Review: All Under Heaven & Cumin Lamb Burgers
Carolyn Phillips (also known as Madame Huang), the accomplished food scholar and author of All Under Heaven, happens to be in a relationship which bears resemblance to mine: she’s white and her husband is Chinese. She’s lived 8 years in Taiwan and is well-traveled and known throughout China, where she’s had the opportunity to learn from local chefs. She’s even resorted to begging for old family recipes. I like her already!
All Under Heaven: The many cuisines of China
I bought this book after searching for a resource for Northeastern Chinese cuisine. In a country as large as China with climates that vary wildly, the cuisine of the Chinese is far from homogenous. All Under Heaven is the only cookbook I found which included this oft-overlooked region of Chinese cuisine. In fact, it purports to have recipes from all 35 cuisines of China. Obviously, this is an ambitious project and I am not qualified to speak to how close she comes to properly addressing these cuisines. However, I can say that the husband and my in-laws agree it’s probably the best they’ve seen.
Going through the recipes, my husband repeatedly would stop me, excited to see some dish he remembers (names of the dishes are in both English and Mandarin).
All Under Heaven: Structure of the Book
Phillips divides her book into 5 regions of China. She also includes a section on Fundamentals, where she gives in-depth coverage to basic recipes, techniques, and suggested menus. Any novice to Chinese cooking should start in this section, which is near the end of the book.
She introduces each recipe with a helpful description and, where applicable, background on the dish. She introduces each region in the same way, pointing out where history and climate have influenced the local cuisine.
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The title of this book reminds its reader of the vastness of China. The Chinese phrase 天下 or tianxia, is translated literally as “Under Heaven” and once referred to the lands, space, and area believed to be divinely appointed to the Emperor by universal and well-defined principles of order. The phrase also refers to the entire geographical world. It’s easy to see how in Ancient China, China could have been seen as the “world” considering how massive the country is.
As I mentioned before, this work is massive at a little over 500 pages. Ambitious, indeed, the only other focused study of a cultural cuisine I’ve seen that compares is Claudia Roden’s 668-page work The Book of Jewish Food.
Cumin Lamb Burger
This recipe doesn’t come from Phillips’ book but is inspired by one of the husband’s favorite dishes from China. We’ve given the stir-fry a fusion makeover and turned it into a burger. The blasphemy, I know, I know. But it’s delicious and that’s all that matters.
-晚星 (aka, Chava Mazal)
What ethnic cuisine do you love? Do you have a favorite cookbook? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!