Through recipes that use time-honored medicinal ingredients, "A Tradition of Soup "provides a fascinating narrative of the Southern Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in large numbers during the last half century, the struggles they faced and overcame, and the soups they used to heal and nourish their bodies. Following the Chinese ...Read MoreThrough recipes that use time-honored medicinal ingredients, "A Tradition of Soup "provides a fascinating narrative of the Southern Chinese immigrants who came to the United States in large numbers during the last half century, the struggles they faced and overcame, and the soups they used to heal and nourish their bodies. Following the Chinese approach to health, Teresa Chen, who was born into a family of food connoisseurs and raised by a gourmet cook, groups the recipes by seasons and health concerns according to Cantonese taxonomy: "tong "(simple broths, soups, and stews), "geng "(thickened soups), "juk "(rice soups or porridges), and "tong shui "(sweet soups), as well as noodle soups, wonton and dumpling soups, and vegetable soups. Also focusing on "dahn "(steaming) and "louhfo "(slow-cooking) soups associated with good health, the book features fresh, natural, and seasonal food. "A Tradition of Soup "highlights recipes that serve a wide range of purposes, from gaining or shedding weight to healing acne and preventing wrinkles. While some ingredients may seem foreign to Western readers, most are available in Chinese grocery stores. To help readers identify and procure these items, Chen provides a beautifully photographed ingredients glossary complete with Chinese names, pronunciation, and detailed descriptions.Read Less
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I will probably be using Teresa Chen's *A Tradition of Soup: Flavors from China's Pearl River Delta* (North Atlantic Books, 2009) more as a food reference than as an actual cookbook (although more than half of the book is comprised of recipes). I am impressed by both the production quality (lots of full-color photographs throughout) and the encyclopedic feel of the work. The author, indeed, holds a Ph.D. in linguistics; she clearly approaches Chinese food and traditional medicine from a scholarly angle. (Just note how thorough--and organized--her three-page acknowledgments section appears to be!)
The body of the book opens with a brief introduction to traditional Chinese medicine (ying-yang, five elements, approach to digestion, optimizing health qualities of foods). Two more brief chapters follow--on the Chinese "soup tradition" and a history of Chinese immigration from the Pearl River Delta (Guangzhou, Hong Kong area) to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (California).
Two reference-style sections follow, one on "soup basics" (including chapters on types of Cantonese soups, techniques for soup making, and necessary equipment--all very well illustrated) and the other on ingredients (four separate chapters: animal sources, plant sources, medicinal herbs, and other food products [most of which come from plant sources but are more processed: condiments, pickles, seasonings, etc.]). These chapters are truly remarkable! Not only are Chinese names provided for the items (including Chinese characters and romanized pronunciations for both Mandarin and Cantonese) but also do photographs accompany each descriptive entry. Ingredients that I had only read about in the past are shown in full color: dried swallow's nest, dried shark's fin, sea cucumber, dried cereus flowers, dried osmanthus flowers, and a host of traditional medicines. Now, I *have* spent a lot of time in Asian markets (indeed, I lived in Japan for over two years); but I was likely seeing these products without recognizing them. Thanks to Chen's book, I'll now know what fascinating items are in front of me the next time I visit an Asian market. (Yes, my library includes Bruce Cost's *Asian Ingredients*--but line drawings are only helpful to a point; and Chen's book includes a greater number of comparatively esoteric ingredients. I also own Sallie Morris's *The Cook's Guide to Asian Ingredients* and Wendy Hutton's *A Cook's Guide to Asian Vegetables*--but both of these books, too, seem to focus on the "normal" items that one might commonly find in Asian markets in North America or Europe.) Hence I shall undoubtedly be returning to Chen's book as a reference, particularly, to those rare and wonderful Chinese ingredients.
As to the soup recipes themselves: Wonton and hot-and-sour soups aside, these are *not* the kinds of soup that one would typically find in an Americanized Chinese restaurant. (I'm writing from a smallish town in the Midwest.) Most soups are organized into seasons (that is, when they would be appropriate to prepare based on the availability of ingredients or on the desirability of particular health benefits); but Chen also includes separate chapters on vegetarian soups, medicinal soups, soups that are "light meals" unto themselves, and--one of my favorite chapters--"exotic and expensive soups." Even the "normal" soups seem quite exotic to me: autumn soups, for example, include "Dendrobium and American Ginseng Soup," "Fritillary Bulb and Pear Soup," and "Apricot Kernels, Mormodica Fruit, and Pork Soup." (Yes, all of the ingredients are described earlier in the book.) "Exotic and expensive soups" include soups made with abalone, swallow's nest, partridge, shark's fin, fish maw, turtle, deer tendon, and dried scallops. Okay, so I will not be making any of these anytime soon. But it's certainly nice to read about them, see how they would be made, and see photographs of finished products.
The book concludes with (what looks to be) a well-thought bibliography of works for further reading (almost all of which are in English), an appendix on pronouncing Mandarin and Cantonese, blurbs on (and photographs of) all the contributors (although the volume isn't marketed as an edited volume per se: the author is being very gracious to all of her personal sources of information), and an index that appears to be quite thorough.
Interesting: The author is having a Chinese translation prepared of the first portions of the book (particularly those that focus on stories of immigrants from Canton to California). The personal bits like that help make the book seem quite down to earth: readers are able not only to visualize the ingredients and techniques and recipes but also to understand the lives of individuals who are perpetuating Chinese traditions in North America. The approach offers a very interesting component to a book that definitely should be thought of as more than just a "cookbook."
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