Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook is a delightfully quirky hybrid of fables and recipes that will satisfy those hungry for both knowledge and culinary inspiration.
Lauded historian and author Paul Yee creates or retells magical Chinese lore, each story ending with a proverb and a thematically linked recipe by Vancouver’s Judy Chan. The tales of heroes overcoming evil-doers and saving underdogs will appeal to kids, and Yee encourages readers to reinterpret the tales themselves, noting, “Storytellers never tell a story the same way twice.”
In “Stretch and Fold, Stretch and Fold,” we learn how noodles were created from one small ball of dough. Much like the Biblical story of five loaves and two fish, the protagonist miraculously produces enough food to satisfy a large group of starving farmers during a drought. Sidebars illustrate the 4,000-year-old history of noodles in China, and we’re given a recipe for Dan-Dan Mian (Noodles with Peanut Sauce) on the following pages.
Chan – a veteran high-school home economics teacher – adapts traditional recipes for modern (and young) palates, but while ingredients and helpful equipment lists are outlined, cooking and prep times are omitted. For those unfamiliar with preparing Chinese cuisine, this can prove problematic: even the most dedicated home cook would need a leisurely day to take on Man-Tou (Steamed Bread) for example, though this only becomes clear with careful reading of the recipe. On a positive note, vegetarians are in luck as most recipes are zhai-cai (without meat).
The fun, colourful illustrations by Yee’s frequent collaborator Shaoli Wang dazzle with their traditional folk-art perspective. The primarily English text is enriched with Chinese characters, while the historically based stories provide context and connections between the fables and Buddhism, Taoism, and Chinese mythology.
More than just a storybook, more than just a cookbook, this latest instalment in a series (which also includes Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen, who provides this book’s foreword), promises to bring people together to share food and stories, embodying the spirit of generosity of the tales within.