The Mandarin Way

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 April, 2010, 12:00am

The Mandarin Way
By Cecilia Sun Yun Chiang

Cecilia Sun Yun Chiang is widely credited as being the person who took authentic Chinese food to San Francisco at a time (in the 1960s) when the United States' version of the cuisine largely consisted of chop suey made with canned bean sprouts and lemon chicken based on packaged lemon gelatin.

The seventh daughter of a wealthy Beijing family, Chiang's life story would make a great Hollywood film. Having fled Japanese-occupied Beijing in the early 1940s, she then faced communist troops later in the decade, in Shanghai, before moving to Japan, then to the US, where she has lived ever since.

She was known to customers at San Francisco's Mandarin restaurant as Madame Chiang - although, obviously, she wasn't the Madame Chiang (Soong May-ling). (Interestingly, Chiang is an aunt of restaurateur Frank Sun, who ran Hong Kong's Tribute and Bricolage restaurants.)

The Mandarin Way (as told to Allan Carr), Chiang's first book, covers her life in China - primarily the opulent lifestyle she enjoyed in Beijing. Chapters are interspersed with relevant recipes, such as dishes to serve the unexpected guest (steamed eggs, red-cooked pork shoulder), to distinguished visitors (Mandarin chicken salad, Sichuan four-season green beans) and at banquets (steamed fish, sea cucumber with shrimp eggs).