All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips

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All Under Heaven is a comprehensive guide to the cuisines of China, all 35 of them. Did you even know there were 35 Chinese cuisines? Cynthia Phillips does and she wrote the book. The cuisines are organized geographically, starting with the North, and the Manchurian Northeast, down the Yangtze River and Environs, down to the Coastal Southeast, across the Central Highlands and off to the Arid Lands of the West. There is also a huge section on the fundamentals of Chinese cuisine. There’s also valuable tips you won’t find everywhere, such as removing boar bristles and pinfeathers or how to fold  a chopstick wrapper into a chopstick holder three different ways.

This book would be worth it, just for the Basic Recipes section. This is a great reference book, with an extensive glossary and great tips. With all the other sections, though, it is a huge book, with more than 350 recipes and so heavy, I rested it on a pillow on my lap to read because it is too heavy to hold for long.

It would be nice to have a few color photos, but the illustrative sketches are superior to photos for the technique and tips. Photos can have too much information, simple line drawings show only the relevant and important elements.

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This is an outstanding cookbook, one of those that will be a classic that anyone serious about learning Chinese cooking will invest in. It is written with authority. The variety of recipes is vast and vegan and vegetarian recipes are noted in the sectional recipe lists, making it easier to select what you like. Phillips also notes when you can substitute pork for chicken, for example. This is important because cooks need to know they can stray from the recipes. Good cooks learn best from cookbooks that are not too prescriptive, but allow for options.

As outstanding as it is, I have to point out to one flaw that irked me. There are frequent historical and cultural notes, some of the most important elements in the book, and they are in red print and small san serif text. I really wish the folks who design books would spare a thought for people who struggle with really fine print. I would prefer darker ink, so the contrast is more stark, making it easy to read.

I received a copy of All Under Heaven from Ten Speed Press through Blogging For Books.

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