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At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes

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At the Chinese Table describes in vivid detail how, during the 1970s and ’80s, celebrated cookbook writer and illustrator Carolyn Phillips crosses China’s endless cultural and linguistic chasms and falls in love. During her second year in Taipei, she meets scholar and epicurean J. H. Huang, who nourishes her intellectually over luscious meals from every part of China. And At the Chinese Table describes in vivid detail how, during the 1970s and ’80s, celebrated cookbook writer and illustrator Carolyn Phillips crosses China’s endless cultural and linguistic chasms and falls in love. During her second year in Taipei, she meets scholar and epicurean J. H. Huang, who nourishes her intellectually over luscious meals from every part of China. And then, before she knows it, Carolyn finds herself the unwelcome candidate for eldest daughter-in-law in a traditional Chinese family. This warm, refreshingly candid memoir is a coming-of-age story set against a background of the Chinese diaspora and a family whose ancestry is intricately intertwined with that of their native land. Carolyn’s reticent father-in-law—a World War II fighter pilot and hero—eventually embraces her presence by showing her how to re-create centuries-old Hakka dishes from family recipes. In the meantime, she brushes up on the classic cuisines of the North in an attempt to win over J. H.’s imperious mother, whose father had been a warlord’s lieutenant. Fortunately for J. H. and Carolyn, the tense early days of their relationship blossom into another kind of cultural and historical education as Carolyn masters both the language and many of China’s extraordinary cuisines. With illustrations and twenty-two recipes, At the Chinese Table is a culinary adventure like no other that captures the diversity of China’s cuisines, from the pen of a world-class scholar and gourmet.


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At the Chinese Table describes in vivid detail how, during the 1970s and ’80s, celebrated cookbook writer and illustrator Carolyn Phillips crosses China’s endless cultural and linguistic chasms and falls in love. During her second year in Taipei, she meets scholar and epicurean J. H. Huang, who nourishes her intellectually over luscious meals from every part of China. And At the Chinese Table describes in vivid detail how, during the 1970s and ’80s, celebrated cookbook writer and illustrator Carolyn Phillips crosses China’s endless cultural and linguistic chasms and falls in love. During her second year in Taipei, she meets scholar and epicurean J. H. Huang, who nourishes her intellectually over luscious meals from every part of China. And then, before she knows it, Carolyn finds herself the unwelcome candidate for eldest daughter-in-law in a traditional Chinese family. This warm, refreshingly candid memoir is a coming-of-age story set against a background of the Chinese diaspora and a family whose ancestry is intricately intertwined with that of their native land. Carolyn’s reticent father-in-law—a World War II fighter pilot and hero—eventually embraces her presence by showing her how to re-create centuries-old Hakka dishes from family recipes. In the meantime, she brushes up on the classic cuisines of the North in an attempt to win over J. H.’s imperious mother, whose father had been a warlord’s lieutenant. Fortunately for J. H. and Carolyn, the tense early days of their relationship blossom into another kind of cultural and historical education as Carolyn masters both the language and many of China’s extraordinary cuisines. With illustrations and twenty-two recipes, At the Chinese Table is a culinary adventure like no other that captures the diversity of China’s cuisines, from the pen of a world-class scholar and gourmet.

30 review for At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bkwmlee

    4.5 stars “...a fine meal [should be] designed to feed the mind, not just the mouth and the stomach.” It’s no secret that I love food memoirs – in fact, if given a choice between reading a regular memoir and a food-related memoir, the food one wins out every time! The reason for this is, well yes, I love to eat, but more significantly, I’m also fascinated by the “culture” of food and the myriad ways that different experiences with food can shape our lives, often in the most unexpected ways. In t 4.5 stars “...a fine meal [should be] designed to feed the mind, not just the mouth and the stomach.” It’s no secret that I love food memoirs – in fact, if given a choice between reading a regular memoir and a food-related memoir, the food one wins out every time! The reason for this is, well yes, I love to eat, but more significantly, I’m also fascinated by the “culture” of food and the myriad ways that different experiences with food can shape our lives, often in the most unexpected ways. In this regard, Carolyn Phillips’ newest work At the Chinese Table was the absolute perfect read, one that checked every single box in terms of what I look for in memoirs, yet at the same time, it also exceeded my expectations in so many ways. It’s not often that a memoir goes way beyond its stated intent of providing insight into aspects of the author’s life by incorporating elements such as: a beautifully written, immersive narrative that brought various delectable food dishes to life through lush, vivid descriptions; wonderfully-rendered illustrations (all drawn by the author herself!) woven throughout each chapter that perfectly complemented the author’s story; an in-depth exploration of not just a diverse and rich cuisine, but also its history and culture; easy-to-follow recipes with helpful tips and even a glossary of often-encountered terms; and ancestral stories about the Chinese family she married into, a family that inadvertently taught her so much about life, love, relationships, and food. My experience reading this book was actually very different from all of the previous food memoirs I’ve read in the past due to the fact that I grew up in a traditional Chinese family just like the author’s husband – a background that meant, going into this book, I already had a certain familiarity with the cuisines and the various dishes described in such vivid detail throughout the book. With Chinese food oftentimes depicted in a homogenous, stereotypical way in mainstream American culture, it was refreshing to see Phillips (a white American woman) go the opposite direction and actually take the time to explore, recognize, and embrace the variety of flavors and nuances of Chinese cuisine (of course, the fact that her Chinese husband is an epicurean who shares her love for good, authentic Chinese food definitely helped) — to the point that her enthusiasm and love for Chinese cuisine shines forth in every page. I love how Phillips covers such a variety of different cuisines from all across Taiwan and Mainland China — from food stalls, street markets, and hole-in-the-wall local diners to traditional family dishes and even “haute couture” fare from fancy restaurants. I mean, how often will you see dishes such as the following mentioned all in one book: yanduxian (one of my favorite Shanghainese dishes), dandan mein, suanni bairou (a Sichuanese dish that is spicy as hell but oh so delicious!), pidan doufu (a tofu dish with preserved egg), xianfantuan (rice roll with fried cruller and other stuffing that, when paired with a warm bowl of soy bean milk, is one of the most heavenly of Taiwanese breakfasts!), hongxiao shizitou (red-braised lion’s head meatballs), fenzheng paigu (rice-covered steamed pork ribs over sweet potato — another of my favorite dishes that I rarely see mentioned anywhere!), just to name a few. It was such a delight to see so many familiar dishes (and more) given such detailed coverage (the one downside though was that I started craving these dishes as I was reading knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to satisfy those cravings any time soon). Without a doubt, this has been one of the most personal and heartfelt memoirs I’ve read to date! It’s definitely a must-read for anyone who loves and appreciates the varied flavors of authentic Chinese cuisine. Highly recommended! Received finished copy from publisher W.W. Norton Company via BookBrowse First Impressions program.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Randal White

    The author was an exchange student to Taiwan, fell in love with the country's variety of Chinese cuisines, stayed in Taiwan and ended up marrying a Chinese man. The book is chock full of her experiences eating everything Chinese she could find. Very good descriptions, I could almost taste the food myself. She then throws herself into preparing the foods herself, devouring old cookbooks to learn more. Phillips does a good job of describing Taiwanese culture, her experiences with her boyfriend and The author was an exchange student to Taiwan, fell in love with the country's variety of Chinese cuisines, stayed in Taiwan and ended up marrying a Chinese man. The book is chock full of her experiences eating everything Chinese she could find. Very good descriptions, I could almost taste the food myself. She then throws herself into preparing the foods herself, devouring old cookbooks to learn more. Phillips does a good job of describing Taiwanese culture, her experiences with her boyfriend and future husband, her in-laws, and the local scene. I'm looking forward to reading the author's previous two books. If you are a foodie who's really into Chinese cuisine, this would be a great read for you.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Savita

    I was thrilled to see this upcoming memoir from Carolyn Phillips, the author and illustrator behind the incredible All Under Heaven (2016) cookbook. At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes is above all a food memoir. Through this, Phillips weaves in historical information, brief stories about her time in 1970/80s Taiwan and California and her partner’s family history. It is a sensual book, both in the descriptions of food and romance. Phillips is incredibly humble and self-deprecating about he I was thrilled to see this upcoming memoir from Carolyn Phillips, the author and illustrator behind the incredible All Under Heaven (2016) cookbook. At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes is above all a food memoir. Through this, Phillips weaves in historical information, brief stories about her time in 1970/80s Taiwan and California and her partner’s family history. It is a sensual book, both in the descriptions of food and romance. Phillips is incredibly humble and self-deprecating about her youth moving back and forth between the United States and Taiwan. This is endearing because she’s a highly accomplished woman. In this coming of age story, she describes how her partner, Taiwan and the Chinese people shaped her life and career as a professional Mandarin interpreter before taking the inspiring shift into food writer and artist later in life. Early on, she shares her issues with language-learning and the culture shock of being the only Western woman around. For a time, this makes her ‘thin-skinned’ and anxious that her appearance and presence is always being observed and commented on. This very well may be true, as she describes an incredibly awkward and humorous situation where she is constantly being watched by a nosy neighbourhood auntie who eventually forces herself into her flat to have a little snoop around. As part of language learning, she must also grasp the Chinese sense of humour and the related word-play, double meanings and cultural references. Readers will be moved by her descriptions of meeting her mother again in Asia after some time apart and how living abroad changed her temperament. As she grows from a university student to a professional adult, she describes Taiwan as it was then, including its underdevelopment, poverty and signs of previous polio outbreaks. It was interesting to have this rare view into a Taiwan I had not heard about. Although the recipes included at the end of each chapter are written with a novice (who may or may not have access to a full Chinese grocery) in mind, the section alone on how she prepared a pig’s head for a meal shows her mastery in the kitchen. I especially liked reading rare descriptions of regional cuisine that differ greatly from the restaurant and street foods we’re used to. For example, she writes about the subtle flavours and the key importance of textures in the banquet foods of Chengdu and Changsha. This level of dining, it seems, utilizes far less chilli peppers than we would expect. Through these sections she also describes historical recipes and her passion for ancient cookbooks written in classical Chinese. Although this book is more serious in its content, the sections on Chinese cuisine and ingredients remind me The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City (2009) by David Lebovitz. Lebovitz and Carolyn Phillips were able to rely on considerable culinary skills to smooth the formation of new relationships through the sharing of food. Unlike Lebovitz, Phillips cooks the food of her in-laws’ childhoods to win them over, while Lobovitz was keen to share his American chocolate classics. Additionally, debating how many officials ‘cuisines’ China has was another way for Phillips to share her passion for regional foods with new acquaintances. Perhaps here is a good point to share one observation about this book and other recent memoirs from Western Women with an Asian partner. After the previously mentioned visit with her mother as a young woman, I don’t recall there being any mention of her family again. This is especially noticeable in the sections which detailed how her partner was for quite some time married to another woman and had a child. I wouldn’t expect her to ‘tell all’ but we learn so much about her partner, his family and their relationship with Chinese history, that it seems odd to have absolutely no mention about her own hometown, family, cultural background or how an intercultural relationship works both ways. Did her parents disapprove or only his? Were there any issues living in two countries with a partner who is legally married to someone else? How did she feel about moving around so much and why did they move? Why did she start studying Asian languages? Did she experience any financial or visa issues? How did they decide where to live? In some ways, this memoir ends at the start, where the reader finally hears briefly about how the author went from studying Japanese to Chinese, studied abroad during university and ended up meeting the partner and his family she has been describing throughout the book. Perhaps it is due to her modesty that the author dedicates the vast majority of her memoir’s pages to the history of others in her life. I understand the subject matter of this book is roughly China and Chinese cuisine, but I am beginning to notice a publishing trend here. To be clear, this book is sensitively and respectfully written, but I wish the narrators didn’t have a habit of disappearing as the story progresses. Phillips is a scholar, artist and expert chef, which lends a certain weight to her observations about Chinese history, language learning and food. The extensive glossary, recipes and useful cooking tips add another rich layer to this book. The recipes include memories of her first encounters with the dish, regional influences and their history. Overall, this memoir shines with her love and gratitude for the life she’s led and the opportunities she’s had to “enjoy so many of this ancient country’s delectable cuisines at precisely the right place and at exactly the right time.” It’s an uplifting read which easily balances multiple themes. This book was provided by W. W. Norton & Company for review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    LeeAnna Weaver

    American Carolyn Phillips spent much of the 70s and 80s assimilating into the Chinese culture that fascinated her, especially the food culture. She married into a local family and began to study the foodways of her adopted home. She shares memories of trying her best to fit in with her in-laws, often without much success. I especially enjoyed her recipes and plan to try several. Her ink drawings are an attractive addition to the text.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Meagan

    I absolutely adore Phillips' writing style, and the incorporation of her line drawings into the book--a charming, beautiful addition that complemented the narrative and brought the stories to life in a fresh way. I only took one East Asian history class in college, so between that and the cursory American educational curriculum in K-12 (which could be great or ... less so, lol), I really didn't know much coming in, and felt like I learned a ton both about the area's food and history. The recipes I absolutely adore Phillips' writing style, and the incorporation of her line drawings into the book--a charming, beautiful addition that complemented the narrative and brought the stories to life in a fresh way. I only took one East Asian history class in college, so between that and the cursory American educational curriculum in K-12 (which could be great or ... less so, lol), I really didn't know much coming in, and felt like I learned a ton both about the area's food and history. The recipes look great, and Phillips does a great job at directing the reader where to find ingredients or swap as desired. For me personally, Phillips' and my worldviews vary widely on a few points, and that was sometimes challenging (particularly as a friend walks a certain road right now--it gave me even more pause than it might have at other times). I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    I received a free copy through the wonderful readers’ website Bookbrowse. I loved reading the author’s experience about meeting her boyfriend’s parents, and how disappointed the parents were with the fact their eldest son had taken up with a foreigner. I enjoyed the author’s description of the meals she and her boyfriend would eat at various restaurants in Taiwan. I have found true Chinese food to be too foreign and intimidating. After reading this memoir, I am going to check out Carolyn’s book, I received a free copy through the wonderful readers’ website Bookbrowse. I loved reading the author’s experience about meeting her boyfriend’s parents, and how disappointed the parents were with the fact their eldest son had taken up with a foreigner. I enjoyed the author’s description of the meals she and her boyfriend would eat at various restaurants in Taiwan. I have found true Chinese food to be too foreign and intimidating. After reading this memoir, I am going to check out Carolyn’s book, All Under Heaven, visit my local Asian market, and try some new recipes. Highly recommend.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ☆ Katie

    This book really proved to be a delightful surprise! As a non-native Chinese person, Carolyn Phillips falls in love with Chinese culture, traveling to Taiwan and immersing herself in the language, culture, and most importantly, cuisine from all over Taiwan and mainland China. Akin to Fuchsia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, she takes us on a delectable ride of mouth-watering dishes from all over China and Taiwan. Her knowledge of Chinese food is va This book really proved to be a delightful surprise! As a non-native Chinese person, Carolyn Phillips falls in love with Chinese culture, traveling to Taiwan and immersing herself in the language, culture, and most importantly, cuisine from all over Taiwan and mainland China. Akin to Fuchsia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, she takes us on a delectable ride of mouth-watering dishes from all over China and Taiwan. Her knowledge of Chinese food is vast and her descriptions are surprisingly satisfying, leaving the reader with the most complete dining experience short of tasting the food yourself. She provides a complete picture of all the sensory experiences that take place, as well as the history and context of the dish and its origins. Her descriptions are vivid and evocative, almost poetic in nature. Thanks to NetGalley and W. W. Norton Company for my ARC.

  8. 5 out of 5

    KennytheKat

    This book was very relatable and phenomenal. I love the authors story and how she put it in to words. Her language was amazing. This book is a must read. I can't wait to try some of these recipes. This book was very relatable and phenomenal. I love the authors story and how she put it in to words. Her language was amazing. This book is a must read. I can't wait to try some of these recipes.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. At the Chinese Table delivers exactly what it claims, an engaging memoir by Carolyn Phillips recounting her adventures learning another culture and language alongside some beautifully presented recipes. Released 15th June 2021 by W. W. Norton, it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. This entire book has such a comforting and wholesome honesty that I found myself enthralled and invested in the author's recollections from the Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. At the Chinese Table delivers exactly what it claims, an engaging memoir by Carolyn Phillips recounting her adventures learning another culture and language alongside some beautifully presented recipes. Released 15th June 2021 by W. W. Norton, it's 304 pages and is available in hardcover and ebook formats. This entire book has such a comforting and wholesome honesty that I found myself enthralled and invested in the author's recollections from the first few pages. She writes well and clearly about her early days as a language student in Taiwan, her education and appreciation for the culture and the food, her intertwined stories with the man who would become her life partner and her interactions with his traditional family. The format of the book meanders delightfully from story to anecdote; full of observations and a respectful humor on both sides, self-deprecating by turns, delighted and wondering soon after. The stories are interspersed with a handful of well curated personal recipes. The recipes are presented with an introduction, bullet list of ingredients with measures in both American standard and metric (yay!), followed by clearly written step-by-step directions. There is no photography in the book. The stories and recipes are illustrated with whimsical line drawings which enhance the text well. Some ingredients will be difficult to source in North America outside large urban areas with well stocked Asian markets. The author includes tips for sourcing (or growing) some supplies. I found this a charming read. I would recommend it to fans of memoir, gastronomy, Chinese cooking and culture. Beautifully done. Five stars. Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marie Raymond

    A Delicious Memoir of Life and Food in Taiwan and Mainland China I received an electronic ARC from W.W. Norton through NetGalley, and here are my thoughts. Carolyn Phillips is as rare as that flower that only blooms once every 40 years in the Malaysian jungle. And this flower began her unfolding just a few islands away, in subtropical Taiwan. Somehow she was born a consummate cook/explorer, AND an amazing writer. Her descriptions of preparing and eating food are as exquisite as the food itself. In t A Delicious Memoir of Life and Food in Taiwan and Mainland China I received an electronic ARC from W.W. Norton through NetGalley, and here are my thoughts. Carolyn Phillips is as rare as that flower that only blooms once every 40 years in the Malaysian jungle. And this flower began her unfolding just a few islands away, in subtropical Taiwan. Somehow she was born a consummate cook/explorer, AND an amazing writer. Her descriptions of preparing and eating food are as exquisite as the food itself. In this coming of age tale, Carolyn, in her 20s, went to Taiwan to study Mandarin in the 1970s. This was a time when Mainland China was only just starting to open its doors to the outside...and there were not many westerners of any kind who were "into China”. Taiwan was, and is, the “easier” entry point to Chinese culture and language, in many ways. While reading this memoir, which is mainly about her love affair with Chinese food, (no disrespect to her husband!) I remembered I had downloaded a Kindle version of her monumental Chinese cookbook "All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China", which I also highly recommend, for the same reasons I will spell out here. This woman was born to be an ambassador of Chinese food and Chinese culture. However, she was not born into a Chinese family. Therefore, with one foot in her western American heritage, and another foot in the Chinese culture she observes with a passion, she is able to describe the experience of preparing and eating authentic Chinese food in a way that brings you right "to the Chinese table", as the title implies. I have to bow in deep reverence to all her food exploits, including preparing a whole pig head. While this may sound "scary", the way she described the whole process had me cheering for her attention to detail. I can tell you that in the 10-plus years I lived in Taiwan, I do not know a single person who has cooked with the dedication and breadth that Carolyn Phillips has...and certainly, none of them could write so eloquently in English to describe it for the benefit of the English-reading world. To be truthful, I doubt they could in Chinese either. Her gift with words is extraordinary. In a nutshell, this is a book for lovers of Chinese food and culture, anyone who has ever studied Mandarin as a foreign language or lived in Taiwan or Asia, and anyone who loves reading memoirs that are extremely entertaining, funny, and well-written. This is the cross-cultural memoir at its finest. Lastly, I almost cried when I saw one of the recipes in the book. (How could I not mention that there are magnificent recipes and beautiful illustrations by the author throughout the book). What she calls "Golden Cabbage Fritters" or Zha Gaolicai Wan, is a dish that my Taiwanese mother made for us when we were growing up in Alaska. This simple dish was one that we brought to many a potluck and every single time, people would ask..."How do you make this? This is delicious!" She told everyone they were "Vegetable Buns", and I've never seen them in a cookbook, nor ever ate them in Taiwan, because they are truly a "homey dish" that restaurants don't serve. Geez! Now, finally, decades later, I know the origin of those Vegetable Buns and why I've never seen them on any menu. Thank you, Carolyn Phillips.

  11. 4 out of 5

    =^.^= Janet

    Date reviewed/posted: March 9, 2021 Publication date: June 15th, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #secondwave ( #thirdwave ?)is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange f Date reviewed/posted: March 9, 2021 Publication date: June 15th, 2021 When life for the entire galaxy and planet has turned on its end, you are continuing to #maskup and #lockdown to be in #COVID19 #socialisolation as the #secondwave ( #thirdwave ?)is upon us, superspeed readers like me can read 300+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review. From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸. Part memoir of life in Taiwan, part love story—a beautifully told account of China’s brilliant cuisines…with recipes. At the Chinese Table describes in vivid detail how, during the 1970s and ’80s, celebrated cookbook writer and illustrator Carolyn Phillips crosses China’s endless cultural and linguistic chasms and falls in love. During her second year in Taipei, she meets scholar and epicurean J. H. Huang, who nourishes her intellectually over luscious meals from every part of China. And then, before she knows it, Carolyn finds herself the unwelcome candidate for the eldest daughter-in-law in a traditional Chinese family. This warm, refreshingly candid memoir is a coming-of-age story set against a background of the Chinese diaspora and a family whose ancestry is intricately intertwined with that of their native land. Carolyn’s reticent father-in-law—a World War II fighter pilot and hero—eventually embraces her presence by showing her how to re-create centuries-old Hakka dishes from family recipes. In the meantime, she brushes up on the classic cuisines of the North in an attempt to win over J. H.’s imperious mother, whose father had been a warlord’s lieutenant. Fortunately for J. H. and Carolyn, the tense early days of their relationship blossom into another kind of cultural and historical education as Carolyn masters both the language and many of China’s extraordinary cuisines. With illustrations and twenty-two recipes, At the Chinese Table is a culinary adventure like no other that captures the diversity of China’s cuisines, from the pen of a world-class scholar and gourmet. About the Author: Carolyn Phillips is a food writer, scholar, artist, fluent Mandarin speaker, and author of the James Beard-nominated All Under Heaven, the first English-language cookbook to examine all thirty-five cuisines of China. This was a lovely blend of memoir and cookbook with a heavy dash of family drama and Chinese traditions with a few recipes added in for flavour. It is decidedly NOT a cookbook, per se, but you will want to cook the few recipes in the book once you have read it. Decidedly a book for fans of food literature and her first book - it is not, in my opinion, a book for the usual reader or cookbook skimmers in search of what to make for dinner. Wrap it in a tea towel along with some Asian ingredients and they will thank you, for sure. As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I simply adore emojis (outside of their incessant use by "🙏-ed Social Influencer Millennials/#BachelorNation survivors/Tik-Tok and YouTube Millionaires/snowflakes / literally-like-overusers etc. " on Instagram and Twitter... Get a real job, people!) so let's give it 🍜🍜🍜🍜

  12. 4 out of 5

    Canice

    I love this book. I always enjoy a good memoir, food memoir, armchair travel, or fine story telling. At the Chinese Table delivers all of that and more (recipes! tips on preparation and shopping! history! charming line drawings! geography!) The book is written with such great intelligence, yet never at the expense of warmth and good humor -- not an easy balancing act, and it is executed beautifully. Small wonder Phillips's past works have garnered James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher award nominations; I love this book. I always enjoy a good memoir, food memoir, armchair travel, or fine story telling. At the Chinese Table delivers all of that and more (recipes! tips on preparation and shopping! history! charming line drawings! geography!) The book is written with such great intelligence, yet never at the expense of warmth and good humor -- not an easy balancing act, and it is executed beautifully. Small wonder Phillips's past works have garnered James Beard and M.F.K. Fisher award nominations; she has a true gift for making flavor, aroma, texture and atmosphere leap from the printed page straight to your (salivating) mouth.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    After having lived in Indonesia during the time that Carolyn Phillips first traveled to Taipei, I was eagerly anticipating reading this book. It does not take a trip to Asia to fall under the spell of this charming, yet realistic, memoir which includes skillful drawings and insightful recipes. Best of all, this book is from an American's point of view so I could totally relate to Ms. Phillips' foray into a world so different from her own. The unfamiliarity of China all brings the reader to a lar After having lived in Indonesia during the time that Carolyn Phillips first traveled to Taipei, I was eagerly anticipating reading this book. It does not take a trip to Asia to fall under the spell of this charming, yet realistic, memoir which includes skillful drawings and insightful recipes. Best of all, this book is from an American's point of view so I could totally relate to Ms. Phillips' foray into a world so different from her own. The unfamiliarity of China all brings the reader to a larger understanding of a world not yet visited. This book will resonate with people of all ethnicities and ages. As Ms. Phillips expresses unease with how little she understands her new surroundings, she grows in an appreciation, and the reader grows with her. Her histories of the relationships between mother/daughter, wife/husband, daughter-in-law/in-laws are relatable in any country. Then there is the magic of looking at cooking and eating in a whole new way. Gastronomic theory might sound dry, but Ms. Phillips makes it intriguing. I might never cook pig's head or feet, but the author makes the journey amusing. New ideas of Chinese cooking are eye openers, showing how the cuisine of each section of the country changes as do the recipes- - -some you would probably never try and others that will become family treasures. After reading this book, China will continue to mystify the reader with its unique food and culture, but the reader will not ever feel the same way about China again. Who knows what further explorations will appeal to me. I will definitely try some of the recipes and explore further adventures into Chinese cuisine.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    AT THE CHINESE TABLE -- Carolyn Phillips This utterly delightful book combines memoir with recipes. The memoir portion consists of a fascinating account of the author’s years in Taiwan sparked by mouthwatering descriptions of the food she eats as she learns Mandarin and falls in love with the country, the cuisines of China and J H Huang. Along the way we are introduced to her imperious future mother-in-law who is won over with a time consuming, challenging recipe for a treat that hadn’t been tast AT THE CHINESE TABLE -- Carolyn Phillips This utterly delightful book combines memoir with recipes. The memoir portion consists of a fascinating account of the author’s years in Taiwan sparked by mouthwatering descriptions of the food she eats as she learns Mandarin and falls in love with the country, the cuisines of China and J H Huang. Along the way we are introduced to her imperious future mother-in-law who is won over with a time consuming, challenging recipe for a treat that hadn’t been tasted in 40 years by her now blissful MIL. Because I love to cook as much as I love to read and eat, I tried several of the recipes. Because I live in a city with a thriving Chinatown I was able to find most of the authentic ingredients. The recipes cover everything from beverages to main dishes to side dishes and condiments to even an odd “dessert” of “Coffee Gelee.” Simple strong coffee gelled with Knox unflavored gelatin and then coated with sweetened condensed milk became an odd favorite of my family. Not so simple but equally appreciated were Strange-Flavor Peanuts, Chilled Winter Melon and Bear Paw Doufu. The recipes were easy to follow once the ingredients were obtained. I highly recommend this book both as memoir and as cookbook. 5 of 5 stars

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late May. A happy, loving, appreciative ode to Phillips' eight years in Taiwan with her progress and observations while becoming a food writer, a wife, and proficient in Mandarin illustrated by pencil sketches of scenes in a home, over history, streetscapes and ingredients. She uses deductive and instructed reasoning on the names of dishes and their flavor profiles and encounters many moveable feasts, even just teat At the Chinese Table by Carolyn Phillips is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late May. A happy, loving, appreciative ode to Phillips' eight years in Taiwan with her progress and observations while becoming a food writer, a wife, and proficient in Mandarin illustrated by pencil sketches of scenes in a home, over history, streetscapes and ingredients. She uses deductive and instructed reasoning on the names of dishes and their flavor profiles and encounters many moveable feasts, even just teatime and lunches, with focuses on pork, shrimp, dumplings, sweets, veg, and beans.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I came away from of this book, very full and satisfied. Carolyn Phillip's experiences with Chinese food and culture have been both alike and different from my own. I kept thinking about my past while I read about hers! Her first trip to Taiwan where she went to learn Mandarin was in 1976, my trip to China was in 1992. Both of us married men from Taiwan, both of their families had fled China. I learned some Chinese cooking before the language, and she learned some language before learning about C I came away from of this book, very full and satisfied. Carolyn Phillip's experiences with Chinese food and culture have been both alike and different from my own. I kept thinking about my past while I read about hers! Her first trip to Taiwan where she went to learn Mandarin was in 1976, my trip to China was in 1992. Both of us married men from Taiwan, both of their families had fled China. I learned some Chinese cooking before the language, and she learned some language before learning about Chinese cooking. Carolyn Phillips attempted cooking a pig's head, I never did. My husband is a vegetarian and I became one after we married, but I was impressed with many pork dishes before, but I never would to cook a pig's head! Eating a hamburger with real beef would make me cry! I enjoyed her drawings in the book even more than the recipes. I learned why my husband turns off the water heater in the winter and turns it on for a shower. He would have never told me why but I found out this secret in her book. Chinese history and Chinese genealogy can be very complex. My husband has shown little interest in it or in my own. The author did provide some elucidations on her husband's family history that I think would be safe to generalize to my husband's ancestral background. It was also exciting to read about the growth of diversity of Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. There was a tremendous amount of diversity in the different cuisines of China in that area. The author ate in restaurants that served meat, while we ate at vegetarian ones that varied so much! I remember crying when the restaurant where we had a couple of our wedding feasts closed, and loving Muslim Chinese Food that we found in Irvine. I won this book in a FirstReads contest and received a hard copy from the publishers. My review reflects my thoughts and opinions alone.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Karen Hancock

    Award winning author and expert on Chinese cooking, Carolyn Phillips, who is the author of the hands-down best cookbook of Chinese Cuisine (All Under Heaven), is the author of a fascinating memoir of her time in China, At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes. This multi-talented author is also the illustrator for this book, and her illustrations are excellent. This memoir includes a few recipes, which are well-worth making at home, but this book isn’t a cookbook. Phillips is definitely the ex Award winning author and expert on Chinese cooking, Carolyn Phillips, who is the author of the hands-down best cookbook of Chinese Cuisine (All Under Heaven), is the author of a fascinating memoir of her time in China, At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes. This multi-talented author is also the illustrator for this book, and her illustrations are excellent. This memoir includes a few recipes, which are well-worth making at home, but this book isn’t a cookbook. Phillips is definitely the expert on Chinese Cooking, and this book gives some insight on how she became so good and knowledgeable on the subject. Her experiences are interesting, and her talent has made it possible for her to document it with an excellent writing style that will hold the interest of anyone who loves Chinese food and all things Chinese. This is a book that is suitable for curling up in a warm corner and reading cover to cover. While there are only a few recipes, readers will be fascinated and want pick up Phillips’ excellent cookbook All Under Heaven. Readers who have an interest in all things Chinese will want both. It’s always fun to learn about other cultures, and with so much in the news about China, this book has timely significance. There is historical information and other facts that are worth knowing. As well as an interesting story. Special thanks to NetGalley for supplying a review copy of this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jasmine

    I won the Goodreads giveaway for "At The Chinese Table" and recommend it. There's something for readers that enjoy memoirs and cookbooks. Although there are only 22 recipes, they are curated with care. Instructions include basic techniques and common ingredients for home cooks. The whimsical line drawings by the author are amusing too. A well-written candid narrative chronicling the author's study of the language, cuisine, and cultural emersion in Taiwan. Her enthusiasm for and description of I won the Goodreads giveaway for "At The Chinese Table" and recommend it. There's something for readers that enjoy memoirs and cookbooks. Although there are only 22 recipes, they are curated with care. Instructions include basic techniques and common ingredients for home cooks. The whimsical line drawings by the author are amusing too. A well-written candid narrative chronicling the author's study of the language, cuisine, and cultural emersion in Taiwan. Her enthusiasm for and description of everything from simple street food to the gourmet specialties of various regions, bring you right along with her on this journey. Just as the challenges she faced as an American trying to master the language, and find acceptance. As when her culinary feats to win over her mother-in-law by recreating treats from her childhood were particularly sweet!. I enjoyed reading this and making the recipes. The almond cookies are delectable!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    This was a quick read for me. I read it more for the author’s story and personal history rather than the recipes and food. I do like Chinese food, but having traveled there ten years ago, I prefer American Chinese food. I’m a picky eater so most that the author describes and the recipes she includes I wouldn’t eat. I’m sure it would satisfy culinary palates delightfully with all the recipes and tips from the author. She included her own drawings as illustrations as well. Thanks to W.W. Norton an This was a quick read for me. I read it more for the author’s story and personal history rather than the recipes and food. I do like Chinese food, but having traveled there ten years ago, I prefer American Chinese food. I’m a picky eater so most that the author describes and the recipes she includes I wouldn’t eat. I’m sure it would satisfy culinary palates delightfully with all the recipes and tips from the author. She included her own drawings as illustrations as well. Thanks to W.W. Norton and NetGalley for the early read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Francesca Pashby

    I guess this could be described as a gastronomic memoir! The author left America in her 20s to begin a love affair with all things Chinese (including her future husband, JH!), and this enthusiasm is reflected in this jolly gem of a book. Some personal history is interspersed with a lot of information about food and a selection of recipes. Tbh, I wanted to know more about Phillips' life and I skimmed the recipes themselves, but this was a charmingly produced tome, especially all the little drawings I guess this could be described as a gastronomic memoir! The author left America in her 20s to begin a love affair with all things Chinese (including her future husband, JH!), and this enthusiasm is reflected in this jolly gem of a book. Some personal history is interspersed with a lot of information about food and a selection of recipes. Tbh, I wanted to know more about Phillips' life and I skimmed the recipes themselves, but this was a charmingly produced tome, especially all the little drawings throughout.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a tantalizing and fascinating memoir about life in 1970s Taiwan. Warning! Do not read when you are very hungry; Phillips' descriptions of her meals and cooking in Taiwan are delectable. Librarians/booksellers: Foodie memoirs are usually very popular; purchase for readers looking for an addictive read with recipes sprinkled throughout. Many thanks to W.W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review. Read if you: Want a tantalizing and fascinating memoir about life in 1970s Taiwan. Warning! Do not read when you are very hungry; Phillips' descriptions of her meals and cooking in Taiwan are delectable. Librarians/booksellers: Foodie memoirs are usually very popular; purchase for readers looking for an addictive read with recipes sprinkled throughout. Many thanks to W.W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Brandi

    A truly delightful memoir peppered with recipes. A love story, with a country, a people and the richness of the culinary delights to be experienced. I really enjoyed the experiences through Carolyn’s down to earth retellings. The recipes are an added bonus that I cannot wait to try. I received a complimentary copy from the publisher through NetGalley and all opinions expressed are my own, freely given.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ace

    I wish all cookbooks could be like this one! I love to challenge myself to cook good Chinese food (actually any Asian food of sorts) so I was delighted to get to read At The Chinese Table. Food for many cultures is at the centre of family life, there's so many traditions and love shown through every day cooking. It's wonderful to read about such personal stories along side interesting recipes. It feels much more genuine and authentic too. I wish all cookbooks could be like this one! I love to challenge myself to cook good Chinese food (actually any Asian food of sorts) so I was delighted to get to read At The Chinese Table. Food for many cultures is at the centre of family life, there's so many traditions and love shown through every day cooking. It's wonderful to read about such personal stories along side interesting recipes. It feels much more genuine and authentic too.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nelda Brangwin

    Memoirs revolving around food are always enticing. Phillips who married a Taiwanese man learned about Chinese food from her in-laws. Turning a pig’s head into a meal isn’t the most enticing chapter but you learn a lot. Now only does gathering at the Chinese table mean a new appreciation of the Chinese palate but it also provides cultural context and history. The sprinkle of romance was nice as well. Foodies who travel will want to read this memoir.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Janet Cobb

    Having spent time living in Taiwan and Hong Kong myself, I was eager to read this memoir. I enjoyed her writing style and the family stories but got bogged down a bit by the detailed cooking and food details - perhaps because of the heavy focus on meat, which I no longer eat. If you eat meat and are adventurous - you'll love this! Although her arrival in Taiwan was in the mid-seventies and mine was in the mid/late 80s -- her description brought back many memories of my experiences. Having spent time living in Taiwan and Hong Kong myself, I was eager to read this memoir. I enjoyed her writing style and the family stories but got bogged down a bit by the detailed cooking and food details - perhaps because of the heavy focus on meat, which I no longer eat. If you eat meat and are adventurous - you'll love this! Although her arrival in Taiwan was in the mid-seventies and mine was in the mid/late 80s -- her description brought back many memories of my experiences.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jbn

    I simply do not understand all the four- and five-star reviews for this book. I thought it was poorly written and even more poorly edited--a real embarrassment for the Norton copyediting department. It reminded me of "Eat, Pray, Love," which I found abominable. Yes, the stories were interesting. And some of the recipes look promising. But as with EPL, the author is too full of herself to be of interest to me. I simply do not understand all the four- and five-star reviews for this book. I thought it was poorly written and even more poorly edited--a real embarrassment for the Norton copyediting department. It reminded me of "Eat, Pray, Love," which I found abominable. Yes, the stories were interesting. And some of the recipes look promising. But as with EPL, the author is too full of herself to be of interest to me.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Beth SHULAM

    Immersive experience of the Chinese culture in Taiwan through the eyes of Carolyn Phillips. Ms Phillips fell in love with Taiwan, the food, and a Chinese man and set about learning everything about the diverse food cultures of the country. Extensive knowledge peppered with recipes and anecdotes and stories of her time there. This is a magnificent memoir.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stuart Jennings

    At the Chinese Table is a culinary adventure like no other that captures the diversity of China’s cuisines, from the pen of a world-class scholar and gourmet... And that states it in a nutshell...this is a fantastic adventure into another culture and history... Covers past and present relationships in a multi-generational family...that's not only interesting but intriguing! Highly Recommended! At the Chinese Table is a culinary adventure like no other that captures the diversity of China’s cuisines, from the pen of a world-class scholar and gourmet... And that states it in a nutshell...this is a fantastic adventure into another culture and history... Covers past and present relationships in a multi-generational family...that's not only interesting but intriguing! Highly Recommended!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lisa H

    A memoir told in food. This is a unique mix of memoir lightly peppered with recipes. The story itself is lush and a love story and adds in the discordant ingredients that make a family. Recommend.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I won this book in a goodreads giveaway. Lovely memoir of moving to Taiwan and falling in love with her husband and connecting to him and his family through food.

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