Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: Fortune Cookie Chronicles - Jennifer 8 Lee


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Title: The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food
Author: Jennifer 8 Lee
Published: Hatchette Book Group, 2008
Pages: 320

I loved Jennifer Lee's storytelling style when I first saw her TED talk about chinese food in America. She gives some delightful anecdotes about Chinese food in other countries, the history of the fortune cookie, and comparisons between General Tso and Colonel Sanders (men both known for chicken rather than war). I thought it was interesting and wanted to see what else her book had to offer.

Though I liked "Fortune Cookie Chronicles" it read a little too much like the long version of the talk I enjoyed. The parts that weren't in the talk, I didn't particularly care much about anyway. Lets be honest, if I actually cared about immigration law, I would read a book about that, not a book about food. Other parts of the book gave some great history on fortune cookies and the original Japanese (Not Chinese!) cookies. It felt like a collection of really interesting essays rather than a connected non-fiction work with a coherent thesis.

I liked some sections more than others. I really enjoyed the parts about General Tso and the skill in writing fortune cookie fortunes. I liked the section about the proliferation of Chinese restaurants around the world, their differences, and which is the best for its influence and food. I did not like the fact that her Chinese food journey in San Francisco took her to Yank Sing. Real Chinese people don't eat a Yank Sing. It's way too far to the right of the costs/benefits bell curve. It's expensive dim sum designed for white people (which I suppose also has its place). She ignored the most amazing, most influential, creative place THAT DELIVERS AND DOES CARRY-OUT in San Francisco. I realize Mission Chinese Food was probably not around when she was visiting San Francisco to sample various Chinese restaurants, but reading this book made me want order after order of their Kung Pao Pastrami, the Thrice Cooked Bacon and Numbing Lamb Face with Hand Pulled Noodles (though they haven't had that on the menu in over a year). It made me want all the things that made Mission Chinese Food so unique and yet so completely and utterly Szechuan.

Of course, it was really a book about American Chinese food. It is authentic in its own right. It was what I grew up eating at our local Chinese restaurant that we called "The Pink Flamingo" because that was the picture on their logo, and we never bothered to learn the real  name.

After reading this book, we ordered takeout Chinese food for dinner. I made sure to order General Tso's chicken, and it was more delicious than remembered. Chicken+fried+sweet really is the key to success in America.

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