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Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid: smart dumplings

Those pesky Olympics begin tomorrow, and Slate has reviewed a plethora of books about China in the spirit of the games (though many of them are about Mao), including Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China by Q&Q’s May 2008 cover stars, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

As reviewer Nicholas Day writes, this cookbook isn’t just about perfectly fried Uighur pastries with pea tendrils.

It’s a Chinese cookbook that ignores what we think of as Chinese food. A preservationist manifesto, the book draws all its recipes from China’s ethnic minorities “ Tibetans, Mongolians, Uighurs, Hui, Dai, and more than a half-dozen other groups, each of which is briefly profiled. Alford and Duguid, a Canadian couple who met on a Lhasa rooftop and who have published a series of inimitable culinary travelogues, wrote Beyond with the sinking feeling that these minority cultures are imperiled. (The book concludes with “A Note on Sinicization.”) It’s an alarm bell disguised as a set of dumpling directions.

Alford and Duguid traveled to some of the most remote and/or impoverished villages in China to witness how the locals ate. In Hom, people sat down to a meal of hand-pulled noodles and bones. In Central Asia, locals feast on ground-lamb samsas, something Day likens to North American Hot Pockets “ but with a quarter-cup of lamb fat for flavor.