Martin Yan's Chinatown Cooking

400 pages; Color photographs Hardcover
Published by William Morrow/Harper Collins, NY, NY, October 2002
Reviewed by Cerise Jacobs for Good Cooking, Spring 2003
This beautifully presented book purports to be "200 traditional recipes from 11 Chinatowns around the world." In fact, it is an eclectic medley of traditional and nontraditional dishes, which intrigue precisely because of the juxtaposition of old and new. For instance, the "Eight Treasures Honeydew Melon Bowl Soup" is a refreshing new take on winter melon soup, the honeydew imparting a light sweetness to this traditional soup. White Cloud Wok Seared Scallops (p. 183) The scallops were a surprising and subtle hit - thin translucent slices of sweetness floating on a delicately seasoned cloud of egg white. Black Bean Sauce Clams with Basil (p. 187) This traditional Chinatown dish was given a subtle lift with the addition of fresh basil. Instead of whole salted black beans, I substituted black bean sauce and ended up with a slightly sweeter version of the dish, but equally delicious, I was assured by my tasting panel.

Wok-Braised Lobster Tails in Creamy Rum Sauce (p. 203)
The lobster was voted the best of the seafood tasting menu. Being out of rum, I used Grand Marnier instead and created a heady, rich, sweet sauce which complemented the natural sweetness of the lobster.
I finished off the evening with a "take-off" of the usual fried wonton hors d'oeuvres - Fried Banana Wontons, for dessert (p.327). They were spectacular, with or without the coconut dipping sauce that accompanied them.
Martin Yan's food is the "reverse" of Asian fusion. While Asian fusion adds exotic Asian spices to Western dishes melding east and west to create something entirely new, Yan has preserved the essential identity of the food in his cookbook - it is unequivocally Chinese despite the use of some un-Chinese ingredients, and is innovating and innovative as all good food ultimately must be.