Beyond The Great Wall
Jeffrey Alford & Naomi Duguid
A Book Review by Franz Scheurer
This travel and recipe book is very timely with the world’s attention on Beijing but it deals with the ‘other China’, away from the tourist traps and, dare I say it, away from what we might term civilisation. It covers Mongolia, Xinjiang, Qinghai, and Tibet all the way to Altai in the far north-western corner of China, exploring the cuisine of the thirteen Non-Han people living in China, the Dai, Dong, Hani, Hui, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Miao/Hmong, Mongol, Tajik, Tibetan, Tuvan, Uighur and Yi.
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid provide an insight into the history, cultural backgrounds and region-specific foods. The photography (as in all of their books) is spectacular and captures moments in time that make lasting impressions on the reader. The book is divided into Introduction (dealing with the land, the people and the food), Condiments and Seasonings, Soups, Salads, Mostly Vegetables, Noodles and Dumplings, Rice and Grains, Breads, Fish, Chicken & Eggs, Lamb & Beef, Pork, Drinks and Sweet Treats, followed by an Afterword with a note on Sinicization (the classification of the people living in China) and Cultural Survival.
It’s like being there. Following the text, savouring every word and taking in the sights, smells and impressions the authors were subjected to. Travelling these rather unknown areas of China, I get totally absorbed in this new world. Not only are they gifted authors, they’re keen cooks and outstanding photographers. This combination, coupled with lots of patience and hard work yields astonishing results. This is a book to read, re-read and keep somewhere handy to revisit at any time you feel the need. Although ‘Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet’ is their most awarded book, this one is by far my favourite.
I love the sound of the ‘Tibetan Bone Broth’, traditionally made with yak bones. We will have to substitute oxtail or beef shanks but it makes a stock of great depth. The ‘Beef-Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad’ a dish from Inner Mongolia, which blends Siberian and Mongolian worlds, intrigues me. I love carrots in almost any form from juice to raw to cooked or caramelized and the ‘Dai Carrot Salad’ from Jinghong sounds superb. The Kazakhs are the noodle kings and their thick, gelatinous, hand-formed noodles are amazing, and amazingly easy to make, following the authors’ recipes. I suggest you give the Laghman Sauce a try and have it with these noodles; you could almost be in Italy. Congee is a trusted breakfast all over China but ‘Black Rice Congee’ is less often seen and if you pair it with some Chinese red dates it is a wonderful meal at any time of the day. Should you ever find yourself in the Turpan Oasis ignore the mainly drab, Han centre of the town and head to the bazaar, almost entirely run by the Uighur. It’s the place to eat and the Uighur deep-fried pastries with pea tendrils are at once crunchy and soft, a textural delight. Every culture has a chicken soup they claim their own, full of real or imaginary health properties and the Dong people are no exception, but the ‘Dong Chicken Hot Pot’ also looks great and tastes even better. It’s quite hot and very spicy but also soothing and comforting. The picture is on page 249 and the recipe on page 250 and I reckon this should be the first thing you cook from this book. It will take you to far away places without you ever leaving your kitchen. The Uighur people of Xinjiang speak a Turkic language and the connection is also obvious with their food. The use of pomegranate and lots of garlic makes the ‘Uighur Lamb Kebabs’ a sticky, tangy mess to eat, but they’re wonderful. There is a section of sweet temptations which uses flavours and ingredients that don’t immediately appeal, but the ‘Eight-Flavour Tea’, using green tea, wolf berries, red dates, raisins, dried lychees, pineapple, mango, peach, apricot and prunes, rocks.
Published by Artisan (A Division of Workman Publishing Inc)
Buy it from Books for Cooks 03 8415 1415 (they ship Australia wide)