Monday, September 26, 2016

Review: The Dim Sum Field Guide



There's a Dim Sum place down the road from me. I've never gone because I get all panicky about how to do the whole Dim Sum thing. This book will definitely help me understand what I'm ordering. Plus, because it describes the foods so well, I'm thinking I could use it to make my own little tidbits.


Imagine you're out in the wilds of a Chinese restaurant, Asian Market, or Street Vendor and you spot the elusive "Deep Fried Shrimp Pouch." Wouldn't you want to know how to identify it, its basic fillings, its nestng habits, origins and various species and genera -- not to mention its typical dipping sauce? of course you would!

The book is divided in the following sections: Introduction, How to use this guide, Key, Savory Dim Sum (which contains the sub-headings Steamed Wrappers, Unwrapped Proteins, Baked Dim Su, Pan and Deep-Fried Dim Sum, Delicious Extras) and Sweet Dim Sum (which are further broken down into Hot and Warm Sweets, Sweet Buns, Chilled Sweets, Cakes and Tarts.), Acknowledgments, About the Author, Index.

The Introduction explains the various teas and etiquette one should know in a Dim Sum restaurant.

Each variety of food is introduced with a hand-drawn illustration on the left page and brief descriptions on the right.

If you ever had one of those field guide books -- for birds, butterflies, mushrooms, whatnot-- you'll get the hang of this book. It's a cute, fun, and handy idea because the book is easily-carried and can fit into a bag easily.

I like this book a lot. I highly recommend it. I'm sure some folks would prefer photographs to the illustrations but I'm cool with the illustrations. They're nicely old-fashioned and they are part of the marketing gimmick. If I were giving a dim sum guide to a friend, though, I would probably give them one of the many guides which have photographs.

This book was given to me free in exchange for a fair and honest review.



Here's an Excerpt:


INTRODUCTION
Welcome to the delicious world of dim sum. This is an exquisitely leisurely way to brunch, a meal that, when done right, can easily stretch out for a couple of hours into the afternoon. Each one- or two-bite morsel of dim sum is essentially a small packet of unique flavors—just enough to grab your attention and whet the appetite—but small enough that you can move on to the next tantalizing dish before your palate becomes bored.

This book explores the Cantonese form of dim sum, which was born in the teahouses of Southern China—specifically, the capital city of Guangzhou that straddles the great Pearl River—about two centuries ago. Of course, the history of dim sum stretches back much farther than that ( jiaozi-like dumplings, for example, were discovered in a Tang dynasty tomb dating from thirteen hundred years ago), and many other parts of the country boast of wonderful arrays of teatime snacks and petite sweets. However, I would have to agree with those who claim that the culinary art form known as dim sum reached its absolute pinnacle in Guangzhou.

Perhaps the secret lies in the land. Located on the lush, fertile plains of southern Guangdong, this area has an almost endless selection of vegetables, starches, fruits, animals, crustaceans, and seafood. Or maybe it’s the people, for Guangdong has been the destination for immigrants from all over the country who longed for more peaceful lives and who made Guangzhou synonymous with gracious living. Or maybe it’s the tropical weather, the type of climate that encourages a person to laze in the shade with a hot pot of tea and some savory snacks, a trickle of water and the rattle of bamboo leaves in the warm wind coming together to form a natural lullaby. Or maybe it is because Guangzhou was a nexus between East and West, as well as North and South, a place where foreign culinary inspiration gave birth to marvelous ideas in the kitchen, while imperial and Muslim tastes added their own rich notes to this culinary symphony. Or maybe it is because all of these great food traditions eventually made their way down the Pearl River to Hong Kong, where ancient history crashed into the modern world, and many dim sum dishes evolved into their delicious, present-day incarnations.

Whatever the reasons, dim sum remains one of the most delightful ways ever invented for whiling away a few hours in the middle of the day. And despite what some think, dim sum is a whole lot more than “dumplings,” a sort of catchall English term for anything vaguely starchy and small in the dim sum brigade. There’s nothing inherently wrong, of course, with calling these dumplings, but it’s sort of like labeling scarlet, chartreuse, and bronze simply “colors,” when they are so much more thrilling than that. The fact is that dim sum covers an intense spectrum of flavors, aromas, textures, and ingredients, and they are very much worth getting to know on a personal basis.

Which is where The Dim Sum Field Guide fits in. My hope is that this book will inspire you to explore the many offerings in dim sum teahouses, whether you carry it with you on your next field excursion, or simply flip through it at home. If dim sum ends up giving you even half the pleasure it has handed to me, I know you will be a dedicated fan for the rest of your life.


Another Excerpt:


BRAISED CHICKEN


GENUS 滷雞 lǔ jī lou5 gai1 
IDENTIFICATION A whole chicken is slowly cooked in broth seasoned with ginger, green onion, sand ginger, black pepper, and traditional Chinese herbs. The sauce may be slightly sweet or deeply savory. The bird is generally poached over very low heat to keep the meat tender and to prevent the skin from tearing. Unlike Roast Chicken, the fat and skin remain attached to the meat. It is often hung up to dry a bit and then chopped before serving. Exterior is slightly sticky and glossy; interior is juicy and contains bones.

DEFAULT SAUCE OR DIP 
Savory meat juices for the dark varieties; lighter birds are often accompanied by bowls of shredded ginger and green onions bathed in hot oil and salt.

NESTING HABITS 

A quarter, half, or whole bird is chopped into chunks and served on a plate; deeper-hued varieties will often be perched on a scattering of braised soybeans.

ORIGINS 

Most probably traveled to Guangdong from Eastern China, where red-cooked and poached chickens are still enjoyed to this day.

SPECIES 
Poached Chicken 白切雞
báiqiē jī baak6 cit3 gai1 
A bird cooked in a pale broth, this subgenus includes Consort’s Chicken
貴妃雞 guìfēi jī gwai3 fei1 gai1.

Master Sauce Chicken
豉油雞
chĭyóu jī si6 jau4 gai1 
The bright, dark skin and juicy flesh are courtesy of a rich, seasoned soy sauce broth.

Crispy-Skinned Chicken
脆皮雞
cuìpí jī ceoi3 pei4 gai1 
Pale poached chicken is coated with a maltose mixture and then fried until reddish and crunchy; usually served with fried shrimp chips.

Magistrate’s Chicken
太爺雞
tàiyé jī taai3 je4 gai1 
Smoked master sauce chicken.
Excerpted from The Dim Sum Field Guide by Carolyn Phillips. Copyright © 2016 by Carolyn Phillips. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

About the Author

CAROLYN PHILLIPS is a scholar, author, and artist whose work has appeared in Lucky Peach, Huffington Post, Alimentum, and Gastronomica. She is the author of All Under Heaven, the first comprehensive cookbook on the 35 cuisines of China (with more than 300 recipes), which will be co-published by Ten Speed Press and McSweeney’s in April 2015. Visit her at MadameHuang.com.
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