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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Bao Family: Recipes from the Eight Culinary Regions of China

“The real way to the heart is through the stomach,” says author Céline Chung. She was born in Paris to Chinese parents, later lived in Wenzhou (south of Shanghai), and then returned to Paris to set up the first of several popular Bao-named restaurants – collectively known as the Bao Family. And yes, there are several recipes for the steamed bun of the same name, although the book extends well beyond bao, offering over 80 recipes for breakfast, starters, soups and noodles, mains, rice and noodles, and desserts. Many dishes will be familiar to people who love Chinese food (including yum cha) – Marinated Spicy Eggplant, Chinese Spring Onion Pancakes, and Pork and Cabbage Dumplings, for example. My son’s eyes lit up when he thumbed through the book – he’s keen to have a family cooking night so we can try our hand at some of our favourite dishes.

Recipes range from quick and easy (Marinated Cucumbers) to more complex (such as the Sheng Jian Bao with pork rind jelly and seasoned pork mince filling). The information included about serving sizes is helpful, as it’s not always obvious from the ingredient list what quantity to expect. Some recipes are for a single serving (e.g. fried egg on rice), others produce 25 (Har Gow) or up to 40 (Siu Mai) servings.

I found the Mains chapter particularly tempting. There are many well-known dishes – such as Kung Pao Chicken, Hainanese Chicken Rice, and Mapo Tofu. Others that I had not yet heard of look equally enticing – including the Walnut Prawns, Lion’s Head Stewed Meatballs, and Bean Sprouts with Garlic Chives.

“Bao,” Céline and her team say, “is very close to our hearts. It is both simple to eat and to transport, but is also complex to make, requiring a certain expertise.” They provide step by step instructions with photos, showing how to prepare, portion, roll, fill and steam baozi. Baozi recipes include vegetarian, pork, Charsiu bao and Sheng Jian bao – soft, pillowy and plump little buns with delicious-looking fillings, some with a scattering of green onion or sesame seeds on top. Although there are recipes for dough, the authors are pragmatic. They encourage use of ready-made wonton wrappers for some recipes, and provide photos to show you how and where to create the folds necessary to ensure the filling stays firmly inside its wrapper.

Photos of the final product accompany each recipe. There are also vibrant photos of local street scenes, the Bao Family chefs and restaurant crew, and various ingredients. The pages stay open nicely, always a bonus in a book this size as it’s frustrating when pages flip closed when you’re cooking. I found it a bit odd that the main index focuses on ingredients rather than the names of the recipes – if you want to return to a particular recipe you’ll need to either riffle through the book or bookmark the page. Each chapter does, however, have a mini-index for the recipes that follow.

Curious about chopstick etiquette? There are several pages devoted to that too. “Do not stick your chopsticks upright in your bowl!” we are warned. “This reminds us of the incense sticks arranged near the offerings made to the deceased. Instead, place them next to or on the edge of your bowl.”

This book has energy – from its striking red, white and yellow cover, to its bold black text and colourful full-page photos. The front end-papers have bright red Chinese characters emblazoned on a yellow background and the back end-papers repeat these characters above eight columns – one for each of the eight regions represented in the book. There’s a brief description of the main characteristics of the food of that region (for example: Guangdong food is “light, umami, delicate, fresh, sweet”) and notes about regional cooking methods and techniques, common seasonings and other interesting snippets of information.

Céline and her team make it easy to get started – with advice about condiments, sauces, pastes, spices, staple ingredients, fresh produce and the basic utensils you might need. Measurements are both metric and imperial. Ingredients and other necessities should be easy to find at most supermarkets or Asian grocery stores – I know where I’m headed this weekend.

Reviewer: Anne Kerslake Hendricks

Allen & Unwin


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