Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey through China by Jen Lin-Liu

I recently discovered that my local library has an RSS feed where librarians recommend books of all genres. What a genius idea! This book was one of the highlighted titles.

Jen Lin-Liu grew up in the USA as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, but after finishing college she feels compelled to return to China and eventually settles in Beijing, earning her living as a food and travel writer. At some point she decides that she would like to learn to cook, and that's where this memoir begins, as Lin-Liu enrolls in a Beijing cooking college (much to the astonishment of the locals). She sits through endless lectures in the freezing-cold classroom before finally convincing the principal of the school, Chairman Wang, to give her private cooking lessons at Wang's home. Eventually, she learns enough to pass the exam and goes on a journey through China, learning how to make traditional chinese dishes such as dumplings and noodles through internships in various restaurants.

I think I enjoyed the first part of this book, where Lin-Liu is enrolled in the cooking school, the best; the rest was a bit choppier. I would have liked a bit more explanation of how her various travel opportunities came about to help transition the reader between each section. Nevertheless, the people in this book really come to life and I loved getting some insight into the role of food and chefs in Chinese society. On the whole, this was a well-written and very interesting memoir with some extremely tempting recipes scattered through the book. If I didn't have to return Serve the People to the library I would certainly be going on a Chinese cooking spree right about now!

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