57162: Memory and Life Writing – Assessment Item 1: Book Review ‘Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper – A sweet-sour

memoir of eating in China’

How to Partake of an Oriental Diet

T

he Orient can be somewhat strange to the unaccustomed bland palate of the Westerner because of the ancient Chinese proverb “You can eat anything that moves”. Marco Polo in the late thirteenth century draw attention to this fact

“Chinese people liked eating snakes and dogs and even, in some places, he claimed human flesh.” Most in the West are unable to understand the culinary expectations of an ancient civilisation who was the first to invent paper. Although Fuchsia Dunlop is able provide intriguing insights through her paper-based memoir about her experiences of partaking of an Oriental diet in China. The title ‘Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper – A sweet-sour memoir of eating in China’, is hinting at the unusual ingredient from the sea and the fiery heat of peppers – a foretaste of what to expect if you are game enough to take this amazing journey with Fuchsia. There are many elements in this re-invented concept of a cookery-based travel journal of selfdiscovery based on the Chinese history of the culinary symbolism of the importance of food, and the needs of the Imperial Royal Family. There are various relationships acquired and just one to explore in this review. The mouth-watering recipes to try as a sample of what wondrous experiences of taste, texture and aroma await you. The author’s recalling the memory of taste sometimes magical or disgusting depending on the ingredient of the recipe. Just the above mentioned elements will be discussed as this is up to the reader to discover the rest of the author’s life tapestry within her memoir richly woven with the fragrant subtleties of culinary discovery within the Orient.

Sometimes in everyone’s life there is a sense of serious discontent and it is a very brave person who wishes to change the direction of their life to try a journey of selfdiscovery in a country such as Mainland China. The first visit to this part of the Orient in the autumn of 1992 would be the turning point which encouraged Fuchsia to embrace the idea of living abroad away from her comfort zone in England. There would be the newly required language of Mandarin and the sense of being an English-speaking female stranger in a faraway exotic land too dissimilar from the modern realities of England. This would the beginning of a life-long passion with China as well as the pursuit of acquiring the ideal skills to be able to prepare and
1|Page Marjorie Savill Linthwaite 10462986

57162: Memory and Life Writing – Assessment Item 1: Book Review ‘Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper – A sweet-sour memoir of eating in China’

cook the finest examples of Chinese cuisine. To step back from one’s cultural upbringing and reinvent your individual concept of self is indeed fascinating reading for anyone tempted to follow suit with their own interpretation.

In a display cabinet there was a strange exhibit in the National Palace Museum in Taipei which caused the author’s mouth to water at the expectation of partaking of this delectable fare. The label was a rude awaking as this was just a prized object of the Imperial Treasures’ namely a piece of pork belly carved in cold hard agate. This reality could only happen in the Orient because of the importance accorded to this metaphor of how important food is to the Chinese when applied to so many aspects of life in the past and the present. One has to know how to eat in the proper fashion so that life can be lived in a similar concept. The skill of the culinary art of the Chinese Imperial cuisine was passed down from generation to generation in the past because of the lack of cookery books and the fact that most cooks were unable to read or write. Therefore chapter 12 ‘Feeding the Emperor’ deals with the culinary excesses of the Emperor, is a snapshot of a time long past of the divine expectations of an Imperial Royal family within the Forbidden City.

Relationships of culinary nature can happen by chance by way of an invitation from a stranger in a nightclub which was the case for Fuchsia as she was known in the university district for her curiosity about Chinese cuisine. This was the owner the Bamboo Bar – a favourite haunt of Fuchsia and his explanation of how “Ah, you see, for perfect food you have to balance the yin and the yang”. He was hopeful Fuchsia would bring several friends of a feminine nature and this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship between a chef wishing to teach and a pupil wishing to learn all the mysteries of Sichuanese cookery. There was the brutal reality of bloodstained slaughter in the Chinese marketplace when dealing with living ingredients not for the squeamish. There is also the mention of eating live monkey brains considered to be a Chinese delicacy and the notion that has anyone seen this practice in the twenty-first century. Regrettably I know this live ingredient is included on the menu in some restaurants catering for the Western tourist in South Vietnam because of a second-hand account by a fellow student who was traumatised by the cruelty afflicted on this living creature.

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Marjorie Savill Linthwaite 10462986

57162: Memory and Life Writing – Assessment Item 1: Book Review ‘Shark’s Fin & Sichuan Pepper – A sweet-sour memoir of eating in China’

Recipes are the key to understanding this memoir and are situated at the back of every chapter such as this example of Stewed Bear’s Paw not for the faint -hearted among us. The memory of taste is applicable to how you remember the dish and Fuchsia’s descriptions of dishes takes you on an amazing visual of the imagined so tempting you to try this Chinese cuisine for real or not. The issue here is texture as some ingredients can be unnerving such as chicken feet or perhaps a turtle claw floating in your soup. There is the appreciation of texture for its own sake and that can takes years to master for a Westerner who on the most part would prefer everything of a culinary nature nice and tidy. To the Chinese chefs and gourmets texture is the most important element of a meal referred to ‘kou gan’ or ‘mouthfeel’. You have to be an Oriental to truly be able to describe a meal such as ‘Sea Cucumber with Braised Leeks’, in your mother tongue be it Cantonese or Mandarin in all their dialects - alas in the English language this recipe appears to be gross and unappetising.

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Marjorie Savill Linthwaite 10462986

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