of "authentic" recipes, which would have us searching for riverweed or camel meat, and drying yak cheese on a yak-dung fire. Rather, this is a cookbook for those who want to enjoy foods and flavors from that part of the world, respectfully translated into the Western kitchen. And for those interested in tasting at the source, there is advice on planning a trip and sample itineraries. Fans of the authors' previous books will appreciate that the travel stories are attributed to either Naomi or Jeff. Finally, the Glossary is a good read in itself - how sprouting changes the nutrients in beans, or how to choose and make the most of Sichuan peppercorns.

My advice: buy this book and engage it like you would a wonderful ranging conversation with well-traveled, forthright friends.
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VINE VOICEon May 10, 2008
Despite the glossy cover, this cookbook has been over 20 years in the making. It dates back to the authors' travels in tibet in the 80s, and then when plans for the book were made by their book agent, of further research trips in the 00s. Having visited China during the same timeframe dating to the 80s, I can attest to the wonderment of discovering the "other" China, of meeting caucasian chinese citizens from turkic tribes who speak perfect mandarin, of tasting perfect kebobs and roasts from mongolian and muslims cooks, of the religious mysticism of tibet. and it is this exotic "other" china on which this book is based on.

Since authentic cookbooks of even relatively well known minorities such as tibetans are hard to come by in english (and I suspect in chinese as well), it is a real treat to discover the cuisines of the uighurs and the mongols, and the dai and the hani, albeit for the most part reverse-engineered by the authors. Interspersed between the recipes are the authors' travel anecdotes of varying quality.

Indeed, it is their traveller's perspective passing through and re-engineering the dishes that admittedly exposes my own bias and ultimately my reservations about the book. With the bar for cookbooks set ever higher, the gold standard is for ethnic cookbooks to be written by cultural residents in the locales where the food is from, whether native or adopted, these people have had presumably years of experience making the food, as well as, the language skills and acumen(to get published!) in order to communicate this to us in the western mass market.

i certainly await the day when an enterprising young tuvan or uighur can share her grandmother's recipes with us (perhaps most likely in a blog rather than a glossy cookbook) but until that day comes, this book will remain a treasure.

i've had the pleasure of attending a forum hosted by james oseland, inviting jeff and naomi to discuss their new book. but i paid for my copy and do not have any financial disclosures to declare.
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on March 3, 2012
I had high hopes for this book, of finding interesting and exotic recipes from inner Asia and the Himalayas, etc. It's a good idea for a cookbook. However, the reality of it doesn't live up to the idea. The recipes aren't really that interesting. For example, there is a Tuvan recipe. Tuva! Most people don't even know of Tuva! However, when you turn to the recipe, the authors say that they're not sure if this is really a Tuvan recipe or a Khazakh one. And it turns out just to be basically a noodle and meat dish. Yawn. If they wanted to get interesting, they should have included a reindeer meat dish from Tuvan reindeer herders.

The book does have a lot of historical and geographical information, though, which I think is good for a book like this. For example, there is a chart of Asian language groups (Altaic-Turkic-Mongolic, etc), which you wouldn't normally expect in a cookbook, but which makes it more interesting to read a cookbook like this. And this is really what this cookbook is for: sitting on the couch and touring Asia in your lap rather than cooking up a storm of interesting foods. The book is very large and heavy and makes an extremely impressive coffee table book. Get it for that, but not for culinary satisfaction.
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on August 20, 2008
People should put aside any political thoughts about this book. It is a beautiful book and travelogue by the authors who have extensively travelled in the area and write the text portions based on their own experiences. I found no strong hints of any political agenda. What I found instead was an extremely interesting commentary on the wildly varied peoples of China - from all regions lesser known - including Tibetans. The photographs are stunning, showing the beauty of these people. The recipes are simple and easily followed even for those of us who don't always have access to exotic ingredients (alternatives are given). The book makes me want to visit these areas, meet these people and eat the food. What can be bad about that?
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on July 2, 2008
To the gentleman from china with the one-star rating. Patriotism can be a good thing. But this is a cookbook -- it's not a political tract. I own all the cookbooks this pair of folks has put out. They're wonderful writers, photographers and cooks. They show us all part of the world we'll never get to see.
Do they have opinions about Tibet ... quite possibly. I haven't received the book yet. But you waste your energy is posting a review like you did. It works against you, sir, and undercuts your cause. Reasonable people can disagree about the China/Tibet situation (can't they?). But to think that this cookbook is being released now to make a statement against China is just not plausible. China has plenty to be proud of (as the authors have shown in several of their earlier books). Your review does not reflect well on China.
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on May 28, 2008
Beyond the Great Wall... Beyond a Great cookbook.Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China
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on June 14, 2008
Not only a marvelous recounting of fascinating travels, but in addition an interesting cookbook and recipes of foods that one would possibly overlook as Chinese. The images are superb of the not only the food, but the area and people, adding an additional dimension. If one has any interest in Asian ethnic foods, this book is well worthwhile having in your library.
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on July 12, 2012
My household likes to try different foods. Years ago, we were given "Hot Sour Salty Sweet" as a gift and have been enjoying recipes out of it ever since. My husband decided that he wanted a new cookbook and I saw that the authors had done this.... I read the reviews and decided to jump in; I am so glad that I did. We have been enjoying the food since the arrival of this new favorite cookbook. My six year old loves the Mongolian beef and has a great time with all of the dipping sauces. My husband and I are enjoying the mixture of flavors and spices. Fantastic book.
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on February 21, 2014
I first saw this book before traveling and living in China. The pictures are enthralling and beautiful, and I love the concept. Being a bit more familiar with the food after my travels around much of Sichuan (where I lived), Yunnan, Guangxi etc., I was hoping to get access and insight into some of my favorites. Unfortunately, many of these recipes are more educated guesses and slightly watered-down adaptations for less-intrepid travelers. And that's a fine intro, just not what I wanted. Also, perhaps since this book was researched, many of the "hard to find" ingredients for recipes that have admittedly been omitted, are now available or easily approximated with similar items, especially if you live near a Chinatown. There are also, with a bit of patience, some amazing bilingual bloggers all around Asia, so I'd probably track those down instead, if you know what you're looking for.
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Beyond the Great Wall is a gorgeous volume. I can, without hesitation, give it a 4-star rating based solely on its photography and the foodie detail that it imparts. But if you're looking for a Chinese cookbook full of answers to "What should I make tonight?" -- this isn't the book you want. Beyond the Great Wall is a great book for your living room, but in the couple of months I've had it, it hasn't found its way into the kitchen once.

The premise is marvelous: the food and culture of the "other" China, such as Tibet and Mongolia, the people who are not ethnically Chinese yet are part of the country's food heritage. Authors Alford and Duguid have traveled around these regions for decades, and the depth of their knowledge shines. The essays are outstanding. They tell wonderful stories about bus rides, about shopping in food markets, about the history of ingredients. The photography of these areas makes me want to book a trip to China immediately, and the food pictures are mouthwatering.

But for recipes... these dishes obviously are authentic, but they don't thrill me. I haven't seen a single recipe that makes me say, "Wow, honey, let's make THAT for dinner!" Nothing here is a turnoff, and recipes like "chicken pulao with pumpkin" or "dai grilled fish" (something perch-like with a filling of scallions, cilantro, and red chili flakes) sound pretty good. Maybe I'll eventually try a few. But I'm happier looking at the photos; nothing makes me reach for my grocery list to ensure I buy all the ingredients. Moreover, the book isn't printed in such a way that I want to cook from it; the font size is small, and it'd be hard to glance at the instructions in the middle of a big wok-stirring session.

Please don't let that dissuade you from buying the book. I just want you to buy it for the right purposes: armchair travel for foodies, where the recipes illustrate the text rather than dominate it. If you know someone who loves food, this would be an awesome holiday present.
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