My conversation with Fuchsia Dunlop

Here is the link to video, podcast, and transcript.  The Q&A segment was led by guests Ezra Klein, Megan McArdle, Mark Miller (Coyote Cafe), and Eva Summer.  Fuchsia speaks in perfect British sentences and she always had an answer ready, with charm and extreme intelligence.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Three dishes one absolutely has to try are what?

DUNLOP: In Shanghai?

COWEN: In Shanghai. The city, not the region.

DUNLOP: I think you should have hong shao rou, red braised pork. Real home cooking. Delicious combination of soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar, and one of the favorite dishes.

I would recommend some Shanghainese wontons in soup stuffed with shepherd’s purse, which is a wild variety of the brassicas, and pork, just to show you the lighter, gentler side of Shanghainese cooking.

Then, perhaps, if we’re talking Shanghai, you might one to have one of these dishes that says something about Shanghai as being a mixing pot of different cultures.

There’s a very nice crab meat and potato and tomato soup served in some of my favorite Shanghainese restaurants. Which seems a little bit of a fusion with some European influences, the way they use potato and tomato in that soup with local seafood.

COWEN: As you know, the Michelin Guide recently has covered Shanghai, given some restaurants three, two, one star. There’s cheap places you can go. Conceptually, do they understand the food of Shanghai? To the extent they don’t, what are they missing?

DUNLOP: If you look at the restaurants they’ve selected, there’s a bit of a Cantonese bias. They do have some Shanghainese restaurants, but one thing that’s very conspicuous, there are some notable, some of the best Shanghainese local restaurants, which are missing from that list, in my opinion.

The reason is, I think, the methodology of Western food inspectors, which is they tend to go as individuals or small groups. Of course in many Chinese restaurants where you eat family style, to make the most of the restaurant, you have to eat as we’re doing now with a large group and a table full of dishes.

We cover much more, including her favorite parts of China, whether offal is an inferior good, whether one can acquire a taste for sea cucumber, what she thinks of Leonard Cohen, Dream of the Red Chamber, how newbies should approach Chinese food, what top Sichuan chefs thought of their trip to French Laundry, whether milk is overrated, whether Americans have done anything worthwhile with Chinese food, and her favorite Chinese movie.

Here is a short video excerpt from the Sichuan peppercorn tasting segment, namely what makes the very best peppercorns so good compared to the lesser peppercorns.


Here you can order Fuchsia’s new and excellent book The Land of Fish and Rice.


Sweetbreads, chicken liver pâté, lambs' liver and bacon, calves' brain, steak and kidney pie, haggis, tripe (but in the Lancashire style, not Les tripes à la mode de Caen): lovely. Though I don't suppose anyone would sell me calves' brain nowadays. And I admit that I never did take to Ox Tongue.

I don't know which parts of the pig go into the delicious Newmarket Sausages, so perhaps they should be on my list too. Mmmmm.

Afterthought: maybe the Scotch Pie should be on my list too - wonderful outdoor food on a cold day. It's just my guess that it might contain some offal.

Moreover: I've never eaten this but it sounds pretty good.

Good grief, I forgot oxtail soup. And on the principle of "who knows", pork pie.

I love oxtail in Bun Ho Hue.

I get the texture thing now, but it took time. I heard that tendon in soup (Pho) was "so good, like rubber bands." I tried it, and the mouth feel was just wrong to a muscle meat only kid. Ten years later, I love the tendon mouth feel. Hungry now.

I have actually had the duck tongues, my reaction as also too high a grapple factor.

Rubber bands are delicious

Lol, this actually brings back childhood memories.

no, but he's right. if I have a meal that I really want to recommend to someone, my "go to" reference is rubber bands. "Seriously, it was so good, like rubber bands!"

That was my first reaction, 10 years ago. In fact I thought it was so funny I told the "rubber band" story a few times.

Just had Bun bo Hue. Sad to say no oxtail, but some cut offs of cow legs were nicely chewy. I hope they improve my running.

(Texture, as it says in the audio, not the flavor of rubber.)

so it's a Vietnamese expression? Surely based on a misunderstanding?

My friend was Vietnamese, but I think "rubber bands" was all him.

As the audio says though, textures.

Fuchsia probably does not say "good like rubber bands" to avoid confusion, even though it is funny.

'namely what makes the very best peppercorns so good compared to the lesser peppercorns.'

That the very best are the best while the lesser are truly lesser? Or is that too far from to a tautology that it cannot be used here?

Wow this is stupid even for you, mein Freund

A fifty minute podcast on Michelin starred restaurants in Shanghai. And who says Cowen & Klein are out of touch with middle America!

"Land of Fish and Rice"

It was the fall of 1992 that I and a few other men were loading a U-Haul truck in Abiquiu New Mexico for an older couple who were moving to Yucca, Arizona. The wife made us some tuna sandwiches, which one of the men declined. He explained that fish and rice were all he had to eat during his time as a POW in the Korean War, and he couldn't stand fish since his release.

One of my uncles, a USAAF enlisted man, could not eat meat for a few years after the day he had to slowly pull burnt bodies out of a mostly or completely unsuccessful warplane in England in 1941 or something. I am not sure if it was a few years, or twenty years, before he ate meat again. Anyway, he eventually got over it. Some people say life is hard because we are all, after all, just humans, and humans are apex predators, and ilife is not easy in that environment. Other people point out that we grow up watching Snoopy at Christmas and taking old copies of Readers Digest and making triangular folds all the way around that turn those old Readers Digests into triangular versions of Christmas Trees. I wish you and your POW friends the best of luck, it is the least I can do. Others have done more, I know. God loves us all more than any one of us loves God. No matter how much you love someone else - and no matter how much you imagine they love you - the fact is that you were probably never energetic enough or compassionate enough to have created the person you love, if you had had that opportunity back in the chaotic days. If I am wrong about that nothing would make me happier. Andrew' would disagree, probably - well, I wish the poor little guy the best. Good story, by the way - another uncle of mine almost died during or after the Bataan Death March, and the revival food they gave him after he was rescued from the murderous enemy was rice and beer. He was always kind to me . Sharks are my enemy - every single one of them would eat me without compassion - but I am not a shark, there are no sharks in my family tree, and I get what you tried to say - and I just can't understand people who think the consumption of shark fins is either not amoral, or not so likely to be amoral as to not deserve some comment about its potential amorality. John Mansfiield - you said it in much fewer words. Life is about life, it is not about words, and you did better than me on that parameter.

I really want a list of places, preferably online, to buy some of this stuff. "Go to Chinatown" is okay but realistically I'm not likely to do it. I did try Bluegrass Soy Sauce after reading "The Building Blocks of Japanese Cuisine," and while it is tasty I'm not sure I can tell that much difference between it and other options. Or maybe I'm using it poorly.

I worry that I'll buy the Chinese cooking for dummies (okay, beginners) book and like Megan be too afraid to use it—or, in my case, more likely too inept to use it.

Somewhere there ought to be the canonical place for Sichuan peppercorns, along with the canonical place for Chinese brown rice vinegar and that fava bean paste and whatever else one might need that stores well. Sort of like the way has become the canonical place for weird fun chocolate online.

The video is exceptionally well done and seems to add a lot, it almost feels like a short film. (And so I disagree with Ezra about how interviews are not visual!)

Fascinating. I had never heard of Fuchsia and don't consider myself a foodie, but the style of the interview and incredibly perceptive and elegantly spoken answers from Fuchsia made me want to jump on a plane and fly to China and taste what she's describing. Hope you do more interviews such as these, more intimate, relaxed, and with other people asking questions.

Completely agree. Loved this one.

Great interview, better than your interviews with some topnotch intellectuals. But what are "British sentences"? I heard of the British accent but not sentences!

Probably something like the opposite of Trump sentences

Nice. A couple of things that I wonder about: when did she take those Chinese chefs to The French Laundry? Even back in 2002 when I visited Shanghai, one of the things that struck me was the large number of Pizza Huts all over the city, filled with Chinese (not American expatriate) customers. I asked the Chinese college students that I'd met, "I keep reading that Chinese people don't eat dairy and find cheese disgusting, what gives?" and they simply said "Oh no, we like cheese fine."

Granted these were young people that I was talking too, in a cosmopolitan coastal metropolis; there may well be hundreds of millions of Chinese who hate cheese. But I would expect top chefs to have exposed themselves to some non-Chinese foods and flavors.

But if the French Laundry visit happened 20 or 30 years ago, when China was less developed and less exposed to non-Chinese culture, then the chefs' reactions make more sense.

The question about General Tso's Chicken and other American dishes not making their way back to China was also interesting. But that's where I wish Tyler had asked my suggested question, about whether sweet and sour pork (or other sweet and sour dishes that one gets at Chinese restaurants in the US) is an authentic Chinese dish. I'd always assumed that the answer is no, but a few years ago some Hong Kong chefs visiting LA said that they test chefs' skills by having them make sweet and sour pork.

Which suggests that it's a dish that chefs actually regular make in China? Unlike General Tso's chicken or chop suey. And evidently was invented in China, because Fuchsia Dunlop said that no Americanized Chinese dishes have gained popularity in China?

This segment of conversation with Tyler is probably the best of the bunch. It does actually feel like a conversation. The low lighting photography & editing and the restaurant surrounding gives a cinematic atmosphere.

When I ran a Jewish deli, we did a special Chinese meal on Christmas. Dunlop's books were indispensable. She's doing what Diana Kennedy has done for Mexico, emphasizing the regionality of a nation of cuisines, not just one cuisine. Her red braised recipe was excellent and loved by everyone. Really great stuff.

I was a foreign student in Chengdu, Sichuan at the same time as her (1996), although I never met her. She does rather put me to shame with the depth of her experience of Chinese culture - albeit one part - and inquisitiveness. (As does the writer Peter Hessler who was also in Sichuan at that time).

Don't be fooled. The food in China is terrible.

Just listened to this now. By far the best interview of the series. Maybe best podcast interview I've heard all year. Learned so much. This woman truly knows China and it's cooking. Found it interesting how she kind of defended Chinese provincialism in regards to not accepting foreign influences and being unwilling to learn to like foods they're not used to. It appears she's taken this attitude on as well! Does she really never want to try something beside Chinese food while in China? Very well I suppose, it's good to have experts so immersed in their field that they have neither the time or inclination to look elsewhere. They can do it so I don't have to!

That anecdote about the Chinese chefs eating at the French Laundary was very telling. If the situation was flipped, I find it difficult to imagine a top American/European chef refusing to eat something off the wall in a top restaurant in China. Lot of chauvinism in China for sure.

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