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Read advance reader review of At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips

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At the Chinese Table

A Memoir with Recipes

by Carolyn Phillips

At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips X
At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips
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  • Published:
    Jun 2021, 304 pages


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  • Andrea B. (Clinton, WA)
    Chinese Food and Culture
    This book is an unusual combination of memoir and ethnic cuisine discussion. I enjoyed both parts of this book as I love Chinese food and am interested in Chinese culture. Although I have not attempted to cook much Chinese food, I found it interesting to read about both the ingredients and the techniques. I have not tried any of the recipes in this book yet, but I plan to try a couple of the simpler ones with easy to obtain ingredients. Many of the recipes were labor intensive with a variety of ingredients, typical of Chinese food. I now realize that the complicated techniques and many ingredients in a dish were a way to stretch the small amount of meat available to feed an entire family. The author's description of the tastes I found interesting but, of course, I wish I could have tasted the foods that she was describing. I fantasized about a tour of Taiwan with lectures and tastings every day. The addition of cooking classes would be fun for true aficionados of Chinese food, but I fear the complexity of the food preparation might be more time consuming than most would want.

    I found the memoir part of the book engaging and an interesting glimpse into Chinese culture. All cultures seem to have mothers who would like to carefully vet their son's and daughter's choice of spouse. Carolyn's understanding and respect for Chinese food and culture gave her the motivation necessary for her success both as a cook and as a daughter-in-law. Of course, the husband's devotion to Carolyn gave her the support that aided her success in fulfilling these roles.

    This is a book that will appeal to those who like Chinese food and Chinese culture.
  • Ariel F. (Madison, WI)
    Outstanding memoir/recipe book
    I found this a fascinating read. I was especially impressed that a white woman, who was a minority in that country, learned the language and then married a native. Learning the language, in itself was an accomplishment.Her writing,illustrations, and recipes made it very interesting. The ability to provide details about her life, both the good and bad in Taiwan and mainland China was were fascinating. I appreciated the fact that she included both sides and did not sugarcoat things.
    Definitely worth reading.
  • Jo K. (Saratoga, CA)
    A joy to read
    Carolyn Phillip's memoir with recipes is fascinating and wonderful to read. Her passion and love for the Chinese cultures, cuisines and people is palpable on every page. Her stories are all very interesting and so well written and the illustrations are delightful but I have to say, my favorite parts of the book were the recipes at the end of each chapter. Each was described with such enthusiasm (and advice!) which made them a joy to read and really added to her whole memoir.

    An truly excellent book...I learned so much and I recommend it highly!
  • Vicki -
    Memoir in Food
    If you enjoy memoirs and love food, this is the book for you. Carolyn Phillips, author of the cookbook All Under Heaven, has given us another wonderful book, this one about her time, travel, love and life in Taiwan. Phillips, a white American, initially went to Taiwan as a student on a one year Chinese language immersion program in the late 1970's. One year became many more and soon she was truly immersed in family, food, and friends.

    Each chapter depicts her lessons learned and wisdom gained from the experience described. In addition each chapter ends with recipes related to the food mentioned. From geography to family dynamics Carolyn Phillips covers these topics as if she is a friend telling the reader about her many adventures. She peels away the layers of her culinary memories of her 8 years in Taiwan as if she were stripping an onion or sloughing the skin of a garlic clove. Phillips' words are as tantalizing as her recipes.

    Measurements in the recipes are in both metric and American standard. A glossary in the back clarifies some of the ingredients, making the recipes very approachable. Carolyn Phillips also identifies substitutions for Chinese ingredients if required.

    With illustrations by the author, this is definitely a memoir to be kept in the kitchen and used often as well as one to be read aloud with your favorite culinary friend.
  • Gloria K. (Madison, WI)
    "Close Your Eyes and Taste This"
    To close your eyes and taste something can be a leap of faith! Carolyn Phillips, author of At the Chinese Table proved her ability to take a leap of faith in both her career and personal life. She left the USA and moved to Taiwan as a graduate student, met her future husband and married into a Chinese family. If you read other reviews you are already familiar with this story of love, memoirs and recipes. I would like to share why this book holds great appeal for me. The book is divided into 11 Chapters of story followed by recipes and tips on cooking as well as procuring the ingredients needed to prepare the dishes. The book is peppered with the author's hand drawn illustrations, maps and indices, plus a glossary to guide the reader through a list of Chinese foods and ingredients which may be unfamiliar.

    At The Chinese Table is a book I predict will be treasured and reread by cooks, artists and a variety of assorted readers .After you have read the book I think you will understand why I selected the review title of "Close Your Eyes and Taste."
  • Lucy S. (ANN ARBOR, MI)
    Engaging and mouth-watering!
    At The Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips was an unexpected delight! This book is called a "memoir with recipes," but it is so much more. Phillips provides history, geography, and a deep cultural study of all the parts of China and Taiwan that she encountered. I enjoy the personal anecdotes as she got to know and become accepted by her in-laws, and her boyfriend/husband introduced her to regional food in a way that made her, and her readers, appreciate the importance of taste, mouthfeel, temperature, appearance, and the way food can create an ambience of its own.

    Phiilips says, "all of these appetizers have been created as silent requests for our undivided attention. They set the mood for leisurely meals that at first glance tease the senses and then very gradually sate our appetites. No instant gratification is ever offered. Instead, we must settle back and acquiesce, leaving the world behind."

    And that is what this book offers as well.
  • Mary C. (Plano, TX)
    Taipei Adventures
    After having lived in Indonesia during the time that Carolyn Phillips first traveled to Taipei, I was eagerly anticipating reading this book. It does not take a trip to Asia to fall under the spell of this charming, yet realistic, memoir which includes skillful drawings and insightful recipes. Best of all, this book is from an American's point of view so I could totally relate to Ms. Phillips' foray into a world so different from her own. The unfamiliarity of China all brings the reader to a larger understanding of a world not yet visited. This book will resonate with people of all ethnicities and ages. As Ms. Phillips expresses unease with how little she understands her new surroundings, she grows in an appreciation, and the reader grows with her. Her histories of the relationships between mother/daughter, wife/husband, daughter-in-law/in-laws are relatable in any country.
    Then there is the magic of looking at cooking and eating in a whole new way. Gastronomic theory might sound dry, but Ms. Phillips makes it intriguing. I might never cook pig's head or feet, but the author makes the journey amusing. New ideas of Chinese cooking are eye openers, showing how the cuisine of each section of the country changes as do the recipes- - -some you would probably never try and others that will become family treasures.

    After reading this book, China will continue to mystify the reader with its unique food and culture, but the reader will not ever feel the same way about China again. Who knows what further explorations will appeal to me. I will definitely try some of the recipes and explore further adventures into Chinese cuisine.

Beyond the Book:
  Hakka Cuisine

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