Companion volumes explore the mysteries of Chinese, the glories of dim sum

allunderRead these cookbooks: “All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China” by Carolyn Phillips (Ten Speed Press, $26.95); “The Dim Sum Field Guide” by Carolyn Phillips (Ten Speed Press, $14.99)

 By Wendell Brock

With “All Under Heaven,” Carolyn Phillips delivers a remarkable love letter to the infinite variety of Chinese cooking: 300 recipes in a sprawling 528-page volume with elegant illustrations by the author herself.

Winter Congee with Eight Treasures. Laughing Doughnut Holes. Bombs Over Tokyo (sizzling rice shrimp). Too Soft a Heart (stuffed Chinese red dates). If ever a culture were blessed with evocative and mysteriously named dishes, it is China.

Here Phillips — a student of Mandarin who spent eight years in Taiwan as a young woman, married into a Chinese family and has devoted a lifetime eating her way across the vast country — elucidates these and numerous other dishes.

dim-sumEschewing the eight traditional “great cuisines” of China, Phillips devises her own map of five culinary regions (each with an array of subsets), then goes about describing their distinctive cultures and recipes. “What lies between these covers is little more than the tip of the iceberg,” she writes. “Each of the thirty-five cuisines touched upon here deserves a book of its own.”

Rigorously researched and deliciously annotated, the heavy black volume may seem as foreboding as the Great Wall. But do not be intimidated, dear comrade: The charms within are considerable, and Phillips makes the material accessible to American audiences. This is not a book to be scanned, but one to held in your lap for hours on end. It is magnificent, and it will make you very, very hungry.

“Dim Sum Field Guide,” the big book’s diminutive companion, is not a recipe collection but rather a handy little “Taxonomy of Dumplings, Buns, Meats, Sweets, and Other Specialties of the Chinese Teahouse,” 70 in all. It is as erudite as it is darling. Whether exploring Buford Highway or boarding a plane for Guangzhou, it’s as essential as your wallet and your passport.

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