At the end of last year I reviewed Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, Fuschia Dunlop's memoir of eating in China. If you subscribe to Gastronomica you'll find it in this month's issue. You can also read the galley proof (with a couple of typos) here.
You may not have heard of Shark's Fin -- if you've been living under a rock for the last few years, that is. Dunlop is an extremely accomplished cook and writer who, after attending the prestigious Sichuan Culinary Institute in the nineties, wrote a (rightfully) acclaimed book on Sichuan cuisine. She followed that up with a not quite as well-received (and controversial, for some) but still wonderful volume on Hunan food. These days you can often find her on the pages of the Financial Times' weekend leisure section.
In her memoir Dunlop regales us with tales of her time in Sichuan and Hunan, among other places in China. She's a keen observer, a good storyteller, and quite likeable. I had a few issues with Shark's Fin (detailed in the review) but on the whole I would recommend it to anyone interested in the ways in which food -- a deep interest in and curiosity about food, that is -- can be an entree to an unfamiliar culture.
I found myself nodding and murmuring 'Yes, yes!' while reading many passages, especially this one:
I have discovered more about China in general through my food explorations than I ever did when I was interested in explicitly social or political issues.
All in all, an excellent read, whether you're particularly interested in China or not. And some great recipes to boot.