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Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China Paperback – Bargain Price, May 22, 2009

34 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, May 22, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Chinese-American journalist Lin-Liu's delightful mixture of memoir and cookbook records her years living and working in Shanghai and Beijing, when she attended a vocational cooking school and discovered a passion for Chinese cooking and culture. Growing up in the U.S. to Taiwan-born parents, the author admits feeling alienated from her heritage when she first moved to China in 2000; a graduate of an American journalism school, she eventually became the food editor at TimeOut Beijing. Moving between Shanghai and Beijing, she begins her account with her frustrating yet ultimately rewarding study at the Hualian Cooking School in Beijing, where she apprenticed to one of the school's instructors, Chairman Wang, an old-style cook raised during the Cultural Revolution, who taught the author the rudiments of chopping, shopping and how to pass the cooking exam. Despite the flimsy certificate, bias against women working in professional kitchens and the reluctance to hire foreigners, Lin-Liu found work at Chef Zhang's noodle stall serving migrant workers and at the popular dumpling house Xian'r Lao Man; she later snagged a plum internship at Jereme Leung's upscale Shanghai restaurant, Whampoa Club. Incorporating stories of many of the Chinese she worked alongside (and their recipes), as well as trips to the MSG factory in Henan or to the rice-growing Guangxi province, Lin-Liu offers a thoroughgoing, spirited celebration of overcoming cultural barriers. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Lin-Liu is a charming guide to modern China and its kaleidoscopic cuisine."--People

"Serve the People is light fare, a delicately crafted steamed dumpling of a book. It's peppered with delicious descriptions, authentic recipes, humorous anecdotes and all the goodness of a young woman who finds her way in life, and even falls in love."--International Herald Tribune

"A mouthwatering tale of the thriving culinary scene in today's China--top rated by Zagat."--Nina and Tim Zagat, co-Founders and co-Chairs of Zagat Survey

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (May 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156033747
  • ASIN: B004KAB7WQ
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,496,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on August 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A Chinese American whose family fled to Taiwan (and later the US) after the revolution, journalist, food-writer and now cooking school owner, Lin-Liu knew little about cooking when she came to China in 2000. She soon realized that food was such an integral part of Chinese life, she would better understand the culture if she understood the food.

Enrolling in a Beijing vocational cooking school teaches her just how alien and American she is. The other students are male, they question nothing in class and do the minimum to get by. She, in contrast, seems loud, pushy and rich.

Humorous and energetic, her account of getting through school (with much help and great difficulty) and then apprenticing first at a noodle stall and later, in Shanghai, at a fancy restaurant, illuminates much about everyday life in China's cities. Staffed by migrants from China's rural provinces, restaurants offer diverse cuisines and backbreaking labor, perfectionalism and cut corners.

Lin-Liu learns stories about the Cultural Revolution while cooking, finds a long history of hardship in "exotic" ingredients like eyeballs and jellyfish, discovers China's cultural diversity in its many cuisines, and Chinese provincialism in tourists' unwillingness to eat anything but their own foods.

Her enthusiastic culinary tour of the culture is peppered with recipes for dumpling fillings, noodles and traditional favorites like Drunken Chicken and Fish Fragrant Pork Shreds as well as the (mostly difficult) stories of the individuals she meets.

Entertaining and eye-opening, Lin-Liu's portrait of modern China reflects its changing trends and attitudes and its timeless cuisine.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mark Satlof on August 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Between this wonderful book and another I'd also highly recommend, Why the Chinese Don't Count Calories, I have become immersed in Chinese food culture recently, to the point that my kids tease me about becoming Chinese. Luckily I live in NYC and have a few Chinatowns to choose from, so it's been congee on the way to work for a couple of months now.

Jen's personal search to learn Chinese cooking (and to practice it) is inspiring...telling about her travels and travails through a China in a tug of war between its culinary past and its current rush towards modernization.

I could tell just by looking at them that the dozen or 20 recipes, relating to each chapter of Jen's journey, would be delicious and the few I've tried so far more than live up to their promise.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By G. K. Sauer on October 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
I really liked the beginning of this book. In the beginning I felt I was learning more complete stories about the people of China and the culture. I loved the recipes throughout, though I have not tried any - I can tell that they are possible and would taste pretty good. Towards the end, it almost felt like she just wanted to get the book done with. I didn't feel the engagement towards the characters as I did at the beginning and it hopped around a bit more. I didn't feel complete at the end, it just kind of ended. Overall, it was a good read with great recipes.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lindsay Johnson on June 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
My mother returned from China with tales of duck tongue and fried chicken feet being offered up as authentic dishes for diners. Personally, I found this both fascinating and a little disgusting - it was this mix of wonder and dread that led me to pick up this book penned by Jen Lin-Liu, a Chinese-American journalist trying to find her culinary way in the cities and towns of China. Beginning in a Beijing cooking school where she struggles to be taken seriously, to a tiny noodle shop, to the kitchen of a famous fine dining establishment in Shanghai, Jen Lin-Liu provides a well-written account of her search to understand multifaceted, often obfuscated China. Our stomachs become the vehicle to uncover how China has changed politically, socially, economically, and gastronomically since its "liberation." The people introduced in this book have remarkable stories and the short esposés scattered throughout the text (on MSG among other things)demonstrate Lin-Liu's strength as a journalist. Her aptitude as a chef is evident through the inclusion of numerous recipes discussed in the body of her writing.

There are a number of things to admire in this text as well and as a few things that might turn the average American reader's stomach; Lin-Liu is induced to try a number if unappetizing things including dog meat and animal genitalia. If you can get beyond the "ick" factor of these brief encounters, this book has a great deal to offer in terms of its unique insight. The only time if fell short for me was near the very end when Lin-Liu falls in love and her writing moves from descriptive to mushy (a different type of "ick" factor). In my mind it took away from an otherwise polished story of self discovery set against the backdrop of cultural exploration.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By G. Howell on September 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book will be enjoyed by anyone who likes to eat. It's a must for anyone who likes to cook, and an absolute must for anyone who wants to enhance the insight gained by reading travel guides before (or after) traveling to China.
The author's writing style places her sitting in your living room, telling you about her adventures!
Gotta run, I've got more Chinese food cooking to try!
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