This is a book that's important not just for the recipes (of which there are many) but also for its insight into the historical aspect of Chinese cuisine and why it is one of the world's best. Chinese cuisine isn't just extremely varied from region to region; the cooking techniques are also complex, and everything from the ingredients used to the flavours and textures of the food are wide-ranging.
Chinese gastronomy has been celebrated since ancient times by poets and artists, and the authors of the book - the daughter and wife of scholar, writer and inventor Lin Yutang - are not uncritical of the efforts made to take food to another level.
It wasn't just the 1 per cent that tried to appreciate food; the authors write, "In the 11th century, gastronomy was already the business of artists, scholars, purists, vulgarians and snobs, and even the kitchen servants tried to be gourmets … Of the 'vulgarity', we have some idea. It is not so much vulgarity as lack of control, a desire for all the best together."
Perfection, though, could be appreciated by true gourmets, even in something as simple as a bowl of rice. Before the recipes for boiled rice and congee, the authors point out that, "No cook has ever been foolish enough to re-create the flavour of rice."
However, one cannot live on rice alone and the book covers regional cuisines, ingredients such as bird's nest and bean curd, and "poor man's food" such as salted spring onions in lard, pig's foot jelly, braised chicken parts and steamed cucumbers.