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Culinary Memoir Shares Spice of Sichuanese Cuisine

Promo: Chengdu Diary

Fuchsia Dunlop, a British cookbook writer and an expert on Chinese food, was the first Westerner to study cooking at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in the western Chinese city of Chengdu, back in the 1990s.

All Things Considered will be broadcasting from Chengdu for a week later this month, from May 19 to 23.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper is Dunlop's food memoir of those years in China.

Sichuanese food, Dunlop writes, is "the Spice Girl among Chinese cuisines, bold and lipsticked, with a witty tongue and a thousand lively moods." She extols its simple joys: Unlike Cantonese or Shandong food, Sichuanese cooking doesn't require extravagant raw ingredients.

"This is the greatness of Sichuanese cuisine, to make the ordinary extraordinary," Dunlop writes in her book.

She speaks with Melissa Block about the ordinary and inexpensive restaurants she frequented during her time in Chengdu, as well as the tingly, lip-numbing taste of Sichuan pepper — the key ingredient in Sichuanese cooking. Dunlop also tells of a hot pot dinner that made her body run with sweat, and tells Block which dishes she should be sure to sample while visiting Sichuan province: Gong Bao (Kung Pao) Chicken and Twice-Cooked Pork.

Even though these dishes are available at practically any Chinese restaurant anywhere in the world, what Block will taste in Sichuan will probably be a "revelation," Dunlop says.

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