Oversized cookbook The Chinese Gourmet (1994) might look like a coffee-table book but that would do a disservice to its excellent content. The pictures of the food are appetising – a surprise, as many cookbooks of the era make dishes appear anything but delicious. But it’s the information and recipes that matter. This book was written by William Mark Yiu-tong , now in his 80s and a highly respected former restaurant critic, restaurant consultant and president of the Federation of Hong Kong Restaurant Owners. Mark’s view of Chinese cuisines looks to the past while also acknowledging the influences of foreign cultures. “Since time immemorial, food in China has enjoyed a status that far transcends its nutritive value. Its traditions, ingredients, preparation, serving, sharing, and eating are embedded deep in the heart and history of Chinese culture, linking the emperors, the peasantry, invaders, agriculture, trade, religion, philosophy, and medicine in a way that perhaps only French cuisine comes close to emulating […] “Over the centuries came many culinary changes. The ‘primitive’ Mongols brought sheep and barbecued dishes. Indian travellers introduced spices, like ginger and cilantro [fresh coriander]. Later, Jesuits from Portugal planted great gardens that added European vegetables to the cuisine. “During the 20th century, Chinese food has undergone a revolution, not all of it positive. As the country has become more urbanised, the gospel of farm-fresh produce is giving way to that of frozen.” In the book, Mark gives recipes from different regions of China, although they are not organised in separate chapters, but under general categories such as fish and seafood, poultry or pork, beef and lamb. One of the more interesting chapters is titled “Occasions”, covering topics such as banquets and food as medicine (both of which would make great books on their own). Some of the banquets are not anything most of us will ever experience: there’s one from the 19th century that has 365 dishes, one for every day of the year (and many dishes are “for display only, and not meant to be eaten”), while a more contemporary banquet has dishes from all the major regions of China (the Manchurian bear’s paw, he acknowledges “is generally banned, [but] it was an important part of a banquet in the past”). The recipes in the book range from homestyle (beef brisket and lotus root soup, stir-fried shrimp with water chestnuts and button mushrooms, steamed chicken with ginger and scallion dip, and braised pomfret with bitter melon) to more complicated ones that would not be out of place at a banquet (Peking duck, bird’s nest in superior broth, beggar’s chicken).