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Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking Hardcover – June, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Elizabeth David had it easy. All she had to do was eat her way through France and Italy and translate the essence of the encountered cuisines for a ravenous, literate, English-speaking public. Fuschia Dunlop, on the other hand, went to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan in China, where she ended up the first foreign student enrolled at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. That was nearly 10 years ago. After annual return visits and endless research she has produced, in English, a magnificent introduction to the food and foodways of Sichuan. She is in every way the dharma inheritor of Elizabeth David.

You too may start to salivate halfway through the introduction to Dunlop's magnificent Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. Perhaps it begins when she explains xian, "one of the most beautiful words in the Chinese culinary language." It describes an entire range of flavor and sensation, "the indefinable, delicious taste of fresh meat, poultry, and seafood, the scrumptious flavors of a pure chicken soup..." Before you know it you are running headlong into a world of 23 distinct flavors and 56 cooking methods (they are all listed at the end of the book). Sichuan is the place where "barbarian peppers" met up with a natural cornucopia and a literary cooking tradition stretching back to the fifth century A.D. Innovation with cooking technique and new and challenging ingredients remains a hallmark of Sichuan. After describing basic cutting skills and cooking techniques, Dunlop presents her recipes in chapters that include "Noodles, Dumplings, and Other Street Treats"; "Appetizers"; "Meat"; "Poultry"; "Fish"; "Vegetables and Bean Curd"; "Stocks and Soup"; "Sweet Dishes"; and "Hotpot." Yes, you will find Gong Bao (Kung Pao) Chicken with Peanuts--Gong Bao Ji Ding. It's named after a late 19th-century governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen, which brought on the wrath of the Cultural Revolution for its imperial associations. Until rehabilitation, the dish was called "fast-fried chicken cubes" or "chicken cubes with seared chilies."

Land of Plenty is literary food writing at its best, as well as a marvelous invitation to new skills and flavors for the home cook. Read it. Cook it. Eat it. And take pleasure in the emerging career of Fuschia Dunlop, a big new voice in the world of food. --Schuyler Ingle

From Publishers Weekly

Sichuan cuisine, renowned for its spicy notes and hot flavors, is famous in Chinese history and lore for its variety and richness of tastes and layers. Dunlop, who writes about Chinese food and culture for the Economist, has produced a volume that is sure to take its place among the classics of Chinese cuisine. Drawing on her experience as a student at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China and on many Chinese sources, she conveys the history and geography that make this cuisine so different from the other regions and so varied-the region boasts 5,000 different dishes. After discussing the tastes and textures that form Chinese cuisine in general, Dunlop describes cooking methods, equipment and the pantry before diving into the recipes. From such traditional dishes as Strange-Flavor Chicken (aka Bang Bang Chicken) to Hot-and-Sour Soup that have made the region famous, to the simple Zucchini Slivers with Garlic to the appealing Spicy Cucumber Salad, she engagingly describes dishes and their context, much in the style of Elizabeth David and Claudia Roden. Ending with sections entitled "The 23 Flavors of Sichuan" and "The 56 Cooking Methods of Sichuan," the book is a pleasure-both to cook from and to read.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 395 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st American Ed edition (June 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393051773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393051773
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Fuchsia Dunlop is a cook and food-writer specialising in Chinese cuisine. She was the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine, and has spent much of the last two decades exploring China and its food. Her first book, 'Land of Plenty' (published in the UK as 'Sichuan Cookery') won the Jeremy Round Award for best first book, and was listed in the top ten of the Observer's '50 Best Cookbooks of All Time'. 'Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province' was shortlisted for two major awards, while 'Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China' won the IACP Jane Grigson Award and the Kate Whiteman Award for writing on food and travel. Her latest book, 'Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking', was published in 2012.

Fuchsia's articles have appeared in many publications, including The Financial Times, The New Yorker, Gourmet, Saveur, and The Observer. In 2012 she won the James Beard Foundation Award for writing on food culture and travel.

Fuchsia's favourite Chinese recipe is Fish-Fragrant Eggplants (yu xiang qie zi).

For more information, visit Fuchsia's website, www.fuchsiadunlop.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I was very surprised when I found this book in this library, because authentic Chinese cookbooks are difficult enough to find, and anything regional and non-Cantonese even rarer. I myself had never been to Sichuan, though my family did often dined at excellent Sichuan restaurants in Taiwan.

Before I proceed to the recipes, let me state that having read the book several times already (!), this is by far the best regional cookbook on Chinese cooking I've read in English. The author has a talent for combining the precise instruction needed for writing a cookbook and a poetic flair for capturing the local attitude to food. Knowing that most of her audience would likely be unfamiliar with daily life in Sichuan, often a mystery even to outside Chinese, she details the street life there. One of my favorite part is that consequently, her cooking is mostly based on home style and street food rather than haute banquet cuisine (though there are a few recipes of those too). I find this a prudent choice, as banquet food are almost always too elaborate for home cooks, and few things reflect regional cuisine as well as street food.

Most of the recipes are pretty straight forward, and addictively delicious. I've made some from the noodles section are my favorite, as I'm a big fan of snack food. Most of these food do not require more than a good cleaver, wok, and standard kitchen equipment to make. However, the Sichuan peppercorn is an absolute essential. Regarding to another review's warning, I believe the ban on fagara has been lifted, given that the pepper be subjected to high heat before import. Simple googling will turn up the sources.

Another caveat, though it's not the really the author's fault, is that there were surprisingly few vegetable dishes, and even fewer vegetarian.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are no steamed dishes but mostly require wok frying so the recipes aren't the healthiest but they are not that oily either (two teaspoons of oil in the wok and one teaspoon of sesame oil in the sauce for the Kung POW!)

The layout of the book is encouraging and I had no problem reaching for it when I am at a loss over what to cook for dinner. Luckily I have chili peppers and sichuan peppercorn in my larder now so I am well-prepared to tackle these recipes which call for simple ingredients but the resulting flavors are complex and addictive. Once that ginger meets the sichuan pepper infused oil, one can taste the deliciousness of the dish by fragrance alone.

I also understand what Chinese takeout food is all about now. These flavors are crowd pleasers and an unskilled cook like myself enjoys a 100% pass rating from picky eaters when these dishes are served.

This is a perfect book and I laugh at Fuschia Dunlop's photo because I think her smile is like my inner smile when I see or think of something good to eat. My only regret with the layout is that the order of the ingredients for the marinade and the sauce are not in the same order so that if I need cornstarch in both liquids, I can use one measuring spoon for two ramekins.

Because of this book, I purchased sichuan peppercorns, my first ever pricey knife, a Krups coffee grinder, more sesame oil, two bottles of Jonesy port and more cutting boards. The lip smacking flavors of Sichuanese cuisine are that motivating.
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Format: Hardcover
The mark of a good cookbook is that it get used a lot, and in just a few months my copy of Land of Plenty has acquired a variety of drips, splotches, and stains from its very frequent trips into my kitchen.

I was fortunate enough to spend several weeks in Chengdu and Chongqing a few years ago, and the recipes in this book do a fantastic job of recreating the smells and flavors I remember from my trip. Literally every single recipe I've tried from this book has been a winner, and the Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken) has become a weekly standard around our place. My girlfriend, a native Chinese, has repeatedly commented that the flavors of these recipes taste authentic to her memories of eating at Sichuanese restaurants in China.

As previous reviewers noted, Sichuan peppercorns, which are a key flavoring ingredient in some of these dishes, are indeed slowly making a comeback in the US. However, they still seem to be very hard to find outside of major Chinatowns like NYC and San Francisco. I eventually found a few Internet sources, such as the CMC Company, and was able to purchase them that way (and it was well worth it).
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Format: Hardcover
One reviewer warned that the U.S. Dep't of Agriculture's ban on the importation of Sichuan peppercorns limited the utility of this terrific book. Be advised that in the three years since that review was written, the U.S. has lifted the ban. I know because I bought some today, at a spice store in Chicago.
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Format: Hardcover
I should preface this review by saying that there really is a lot to like about this book. The author has a warm, friendly voice, and the recipes, which are quite varied and span a large range of flavors despite being all primarily Sichuan in origin, have appetite appeal right off the bat. I enjoy Sichuan food, having discovered it through a childhood neighbor from Sichuan province. When I went away to college, she gave me as a parting gift another book on Sichuan food, Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook by Ellen Schrecker. This was before Land of Plenty and was probably the only Sichuan cookbook widely in circulation at the time. I've used it successfully for years.

But, when Land of Plenty came out, surrounded by positive buzz, I didn't want to be behind the times. I immediately rushed out to get it and started cooking from it with fervor, trying out Dunlop's versions of the same foods I used to make from Schrecker's. Now, I do want to keep this review as untainted as possible by my love for the other book, but I just couldn't help but compare the two. And, in my opinion, Land of Plenty is clearly the inferior book.

There are a few reasons why I believe this to be so. First of all, Dunlop's recipes are a bit simplified from their original versions. Not westernized, but a few differences here and there which might not matter to non-Chinese cooks but would be noticeable to a Sichuan person. One example would be Dunlop's recipe for Gong Bao Chicken (one of the few recipes that are superior in this book to Mrs. Chiang's version), using roasted peanuts instead of raw peanuts which are deep fried yourself. Does it really matter in the end? Maybe not, but a Sichuan cook is going to deep fry their peanuts.
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