A Chinese-American journalist steps into the heat and adventure of Beijing's kitchens.
One of the great joys of the foreign correspondent’s profession is the variety of opportunities it offers to eat. I have been munching my way around the world, and incidentally reporting for The Christian Science Monitor, for the past 30 years. From Veracruz to Vladivostok and from Helsinki to Cape Horn I have run the culinary gamut.
But it is here, in China, that I have finally found a cuisine to match the journalistic attractions of my beat. And that, for me, is what makes Jen Lin-Liu’s new book, Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey through China, such a pleasure to read.
Lin-Liu is the sort of cook who writes without embarrassment of “the beauty of noodles” and “the power of dumplings.” Her feel for the physicality of food preparation springs from every page of this lively account of learning to cook in China.
Lin-Liu, a Chinese American, was working as a journalist in Shanghai and having trouble with her dual identity when she sought a solution in the kitchen. “If I can’t connect with the people,” she decided, “at least I’m going to connect with the food.”
That might seem like a reasonable enough idea to you or me, but she and her aspirations ran into utter disbelief at the Beijing cooking school where she enrolled. Cooks do not enjoy much status in China and her fellow students could not understand why a college graduate was not doing some cushy job in an office.
Lin-Liu persevered though, and did indeed find cooking and eating the right way to relate to China. What she learned about the country along the way, and the vivid portrait of today’s China that she paints, make this a book that will appeal to more than just a foodie audience.