When my first book came out, back at the start of this millennium, I was fortunate to receive a very favorable review in Taipei Times. After that, I thought it unlikely I’d ever again have my name on a book winning such plaudits.
However, some weeks back Eugene N. Anderson, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Riverside, posted on Amazon.com a 5-star review of A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai, the food book I co-wrote with Katy Hui-wen Hung:
This is one of the best food books I have ever read–authoritative and densely packed with facts, but extremely readable and delightful. It is more of a food ethnography of Taiwan than a food history of Taipei, but all the better for that. One very good detail is that the linguistic transcriptions are excellent and sophisticated, not only from Mandarin (in standard Pinyin) but also from Hokkien, the usual spoken language of Taiwan. Hokkien is a most unappreciated language–beautiful, flexible, adaptable, creative, with an incredible oral literature, and I am glad to see it get some love for once (it is slowly dying out as China pushes Mandarin on everybody). There are also some words from Hakka and Cantonese, and from Austronesian languages. This book is a linguists’ and ethnobiologists’ delight.
Particularly unique and interesting is the material on the Austronesian-speaking Aboriginal peoples of Taiwan, a diverse and fascinating group almost unknown in the English-language literature. They have a range of unique crops, including a species of quinoa, independently domesticated from the South American one–a striking case of parallelism … this is an exceptionally carefully done book, in marked contrast to too many books on Chinese food. If you are at all interested in Asian food, you need this book.
Professor Anderson is himself the author of landmark books about food, such as Everyone Eats: Understanding Food and Culture and The Food of China. Thanks to his immense experience in Taiwan and Greater China, he was able to point out two minor mis-translations in our book which no one else seems to have noticed! If we’re able to revise the book for a second edition, correcting those errors will be among the changes.
Thank you, Professor Anderson, for your kindness and support!
One thought on “A once-in-a-lifetime book review?”
I’ve been reading A culinary History of Taipei and you’ve guys have inspired me so much! My name is Anais and I do research and development for BAO & XU in London, We have a couple of restaurants all “modern” Taiwanese.. not being Taiwanese myself, your book really put a lot of perspective to me. I will be traveling to Taiwan in January, including Tainan, and would love to meet you perhaps over food to talk ? Haha hope this isn’t awkward !