*The Food of Sichuan*, by Fuchsia Dunlop

A new and considerably updated edition of the classic Land of Plenty.  For my money, one of the best and most valuable books ever produced.  Pre-order here.  And here is my Conversation with Fuchsia Dunlop.

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Sichuan cuisine is the world's best cuisine bar none. Fuchsia Dunlop is its greatest ambassador bar none. From a happy 'Land of Plenty' reader.

Fuschia is a phenomenon. Self-recommending

I meant it ironically. I'm recommending her work. I don't know what self-recommending means. It just seems to be a meme here.

Don't worry. Your Straussian instinct is correct here.

And my spelling is not. Sorry Fuchsia.

Fun fact: Her name is actually pronounced "Fucks-yeah". It's a Scottish thing.

Saoirse is another weird one. Sursha as in inertia,

Mierda de toro. It's a Spanish thing.

For background (it always helps), here is the Wikipedia page for Sichuan Cuisine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sichuan_cuisine The second footnote in the article is to Fuchsia Dunlop's book (the first is to Merriam-Webster). Asian restaurants here almost always have photographs of the different dishes they serve, something I don't believe is the case with other restaurants. Wikipedia includes photos. The first dish in the list with photos, translated to English, is called ants climbing a tree. I don't believe I will be having that dish for dinner tonight. [No, there are no ants or trees in the dish.]

Bad plan, Ants Climbing a Tree is a great dish. (The "ants" are usually ground pork and, the "tree" noodles.)

There's a great Sichuan restaurant in Orlando. Went there for the first time recently and enjoyed it. But the way the peppercorn spice works, with your lips numbing as opposed to your mouth being on fire, was more weird than great. What am I missing here? I have been eating mabo-dofu since I lived in Japan 20 years ago and love that dish, along with dandan-men (noodles) but I wouldn't elevate either into the "greatest food" in the world category. What is it that takes Sichuan cooking from being something nice- an interesting change of pace for dinner- to "the world's best cuisine bar none"?

Go with as many adventurous friends together as you can. Order many items. It's the depth and range of flavors that really stands out.

Greatest bar none, I don't know. It's sure a candidate, though. I say that even though my favorite cuisine is Sichuanese, and I learned to cook at a French restaurant.

I suppose Sichuan has subtle flavors if hot and spicy can be described as subtle. The contrast between French and Asian cuisine couldn't be more stark, as French sauces are subtle while Asian hot and spicy is, well, not so much. My observation is that the popularity of French cuisine declined in America as the popularity of Asian cuisine rose in America, just as nuance in America all but disappeared. I blame the internet. [Uh, the last sentence is meant as a joke.]

There's lots of nuance in Sichuan cuisine. You just have to get used to the level of heat. If you meant it facetiously, I assure you I mean it quite literally. If you were Chinese, you'd say that there's lots of nuance in French cuisine, once you get used to the level of butter.

And French cuisine never really went into decline. There are even those who insist the best French chef working today is an American. It just lost relative cultural prominence to food you could get for $15 a meal as eating out democratized.

(See above, Chinese raised, French trained. I got my family to prefer Sichuanese to Cantonese from an outsized sense of adventure).

If you're after nuanced Chinese food, find a fancy Chinese restaurant, I don't know, in DC or LA or whatever.

One man's subtle is another man's bland. One man's flavorful is another man's lack of nuance. As another post mentioned, if French cuisine can price itself back into the middle class it will be popular again. Italian cuisine is able to do this.

This book changed my life. Reminded me of the 16 months I spent in Asia in the middle of my undergraduate education. Inspired me to return to Asia and live. I'm still here. The book uses extraordinary food as a window to Sichuan culture. The writing transcends the travel/food genre as it depicts the role of food and the work of its creation in Sichuan. As the book's epithet says, if I remember it right, "China is the land of food, but Sichuan is the land of flavor."

Since Tyler is repeating mentioning this book, let me repeat my recommendation as well. Since the first edition of this book, the fashion for cookbooks has changed so there are pictures on every facing page or even every page. Dunlop's most recent, Land of Fish and Rice, is produced in this way. That alone makes it worth it for me to order the second edition even though I already have the first.

In addition, the American (and I hope British) palate has become more adventurous, and more ingredients are easily available, so Dunlop can choose to include more adventurous items. No doubt, she has learned quite a bit about Sichuanese cuisine since then, even if she has mostly been devoted to writing the other books.

Tyler has on more than one occasion expressed a dislike, or at least lack of much like, of French cuisine. I am not sure how much this is due to the high prices for top quality French cuisine as I know he values highly high quality/price ratios.. Likewise, top Japanese cuisine also is very expensive.

I may agree that Sichuanese cuisine is both the best of the Chinese regional cuisines and is a strong competitor for #1 in the quality/price ratio measure. I have to thank Tyler for making me aware of some really outstanding Sichuanese restaurants in the DC metro and extended area, and I love the cuisine.

That said, I probably still think that French and Japanese are better in quality when it gets down to it, but one does indeed have to pay plenty for that really top quality. There is a reason such cuisine is expensive that goes beyond French and Japanese people having higher incomes than people in China.

French food is like 2-3x more expensive than Italian food and is definitely not 2-3x better. More like 0.8x-0.9x, meaning it isn't better a lot of the time. French cuisine forces you to consider price when most of other cuisines do not. I would for example prefer French family style restaurants rather than the haute cuisine that populates the city centers but see so little of it in the US.

What is missing in Italy is the top, where the prices really differ. Regular trattorias in Italy easily match regular bistros in France, and not much cheaper. They are probably a draw. Now top Italian cuisine is very good (and Italian is the world's most popular cuisine, but that is not the top end stuff), but still no match for the top French (or Japanese).

This was easily top 3 Conversations w/ Tyler

Sichuan food is great if you like bold flavors. I married into it as my wife is from Chengdu. When we married, neither of us knew how to cook, so I learned how to make sichuan food, and my wife told me whether it was successful. Over the years we have visited Chengdu several times as well as some highly regarded Sichuan restaurants in NJ/NY. I have Dunlop's Land of Plenty and while it's the most interesting cookbook to read about Sichuan, I'd say my Wei Chuan Sichuan Cuisine cookbook is more practical for teaching you how to get a dish done in the kitchen.

I found this site pretty good for Sichuan cooking as everything is explained and pictured:

https://www.chinasichuanfood.com/

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