Xcellent Xmas Present for Foodies -- Fuchsia
My favorite food book of the year was Fuchsia Dunlop's Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. In it, she tells the amazing story of an Englishwoman going to cooking school in Chengu, and we sit on the bike with her as she peddles through the Sichuan capital, snacking on dan dan noodles and other street goodies as she goes.
She develops an idiomatic command of various Chinese dialects, and also sojourns elsehwere in China, making friends in unexpected places, and providing an insider's view of the country, just as it was re-opening to the West. In the second half of the book, she returns to Chengu, to find most of the quaint and fascinating neighborhoods fallen victim to the wrecking ball as the city is modernized with no attempt to preserve its historic character.
Throughout the book she is humble and self-effacing, and her respect for the culture she studies is immediately evident--though her playful sensibilties make the book hilarious from one end to the other. She is quite the opposite of the ugly English colonialist, and melts the hearts of the Chinese people she meets.
There are a sparing number of recipes, though the best part for me was her explication of Sichuan street snacks and their origins--info available nowhere else that I know of.