Culinaria China: A Celebration of Food and Tradition, written by Katrin Schlotter and Elke Spielmanns-Rome, features the vast regional cuisine of China with a collection of some of the most unique and delicious recipes the country has to offer in 379 pages. Well-known favorites such as Hot and Sour Soup, Red-Cooked Pork Belly, Lionhead Meatballs, Beggar’s Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, Tomatoes with Eggs, and Mapo Doufu sit alongside more unique offerings like Huangshan Snails, Jasmine-Scented Eggs, Roast Pigeons, Stuffed Eggplants, and Dunhuang-Style Kebab with Flat Bread.
The chapters are divided based on region: Beijing, Shandong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Hong Kong, Macau, Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan, Gansu, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, and Heilongjiang.
Along with recipes, Culinaria China covers the historical and religious influences behind the food. China is home to one of the most varied cuisines on the planet with an area covering four climates and 3.6 million square miles. Each chapter begins with an introduction of the region and how they differentiate from one another, from the hearty wheat-based dishes of the north to the spicy in the west, and everything in between. Beijing had a massive overhaul in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. Shandong (Lu) is the home of Confucius. Jiangsu has long had the reputation as “the land of fish and rice” due to its subtropical coastal climate. It also houses the longest canal system in the world. The classic cuisine of Anhui is relatively unknown even though it is a part of one of the great culinary traditions in China. Mountains cover over seventy percent of Zhejiang. The valleys are home to a variety of produce such as rice, corn, sweet potato, rapeseed, and sugarcane. Fujian produces a large percentage of the country’s citrus fruit, bananas, tea, timber, bamboo, and paper. Guangdong has the most well-known cuisine outside of China. Only a quarter of Hong Kong can actually be built on, creating one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Portuguese-influenced Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal and is its biggest source of revenue. The diverse farming region of Yunnan borders Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. Hunan is known for the spiciest cuisine in China, even moreso than Sichuan. The northern province of Heilongjiang has only 90-120 days a year without frost.
There are also features that take a closer look at specialties such as dumplings, Chinese vegetables, rice vinegar, mushrooms, dim sum, exotic fruit, spices, varieties of cabbage, and more. Cultural traditions and customs are included with sections covering landmarks like The Great Wall, the everday lives of people including a Shanghai worker, festivals and weddings, religions, revolutions, and even drinking games.
The gorgeous photography is provided by Gregor M. Schmid and Lisa Franz. There are hundreds of photos of Chinese scenery, people, and so much more in a variety of sizes. Many of the recipes include an accompanying photo, generally the finished product. Step-by-step photos are provided for some cooking methods, such as mixed pickles and how to make your own wheat noodles.
Measurements are listed in US Customary and Metric. The name of the dish is generally written in English and occasionally in Pinyin (Chinese names converted into the Latin alphabet). I do wish that the original name of the recipe had been provided for more of the dishes. The user-friendly index is organized based on recipe and subject. As a note, some sections have particularly small font.
This book has a little something for all tastes, from the famously spicy foods of Sichuan and Hunan to vegetarian specialties, dumplings, meats, noodles, and sweets. It is definitely a great choice for those wanting to learn more about Chinese cuisine and its background. Having access to an Asian food market with Chinese products will be helpful in preparing many of the recipes. Some ingredients that may be more difficult to find include Shaoxing rice wine (I have been able to locate it in larger grocery stores with a notable wine section such as Wegmans), lotus seeds, fermented soybeans, hot chili bean paste and other condiments, cellophane noodles, bamboo shoots and other produce, Sichuan pepper, and sea cucumber. Many other recipes do include ingredients that are readily available in a larger supermarket. Dishes range from the incredibly simple, minimal-ingredient Zucchini with Pork to the more complex dumplings, wraps, and warming soups with homemade noodles. There is also a variety of cooking styles, from stir-frying to blanching, steaming, and hot pots.
Macau is much more dessert-oriented compared to the rest of the country. In this region, you will find a variety of cookies, cakes, pastries, and this Coconut Pudding.
The rich, eggy Coconut Pudding is fairly simple to make. The milk and coconut milk base is sweetened with sugar and lightly flavored with lemon peel. Cornmeal and egg yolks are whisked in over low heat until thickened. It can be served at room temperature or covered and refrigerated overnight.
I also made Beef with Leeks, Sweet Steamed Corn Bread, Soybean Sprout Salad, and Pineapple Rice.
Beef with Leeks from Beijing is just that. Cubes of beef are lightly marinated with salt, vinegar, sesame, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, chili, and rice wine. It is stir-fried with shiitake mushrooms and leeks. This was a simple dish perfect for a weeknight meal.
The Sweet Steamed Corn Bread is also from Beijing. This yeast bread has a flour and cornmeal base, but is steamed instead of being placed in the oven. It reminded me of the small sweet yeast rolls popular during the holidays, but simpler with less of a rise time. I am definitely gaining an appreciation for steamed baked goods.
Sichuan Soybean Sprout Salad is a light vegetable salad with soybean sprouts and thinly sliced red bell peppers. They are seasoned with sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili oil, garlic, soy sauce, a little sugar, scallion, and sesame seeds. The salad came together quickly for an easy appetizer or side dish.
Pineapple Rice from Zhejiang is a popular dish during weddings. Soaked rice is mixed with raisins, pieces of pineapple, and a little sugar. It is then transferred to a hollowed-out pineapple and steamed until tender. It is topped with ground almonds. The pineapple adds a stunning presentation for this side.
Disclaimer: I received this book from H. F. Ullmann Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All opinions and statements are my own.
Adapted from Culinaria China
1 1/4 cups (300 ml) milk
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
Large piece unwaxed lemon peel
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1/2 cup (120 ml) coconut milk
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk and sugar over medium heat. Add the lemon peel and slowly bring to a boil, stirring often. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Discard the lemon peel.
In a medium bowl, stir together the cornmeal and coconut milk. Beat in the egg yolks until frothy.
Place the saucepan back over low heat. While continuously whisking, slowly pour the coconut milk egg mixture into the saucepan. Stir constantly until the mixture has thickened.
Pour into four small bowls and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.