Read advance reader review of At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips, page 3 of 4

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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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There are currently 25 member reviews
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  • Debra V. (Kenosha, WI)
    Interesting Book
    This was a totally different book for me! Loved the historical parts and feel that Carolyn Phillips writes well and really understands the Chinese culture of food. Most of the recipes are too complicated/time-consuming for me but there are a few that I can't wait to try. (Almond cookies, creamy cabbage/pork to name a few).
  • Mary G. (North Royalton, OH)
    At the Chinese Table
    Any person whose view of Chinese culture consists of placemat calendars and Chop Suey has a very small window indeed. Carolyn Phillips invites to a much broader perspective. Her thirst for knowledge led her to China and its challenges, adventures, and romance. Her passion for the food, history, and people of China beautifully challenges us to expand our world view and culinary tastes. The recipes at the end of each chapter along with the glossary information make an expansion of the culinary repertoire much more accessible. This book was a joy to read and share.
  • Rita I. (Saddle River, NJ)
    Fascinating Chinese Cookbook and Memoir
    I really enjoyed this book and was surprised to learn that there were actually so many (35) Chinese cuisines! The author's food descriptions were very vivid and enticing. I also loved learning that the cuisine is not only about taste and look but also about the texture and way food feels in your mouth! I am very anxious to try some of her authentic recipes. My only reservation is that some non-foodies may find the long food descriptions a little tedious. I loved the way she deciphered her in-laws' questionable history. The descriptions of the street vendors, food markets and the various living situations were all very vivid and interesting. On top of all of that I loved her illustrations that appeared on each page. She has a great writer's voice and seems extremely likable. Good read!
  • Carmel B. (The Villages, FL)
    Yum Yum
    Carolyn Phillips shows us how it's important to be "friends" before "lovers." It is interesting to watch her evolve into almost a "native" versus a "foreigner." I've tried so many of the delicious recipes and I had to run out and get a wok! This book is a fun and tasty treat!
  • Marion M. (Mishawaka, IN)
    A Love Affair
    Author Phillips' love affair with Chinese food is evidenced in a previously published scholarly cookbook that developed the thesis that China has over thirty cuisines. While her previous book was scholarly, in this title she documents her love affair with H.J, her husband and his extended Chinese family. The reader learns about Chinese traditional family culture to which her mother and father-in-law cling and the importance of family trees and ties. And, then there is her love for Chinese cuisine that she learned to appreciate and cook through the palate and eyes of H.J. One might say that their love affair began with the love of food and cooking. Every last bit of an ingredient is used in intriguing and innovative ways. Chinese food is not just the chow mein or stir-fries found in small town USA, but a rich panoply of spices, fruits, vegetables, and proteins that play with our eyes, nose, tongue, touch and even our ears. Each chapter documents another nuance to the ancient art(s) of Chinese cookery that Phillips originally learned while living and studying in Taiwan and then visiting the mainland. Phillips describes haute cuisine comparable to French and Italian as well as everyday food. The book is enhanced with Phillips' own sketches and some of the simpler recipes, two per chapter. As a foodie myself, I will certainly try a few of the recipes, but finding several ingredients may prove challenging in a small town. Non-foodies may find some of the detailed descriptions of food and the preparation process too tedious, but as for this foodie, who reads cookbooks for pleasure, Phillips adds plenty of personal and traditional and historic and geographic information resulting in pleasant reading.
  • Lee L. (Los Angeles, CA)
    A beautifully written memoir!
    4.5 stars

    "...a fine meal should be designed to feed the mind, not just the mouth and the stomach."

    It's no secret that I love food memoirs – in fact, if given a choice between reading a regular memoir and a food-related memoir, the food one wins out every time! The reason for this is, well yes, I love to eat, but more significantly, I'm also fascinated by the "culture" of food and the myriad ways that different experiences with food can shape our lives, often in the most unexpected ways. In this regard, Carolyn Phillips' newest work At the Chinese Table was the absolute perfect read, one that checked every single box in terms of what I look for in memoirs, yet at the same time, it also exceeded my expectations in so many ways. It's not often that a memoir goes way beyond its stated intent of providing insight into aspects of the author's life by incorporating elements such as: a beautifully written, immersive narrative that brought various delectable food dishes to life through lush, vivid descriptions; wonderfully-rendered illustrations (all drawn by the author herself!) woven throughout each chapter that perfectly complemented the author's story; an in-depth exploration of not just a diverse and rich cuisine, but also its history and culture; easy-to-follow recipes with helpful tips and even a glossary of often-encountered terms; and ancestral stories about the Chinese family she married into, a family that inadvertently taught her so much about life, love, relationships, and food.

    My experience reading this book was actually very different from all of the previous food memoirs I've read in the past due to the fact that I grew up in a traditional Chinese family just like the author's husband – a background that meant, going into this book, I already had a certain familiarity with the cuisines and the various dishes described in such vivid detail throughout the book. With Chinese food oftentimes depicted in a homogenous, stereotypical way in mainstream American culture, it was refreshing to see Phillips (a white American woman) go the opposite direction and actually take the time to explore, recognize, and embrace the variety of flavors and nuances of Chinese cuisine (of course, the fact that her Chinese husband is an epicurean who shares her love for good, authentic Chinese food definitely helped) — to the point that her enthusiasm and love for Chinese cuisine shines forth in every page. I love how Phillips covers such a variety of different cuisines from all across Taiwan and Mainland China — from food stalls, street markets, and hole-in-the-wall local diners to traditional family dishes and even "haute couture" fare from fancy restaurants. I mean, how often will you see dishes such as the following mentioned all in one book: yanduxian (one of my favorite Shanghainese dishes), dandan mein, suanni bairou (a Sichuanese dish that is spicy as hell but oh so delicious!), pidan doufu (a tofu dish with preserved egg), xianfantuan (rice roll with fried cruller and other stuffing that, when paired with a warm bowl of soy bean milk, is one of the most heavenly of Taiwanese breakfasts!), hongxiao shizitou (red-braised lion's head meatballs), fenzheng paigu (rice-covered steamed pork ribs over sweet potato — another of my favorite dishes that I rarely see mentioned anywhere!), just to name a few. It was such a delight to see so many familiar dishes (and more) given such detailed coverage (the one downside though was that I started craving these dishes as I was reading knowing full well I wouldn't be able to satisfy those cravings any time soon).

    Without a doubt, this has been one of the most personal and heartfelt memoirs I've read to date! It's definitely a must-read for anyone who loves and appreciates the varied flavors of authentic Chinese cuisine. Highly recommended!

    Received finished copy from publisher W.W. Norton Company via BookBrowse First Impressions program.
  • Paula K. (Champaign, IL)
    Slice of Food Life in Taiwan and Beyond
    Carolyn Phillips has written a charming memoir/recipe book, enhanced by her often-whimsical illustrations. She is at her best when describing food - its many tastes, smells, and looks. Although her stories of her great love and his family are interesting, I found them somewhat choppy and hard to follow. Nevertheless, everyone with any interest in Taiwan and Chinese food and culture will find much to like about this book, especially the recipes that she's adapted for the home cook. I'm sure many readers' woks will be working hard as they're used to prepare Phillips' enticing offerings.

Beyond the Book:
  Hakka Cuisine

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