Book Review – All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China by Carolyn Phillips.

All Under Heaven.jpg

4 out of 5 stars.

I would like to thank Ten Speed Press for allowing me to read an ARC of this book, via Netgalley, in exchange for an open and honest review.

Wow, what an amazing source of knowledge, history and simply yummy recipes. I may not be Chinese, but I grew up in Darwin and was heavily influenced by parts of the Chinese culture (food mostly) in my youth. Because of this, there are certain (mostly Cantonese/ Hong Kongese) meals that are still comfort foods for me today. Some are your mainstream, typical ‘white man’s Chinese’ as we call it, but some aren’t. Treats my children have no learnt to enjoy are haw fruit in many forms, sugared tamarinds, preserved white and black plum and so on.

So! I might not be of this ethnic background, but I sure do have a connection to their food and I LOVE it. The more traditional and less ‘white man’ commercial the better! Which is why I simply adored ‘All Under Heaven’.

I will warn readers now that the style of ‘All Under Heaven’ won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Not due to the contents, but from the formatting. Those who prefer big colour, glossy pictures of the foods being made or as high end presentation pieces will be disappointed. This is a more traditional ‘old style’ cook book (which I happen to love too by the way) and so instead gives gorgeous introductions to the dish – to give the reader a connection to it – and then goes through some very plainly written and simple to follow ingredients and methods. Occasionally there is a hand drawn image to match the meal or meaning, and there are some great step by step graphics for some of the trickier methods of steaming, preparing, stuffing of dumplings, etc. Actually, quite a traditional Chinese style cook book, as many of the more traditional cook books from China (in English) that I own as set out in this manner.

Personally, I have no issues with the format. Clear to understand, well set out and in that nice neat uniform manner I like while being filled with the history of places and the dishes to truly give the reader and maker some idea of what it is the recipes are all about. I didn’t need tonnes of big, glossy photos to enjoy this book. But those who DO need said pictures, this book might not before you. Which is a shame, as you’re missing out on some amazing stuff!

And thank you for The Fundamentals section at the back! As I really am still a Gweilo when it comes to cooking the more traditional dishes and sourcing the ingredients/ prepping them – no matter how much I strive to learn – and so was very thankful for that section. :-)Being a lover of Chinese pastries, moon cakes and steamed buns (lotus filled my fav for the last two) and so on, I can see myself having hours of fun working my way through the pastries. For someone with a wheat protein intolerance, I do have an affinity to wheat and what it makes. Go figure!

The only reason I didn’t give the full 5 out of 5 stars is my usual nit-picky manner that it is a book set out in imperial measurements only. I know, I know, that is mean of me as I KNOW Ten Speed Press is a North American publishing house and so caters for the North American audience and so metric isn’t required. And I know I’m clever and can convert things no problems… but I do like my modern cook books to be a bit more universal in their measurements. Sorry.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Yes I would. But I would warn them that these are PROPER Chinese dishes and not the stuff they would tend to see at the local take away. I found the book good for all skill levels, from beginner to expert and felt it really did cover all aspects of the foods on show. I also loved the history and culture lessons that came with the different regions to help explain why the dishes were so diverse. So for lovers of authentic and traditional Chinese cuisine, highly recommend.

Would I buy this book for myself?

Most definitely. Loved it. Yes there are some dishes I can’t make (anything seafood) and yes there are some I would need to adapt due to other food intolerances I have… but I am yet to find a cookbook that can offer me a 100% success rate on things I can make from it. So, no big deal. The dishes I can make from ‘All Under Heaven’ far out-weigh the ones I can’t. It is a book that is reminiscent of one of the local cooking heroes from where I grew up – Charmaine Solomon – and so I can easily see ‘All Under Heaven’ sitting side by side with her fantastic tomes.

In summary: A great cook book to help anyone (even we Gweilo 😉 ) make some tasty, traditional Chinese dishes from all over that amazingly creative country. I highly recommend.

Until next time,

Janis.

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