BookBrowse Reviews 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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About this Book



Food writer Carolyn Phillips recalls studying abroad in Taiwan in the 1970s in this combination memoir and authentic Chinese food cookbook.

Carolyn Phillips' memoir/cookbook At the Chinese Table was a culinary delight for our First Impressions readers, who rated the book 4.4 out of 5 stars.

What it's about:

This riveting memoir of the author's lasting love affair with China — with its history, culture, cuisines and with the man who eventually became her husband — is the liveliest portrait I've ever read. Carolyn Phillips went to Taipei straight out of college to learn Mandarin; over 40 years later, she shares her journey of becoming the first writer in English to introduce all 35 of China's cuisines to a Western audience (in her 2016 cookbook All Under Heaven), a consequence of her effort to become a part of her boyfriend's family, to win their acceptance by cooking their favorite foods. Through their stories, with humor, grace and a straightforward style, Phillips weaves in Chinese and Taiwanese history and culture, focusing above all on their foods (Janice P).

Our First Impressions readers appreciated Phillips' writing style and the illustrations that accompany the text:

She peels away the layers of the culinary memories of her eight years in Taiwan as if she were stripping an onion or sloughing the skin off a garlic clove. Phillips' words are as tantalizing as her recipes (Victoria B). There is another bonus with this book: Phillips is a gifted artist, who created the colorful cover and dozens of delicate line drawings throughout the book. What a story, what a splendid table! (Janice P). 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 the memoir. A truly excellent book. I learned so much and I recommend it highly! (Joselle K).

Many readers are expanding their cooking horizons.

Traditional Chinese cooking has been too foreign for me, but after reading this memoir, I find it more approachable. Looking forward to trying some new recipes, after visiting my local Asian market (Karen R). Phillips' descriptions of dishes and meals are incredibly detailed and specific and she has an amazing culinary vocabulary with which to educate the reader. I found the 22 recipes interspersed throughout the book actually tempting to try, thanks to Phillips' ingredient substitution suggestions for American cooks who lack access to an authentic Chinese grocery (Laura C). Because I love to cook as much as I love to read and eat, I tried several of the recipes. I live in a city with a thriving Chinatown, so I was able to find most of the authentic ingredients. The recipes cover everything from beverages to main dishes to side dishes and condiments. The dessert coffee gelée became a favorite of my family (Becky H). 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! (Carmel B).

In addition to the recipes, readers liked getting a glimpse of Taiwanese and Chinese cultures through At the Chinese Table:

To her credit, Phillips' depiction of Chinese culture — replete with food, pertinent history and long-held family customs and traditions — enhances the narrative, often gracefully taking center stage. Her scholarship doesn't seek to dominate or detract from the story of her life as she matures and blossoms, yet the breadth of her knowledge is critical not only to her story but our understanding of her contributions and well-earned legacy. Ms. Phillips has created the perfect recipe for a most readable memoir (Sara S). 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. This book will resonate with people of all ethnicities and ages. She recalls her initial unease with her new surroundings in Taipei, and as her appreciation grows, the reader's grows as well (Mary C). Any person whose view of Chinese culture consists of placemat calendars and chop suey has a very small window indeed. Carolyn Phillips invites readers to a much broader perspective. Her thirst for knowledge led her to Taipei and its challenges, adventures and romance. Her passion for the food, history and people of China invites us to expand our worldview and culinary tastes (Mary G).

Readers recommend the book highly and suggest it could be a lot of fun for book clubs:

At the Chinese Table is probably the best memoir I have ever read. Book clubs should enjoy reading it and then sampling some of the authentic, accessible recipes (Laura C).

This review first ran in the August 18, 2021 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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