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The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen Hardcover – May 5, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Grace Young is a culinary sister to novelist Amy Tan. In The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, along with sharing recipes from her family, Young immerses the reader in Chinese culture and the Chinese American experience of San Francisco's Chinatown, where she grew up. This personal book began with Young's wish to preserve the Cantonese dishes prepared by her parents and extended family. Since they cooked by instinct, the only way to record their recipes was by observing her mother, father, and aunties while they cooked, and by asking endless questions. These kitchen conversations also became a way to elicit untold family history from her deeply traditional and reticent parents.

Each chapter opens with an essay intertwining biographical stories with information about Chinese food and healing. The blending of culinary information and cultural observations is powerfully realized, perhaps because Young shows old-fashioned respect along with a contemporary perspective. The result is both affectionate and enthralling. You can vividly picture the meticulous choreography as her parents make dinner in their tiny kitchen, reaching over steaming pots and rushing the steaming food to the table.

Young delves into the hows and whys of Cantonese home cooking, with particular attention to technique and ingredients: Chinese broccoli with flowers should be avoided because the bright yellow blossoms indicate the stalks are too old. Steaming is valued because it draws out the intense flavors near the bone in chicken, fish, and meat, leaving them tender and moist.

Many dishes are elementally simple. Hot-and-Sour Soup is fired solely by aromatic white pepper. White Chicken is perfumed just with ginger and garlic. Some choices are quick and easy, as in stir-fried Bean Sprouts, while others require long and elaborate preparation, like savory Rice Tamales stuffed with pork, Chinese sausage, and duck egg yolks and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Anyone who enjoys eating Chinese food or has experienced the generational differences in immigrant families will get lost in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. --Dana Jacobi

From Publishers Weekly

San Francisco native and recipe developer Young (The Best of China; The Best of Thailand) recalls the classic Cantonese meals of her youth, sharing family anecdotes and the basic tenets of Chinese cooking. In Part I, "Mastering the Fundamentals," she introduces essential techniques of the Chinese kitchen: selecting produce, chopping, slicing, steaming, stir-frying, even correctly preparing rice. Aiming to preserve the integrity of traditional dishes, Young instructs with Cantonese de rigueur, eschewing substitutes for such exotic ingredients and shortcuts as food processors. Although labor-intensive steps often precede the cooking process, this 140-recipe collection provides clear, straightforward instruction largely accessible to home cooks. Recognizable favorites such as Eggplant in Garlic Sauce and Pepper and Salt Shrimp, as well as less familiar preparations such as Rock Sugar Ginger Chicken, offer broad palate appeal. Part II, "The Art of Celebration," explores the symbolism of special occasion and Chinese New Year dishes, including Turnip Cake, the glutinous rice flour New Year's Cake, and fried Sesame Balls, all considered harbingers of prosperity for the New Year. Young ends her collection on a holistic note; the last section, "Achieving Yin-Yang Harmony," elaborates the Chinese belief of the yin (cooling) and yang (warming) characteristics of foods as well as their purported remedial and restorative properties. "Tonic soups" include Almond SoupAfor moistening the lungs and clearing the skin. Probing her rich culinary heritage with passion and fortitude, Young expertly reveals ancient secrets encouraging readers to experience the joy of authentic Chinese cooking.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684847396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684847399
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I grew up in San Francisco surrounded, on the one hand, by the immigrant Chinese traditions of my family and relatives, and, on the other, by an innovative American culinary culture. My earliest memories of food are of the extraordinary meals my mother and father prepared for us (my brother and me) and of the efforts they made to ensure that we ate well. Their care was not only a matter of selecting the freshest ingredients, but also for the authenticity with which they replicated the traditional Cantonese dishes of their youth in China during the 1930s and forties. This connection to the cooking of old-world China coupled with the discovery of Julia Child on television (and her "exotic" dishes) shaped my lifelong affair with food and cooking. At the age of thirteen I began an apprenticeship with Josephine Araldo, a French cooking teacher. Those lessons initiated an exploration of other cuisines and led me, eventually, to my career in food.

I spent much of my early professional life as the test kitchen director for over forty cookbooks published by Time Life Books. In the early nineties, after growing weary of producing what had become soulless work with formulaic recipes, I developed a yearning to reconnect to the tastes and foods of my childhood. Over the next few years, I made numerous trips back to San Francisco from my home in New York to cook with my 70-year old mother and 82-year old father. It took much cajoling and great persistence to convince them to teach me their recipes. At the beginning, my focus was on a precise recording of the recipes. Eventually, and to my great surprise, as we cooked my parents, who had always been reticent about their past, began to share memories of their lives in China and accounts of their early days in America. This is how I came to learn a large part of my family's history. What started as a little recipe project soon blossomed into a memoir cookbook, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 1999. The book was awarded the IACP Le Cordon Bleu Best International Cookbook Award, in addition to being a finalist for an IACP First Cookbook Award, and a James Beard World International Cookbook Award. It was also featured in a special segment on CBS Sunday Morning. Many of the relatives and friends who taught me their recipes and shared their stories have since passed away. The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen feels to me now almost like a treasured family album.

My second cookbook, The Breath of a Wok, grew out of the realization that most Chinese Americans know little about their own culinary traditions, specifically wok cooking. I had become aware also of how cooks in China were abandoning their classic, well-seasoned iron woks for inferior nonstick cookware. In a tribute to wok cookery and out of a desire to reignite its popularity, I partnered with Alan Richardson to create what the acclaimed food historian and author Betty Fussell described as, "a bridge between cultures for a Chinese-American in search of history and destiny. It is a remarkable collaboration between a writer and a photographer that reveals what the wok symbolizes---a craft, an art, a container of communal harmony and balance." That book won the IACP Le Cordon Bleu Best International Cookbook Award, the Jane Grigson Award for Distinguished Scholarship, and the World Food Media Awards' Best Food Book. It was also featured in the New York Times, on NPR's All Things Considered and was selected as one of the best cookbooks of the year by Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, Bon Appétit, and Epicurious.

The Breath of a Wok led me to the adventure of traveling with my carbon-steel wok (in my hand-carry baggage) on a 25-city tour for the culinary retailer Sur la Table to teach the art of wok cooking. I published further articles on Chinese cooking in Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Eating Well, and Saveur, where I am a contributing editor. The book also brought me speaking engagements at the Culinary Institute at Greystone, China Institute, New York University Asian/Pacific/American Institute, the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, The French Culinary Institute, and the Chinese Historical Society of America.

In 2006 I began work on Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge. This effort was dedicated to the effort of empowering home cooks to stir-fry with confidence. It explores everything from the origins and health benefits of stir-frying to the technique's great economy of time and fuel. I was awarded an IACP Culinary Trust eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters Culinary Journalist Independent Study Scholarship which funded my research travel to Trinidad, Germany, Holland, Canada, and the United States to study the stir-fries of the Chinese diaspora. While Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge concentrates on traditional stir-fries, it is also filled with remarkable stories of how this simple, beloved cooking technique has enabled generations of Chinese around the world to eat well and with exquisite economy. My interview subjects include Chinese who grew up in such far-flung locations as Peru, Jamaica, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Macau, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and the Mississippi Delta.

My passion for recording and preserving Chinese culinary traditions continues to lead me in quest of home cooks who understand and enjoy the benefits Chinese cooking. If you have a comfort food that is at risk of being lost or a story to share, it would be my great delight to learn of them. Please feel free to contact me: www.graceyoung.com.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

116 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Tam on May 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As an American Born Chinese, finding this book was a huge relief. Like so many ABCs, I love the food of my culture but certainly didn't know how to prepare it. This is an authentic down home Chinese cookbook. No fancy dishes here - only comfort food need apply. The book is divided into the following: 1) rice from steamed, fried, dumplings and porridge 2) stir fry - including tomato beef and beef chow fun 3) steamed cooking- egg custard, sponge cake, spareribs with black bean sauce 4) cooking with ginger - drunken chicken, cabbage noodle soup 5) seasonal market dishes - braised taro and chinese bacon, stir fried bitter melon with beef 6) celebratory dishes - stir fried clams with black bean sauce, pepper and salt shrimp, sweet and sour pork 7) New Year's dishes - turnip cake, seasame balls 8) authentic recipes from the homeland - savory rice tamales, pork dumplings, stuffed noodle rolls 9) Chinatown favorites - soy sauce chicken, roast duck, barbecued pork and salt roasted chicken 10) a slew of healing soups and dishes. Reading it was a trip down memory lane for me. The dishes are truly authentic to the Chinese family experience and or those who seek authenticity, Young has presented it here. She also includes a handy guide to shopping and mail order resources!
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70 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Macy M T Ting on November 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Having been born in Hong Kong and having lived there and in Taiwan for the first 15 years of my life, this cookbook brought back vast memories. I love cooking, and have a wide range of cookbooks. But until now, I have never come across a Chinese cookbook that captures so much of the "essence" of Chinese cooking as in Ms. Young's "The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen." Reading this cookbook is like looking back into my childhood and how I grew up. I am astounded at how accurate Ms. Young described all the traditions the Chinese attach to food. The section on Chinese New Year is especially meaningful to me; all the dishes are ones that I ate as a child during Chinese New Year. It was indeed a nostalgic moment for me as I read it.
I have tried several of the recipes, and the results have been excellent. What I find most helpful is the glossary and the pictures of the food items that are more unique to Chinese cooking. With this aid, I can now go shopping at an Asian supermarkets with much more confidence.
In all, this is a terrific tome that takes away some of the "mysteries" of Chinese cooking, and in turn, allows everyday cooks like myself to be able to enjoy Chinese home cooking.
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50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By John Szeto on December 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I bought this cookbook about 6 months ago. When I finished reading the book, I immediately sent an e-mail to the author thanking her for her work in this book. I also watched the CBS Sunday Morning Special about this cookbook. I ,too,was a Chinese immigrant and learning cooking from watching my dad and mom without any measurement of the "stuff" you put in a dish. Often as I cook, I do not measure the ingredients. Many of my American friends want the reciepes of the dishes I cook and too often I am too lazy to write them down. Now, I have Ms. Young to thank you for writing this cookbok. Many of the fine reciepes in this cookbook I shared with my Amercian friends. They too have read and said they enjoy the history and the philosophy of the Chinese cooking. I would recommended this book for anybody who is learning about Chinese cooking. This cookbook by far are on my number one list of the chinese cookbook of this decade. Oh, by other way(Ms. Young), the most frequent reciepes that I shared with American friends is "Tomato Beef." Your brother was right! (You should not omit this receipe.)
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
My parents are from Hong Kong and I was born in Canada. I grew up with the foods Ms. Young describes in her book, but because of my limited ability to read Chinese, I have never been able to follow any Chinese recipe books written in Chinese. When I first bought this book, my aunts thought it was pretty funny. They said "how can a book that is written in English be authentic?" - and considering my spoken Cantonese is accompanied with a fairly strong "Canadian" accent, they were sure the book was full of "westernized" Chinese foods. Well, after looking through the book themselves, they were sold and bought their own copies.
The recipes are good. But what I find most helpful is the inclusion of the Chinese name for the dishes and some ingredients - written in Chinese characters and translated phoentically into "English"(between the combination, I can usually figure out the dish or ingredient and relate it back to what my Mom used to prepare).
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33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I own over 300 cookbooks and this one has vaulted into my "top 10 of all time" due to Ms. Young's lovely balance of well-written memoir, in-depth cultural, technique & ingredient information, and wonderful, no-compromise recipes. _The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen_ ranks with the best works by Wolfert, Field, Kaspar, Thorne, etc. - books that are more than mere "cookbooks" but reveal some of the soul of the cuisine/culture in question. And did I mention that the recipes actually *work*? ;-) Thank you Ms. Young!
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