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When referencing the different points in life, there are poignant ways to highlight moments. High Fidelity did so with record albums, sometimes I use ex-boyfriends or songs, but a definitely memorable method is through food. Fuchsia Dunlop, a remarkable woman and now certified Sichuan chef, braves the differences of culture, language, and things eaten in Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China.
When I arrived in Beijing, I didn’t have a clue about what goes into a red-braised beef noodle soup and upon trying a recipe from one of Dunlop’s books, Sichuan Cookery, I thought it would be permissible to the taste buds to omit spices like Chinese cardamom and cassia bark. This was the beginning of my Chinese food illumination. My beef noodle soup was blah-bleh-zzzz.
Reading Dunlop’s book is a comical and adventurous reflection of her own relationship with a new food culture. She begins with a new found appreciation for pidan/century egg and launches into an education of Sichuan cooking we can only admire and applaud. We can relate to her evolution and admire her for the feats we assume we’d fail, like eating rabbit head. It was because of Dunlop that I felt motivated to conquer my fear of eating rabbit head. Dunlop relishes many rabbit heads throughout her time spent in Chengdu. My short stay in Chengdu afforded me one beer-aided experience but with the pride of accomplishment to say I did it.
I live in Beijing and have had my eating repertoire bloom. I take my own path through food with my food/travel blog, ShowShanti.com, but I have a lot to thank Ms. Dunlop, for giving me a sense of camaraderie with her detailed accounts through the comedy and culture behind Chinese food.