For those of us interested in comprehensive Chinese cookbooks, 2016 was a good year: there was Land of Fish and Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop, China The Cookbook , by Hong Kong husband and wife Chan Kei-lum and Diora Fong Chan, and this one, All Under Heaven, by Carolyn Phillips.
Phillips says she didn’t know much about Chinese cuisine when she moved from the United States to Taipei in the 1970s. “I didn’t have an inkling of what was in store for my palate – nothing I ate was anything like the so-called Chinese food I had eaten in the States. As I started to roam around the city, fragrant aromas lured me into little restaurants that plied me with their specialities from all over China. Taipei was still a quiet place then, but by wandering its labyrinth of alleys and side streets, I discovered not just the home-style dishes and street snacks of the local Taiwanese and Hakka people, but also delicacies imported by Mainlanders from Shandong in the north down to Guangdong in the south, and from Shanghai in the east out to China’s Muslim west.
“What had happened was this: in the wake of China’s communist revolution in 1949, millions of Nationalist sympathizers from all across the country retreated to Taiwan. This huge influx made the island into a microcosm of China’s cuisines. By the time I arrived, there was no better place to be eating Chinese food.”
Many lovers of Chinese food talk about the country’s five “great” cuisines, but Phillips argues that gives short shrift to the food of many regions.
“By my count, the country boasts at least five major gastronomic regions and 35 unique cuisines. (I define a ‘cuisine’ as a food tradition with its own distinctive dishes, ingredients, and cooking styles.) In my studies, I noted how regional flavours and ingredients repeated themselves, how certain recipes reemerged in neighboring provinces with little twists, and how China’s history and minority peoples colored the foods in each place. I became entranced by things like the enormous impact Hui Muslims have had on the entire North and West; how imported ingredients seeped through harbors where foreigners docked their ships; and how, in spite of everything, the foods I was learning about still remained unequivocally Chinese.”
Recipes are divided into five regions: the North and Manchurian Northeast; the Yangtze River and its Environs; the Coastal Southeast (which includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan); the Central Highlands; and the Arid Lands. There are recipes for Nanjing saltwater duck; Hakka salt-baked chicken; savory crab and cellophane noodles (from Hong Kong); Hunanese water chestnut pastries with red date filling; cold bamboo shoots with mayonnaise (Taiwan); Shunde raw fish; Shanxi shaved noodles with meat sauce; Tibetan curried potatoes; Sichuanese fish and bean curd in fermented bean sauce; and Uygur pilaf.