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Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China Paperback – August 24, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (August 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393332888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393332889
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Food writer Dunlop is better known in the U.K., where her comprehensive volumes on Sichuanese and Hunanese cuisine carved out her niche and eventually became contemporary classics. Turning to personal narrative through the backstory and consequences of her fascination with China, she produces an autobiographical food-and-travel classic of a narrowly focused but rarefied order. Dunlop's initial 1992 trip to Sichuan proved so enthralling that she later obtained a year's residential study scholarship in the provincial capital, Chengdu. There, her enrollment in the local Institute of Higher Cuisine, a professional chef's program, created a cultural exchange program of a specialized kind. The research for and success of her resulting cookbooks permitted Dunlop to return to China in a more experienced role as chef and writer; that led to this reflective memoir, which probes into the author's search for kitchens in the Forbidden City as well as the people and places of remote West China. One key to this supple and affectionate book is its time frame: by arriving in China in the middle of vast economic upheavals, Dunlop explored and experienced the country and its culture as it was transforming into a postcommunist communism. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“An insightful, entertaining, scrupulously reported exploration of China’s foodways and a swashbuckling memoir. . . . What makes it a distinguished contribution to the literature of gastronomy is its demonstration . . . that food is not a mere reflection of culture but a potent shaper of cultural identity.” (Dawn Drzal - New York Times)

“I didn’t realize what a self-satisfied, Western-hemisphere food snob I was until I read Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper. . . . This is not just a smart memoir about cross-cultural eating but one of the most engaging books of any kind I’ve read in years.” (Celia Barbour - O, The Oprah Magazine)

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,

Customer Reviews

The quality of the writing is a definite step above most books of this sort.
Sun Wukong
I own Fuschia's two cookbooks, but had the opportunity to read this as a library "new purchase" ... before deciding to purchase my own copy.
Though the book focusses on Sichuan cuisine, she does give insight into China's other culinary traditions as well.
Matthew B. Christensen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Sun Wukong on June 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book on many levels. The quality of the writing is a definite step above most books of this sort. The discussions of regional cuisines, culinary training, and attitudes towards food both contemporary and historical are fascinating. This book, however, is about more than food. Ms. Dunlop lived in Sichuan in a particularly interesting time, when rapid changes in the economy, politics, and society were laying the groundwork for the huge economic growth of the late 90's and present. I lived in China for two years in the early 90's (though in a different city from Ms. Dunlop, and I've never met her) and her descriptions of many of the contradictions and complexities of being a foreigner in China at the time are truly spot on. She looks at her experiences with a degree of self-awareness that is rare in books of this sort. There is little romanticism here, and when she does romanticize her experiences, she quickly pulls back and comments on the contradictory impulses she feels. This book richly deserves all five stars. Please note that the one single-star review it receives is by someone who admits she has not read the book and simply objects to the practice of shark-finning. Had the reviewer read the book, she would see that Ms. Dunlop ends up taking a highly critical perspective on many aspects of Chinese culinary practices, including the needlessly cruel methods of preparation, etc. This is as interesting and intelligent a memoir about food and China in this period as one is ever likely to encounter. I highly recommend it.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Darby on September 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of the relatively few books out there that I can say, without reservation, that I completely enjoyed to the least and last ... even the somewhat whimsical final chapter about the caterpiller.

Others have already reviewed the book in considerable detail, so I'll just add a few short tidbits that stood out for me in particular ...

* I absolutely adore Ms. Dunlop's adventerous spirit. Theodore Roosevelt's famous "man in the arena" speech somes readily to mind.

* I also admire, and heartily agree with, Ms. Dunlop's astute observations regarding certain silly and deeply ingrained western culinary biases ... such as a general dislike or aversion to rubbery textures, bone-in cuts, offal, bitter vegetables, etc. I also share her love for adventerous dining ... and her disapproval of those who conspicuously indulge in endangered species.

* I also deeply appreciate her efforts to not just share her culinary travels, but also her insights, immersive personal experiences, and the socio-political context of her travels ... it greatly helps to humanize the book for the reader. Disappointingly few authors succeed in that vein. Some successful examples (of fully immersive travel memoirs) are Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence", and Joseph Campbell's "Sake and Satori". Both are highly recommended - the latter in particular, for those who enjoy high-brow reading.

My one minor nit with this book are Ms. Dunlop's recipes ... she does a wonderful job in leading up to the recipes themselves in order to give full weight and background to her personal experience and attachment to each (something too few cookbook authors do in their headnotes). However, the recipes themselves are somewhat imprecise in places ...
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Online Acquirer on April 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Fuchsia Dunlop has a yen for Sichuan cuisine and culture, having spent her graduate school years in Chengdu and attending various cooking schools there. A true pioneer in cross-cultural exploration, she was one of the first expatriates who went "native", at least in a culinary sense.

This easy reading book is more travel journal rather then cook book. You follow her step by step as she goes deeper and deeper into the culinary technique, aesthetic and philosophy that makes up Chinese cooking and eating. Besides her kitchen and dinner table encounters, the book also portrays the torrid pace of change that China has undergone this past decade. She covers the major differences between Occidental and Chinese ideas of good eats - freshness, texture/mouth-feel, the idea of what's edible. A very fun read - I finished this book in three nights.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By avoraciousreader on June 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A sweetsour memoir of eating in China
Fuchsia Dunlop, 2008

As the title says, this is not a cookbook or precisely a book on or about food, but a memoir of Fuchsia Dunlop's time in China, with the emphasis on her culinary experiences and endeavors. It covers an eventful -- both for Dunlop and for China -- fifteen years, from her first visit in 1992 to one (hopefully not the last) in 2007. Originally a Chinese region specialist for the BBC, she applied for a fellowship to study in China, with an emphasis on minority cultures, was accepted, and in 1994 showed up at Sichuan University in Chengdu.

She rapidly became inebriated with the vital dining scene in Chengdu, and (to hear her tell it) largely abandoned the ostensible purpose of her studies. Fortunately for Dunlop and us, Sichuan had both a deserved reputation for being slow and casual (things were possible for a foreigner there that would not have been in more modern cities), and a rich and highly developed style of cookery. Far from being the simple blisteringly hot excess of chilis that it has the reputation for in the West, Sichuan cooking as practiced in Chengdu emphasizes a careful balance of flavors and ingredients, with hundreds of unique flavors and textures; no more a one-note anvil of chilis and the lip-numbing Sichuan peppercorn than Indian food is a single all purpose "curry powder" blend.

We have a few chapters devoted to her increasing love affair with Sichuan food and life, and her gradual accomodation to the variety of ingredients, from 'offal' to rabbit heads to insects.
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