At the Chinese Table: A Memoir with Recipes (Hardcover)
KCRW Best Culinary books of 2021
WBUR Here & Now Favorite Cookbooks of 2021
Part memoir of life in Taiwan, part love story—a beautifully told account of China’s brilliant cuisines…with recipes.
At the Chinese Table describes in vivid detail how, during the 1970s and ’80s, celebrated cookbook writer and illustrator Carolyn Phillips crosses China’s endless cultural and linguistic chasms and falls in love. During her second year in Taipei, she meets scholar and epicurean J. H. Huang, who nourishes her intellectually over luscious meals from every part of China. And then, before she knows it, Carolyn finds herself the unwelcome candidate for eldest daughter-in-law in a traditional Chinese family.
This warm, refreshingly candid memoir is a coming-of-age story set against a background of the Chinese diaspora and a family whose ancestry is intricately intertwined with that of their native land. Carolyn’s reticent father-in-law—a World War II fighter pilot and hero—eventually embraces her presence by showing her how to re-create centuries-old Hakka dishes from family recipes. In the meantime, she brushes up on the classic cuisines of the North in an attempt to win over J. H.’s imperious mother, whose father had been a warlord’s lieutenant. Fortunately for J. H. and Carolyn, the tense early days of their relationship blossom into another kind of cultural and historical education as Carolyn masters both the language and many of China’s extraordinary cuisines.
With illustrations and twenty-two recipes, At the Chinese Table is a culinary adventure like no other that captures the diversity of China’s cuisines, from the pen of a world-class scholar and gourmet.
About the Author
Carolyn Phillips is a food writer, scholar, artist, fluent Mandarin speaker, and author of the James Beard–nominated All Under Heaven, the first English-language cookbook to examine all thirty-five cuisines of China. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I can count on one hand the number of people I trust about Chinese gastronomy. Carolyn Phillips is one of them. The richness and scholarship she has brought to my people’s food culture is evident in every illuminating page of At the Chinese Table. I don’t have enough hands to count how often I’ll return to this book.
— Kevin Pang, America’s Test Kitchen
At the Chinese Table is a cookbook, a memoir, an exquisitely rendered history lesson, and a love story, written with enchanting warmth, intelligence, humor, and respect.
— Laurie Woolever, coauthor, with Anthony Bourdain, of World Travel: An Irreverent Guide
What a seductive read!…Caroline Phillips takes us into another world, with lively details, humorous self-deprecation, and enticing line drawings. It’s a world of family stories, cultural traditions, and delicious food of great depth and variety. Her curiosity and appetite for understanding and her engaging storytelling transported me effortlessly.
— Naomi Duguid, author of Taste of Persia and Burma: Rivers of Flavor
For most, food nourishes the present as well as representing home and better times. Phillips’s relentless curiosity and evocative style make this memoir mouthwatering and heart wrenching by turns.
— Kristen Yee - Asian Review of Books
What a delightful book…I was so moved by the nearly wordless time Philips spent in the kitchen with her father-in-law preparing a family feast…What is not to love
— Judith Olney, author of Comforting Foods
An engaging work for those interested in memoir, food writing, or Chinese and Taiwanese recipes that will be new to some cooks’ repertoires.
— Rebecca Brody - Library Journal
There are plenty of Chinese cookbooks out there today, and just as many first-hand accounts of foreigners traveling in the East. What there is not, however, is as thoughtful a combination of the two as Carolyn Phillips’ latest book At the Chinese Table, which elegantly integrates the story of her own personal odyssey to Taiwan in the 1970s and 80s with 22 mouthwatering recipes. Complete with charming illustrations drawn by Phillips herself, At the Chinese Table is a story of love, family, history and acceptance, bound together by the universal language of food.
— Laurence Coulton - Wildchina, 10 Best Books on China in 2021