Book Review: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper

sharksfinWarning: This book review isn’t for the weak of stomach.

I can’t pinpoint how I came upon this book. It probably had to do with a trip to a local bookstore and the freakish sounding ingredients on the back cover.  A book that combined my love of travel with my culinary curiosity was bound to get my attention.

Fuchsia Dunlop is a well known cookbook author in Great Britain, but she’s a little unfamiliar around here.  In 1994, she travelled to China, to the Sichuan Province, a bit aimless and very culturally unaware.  Instead of seeking out bland substitutes for the native cuisine, she plunged in, headfirst, to the spicy seasoned rabbits’ heads, intestines, insects, dog, snake, and chicken feet. At times, it seemed like she was going for gross out factor, explaining only the most bizarre elements of Chinese cuisine, and perhaps, she was. But this westerner had her eyes opened to a very different concept of eating, where animals are consumed in full, without waste. And anything that moves is a possible ingredient.

At the time Dunlop first visited China, there were few westerners, so she was a bit of an anomaly.  She blazed new trails, reminiscent of many of the missionary stories I’ve read, of brave souls who enter cultures and fully assimilate, relying on the goodwill of the people there to help one survive.  Dunlop was the first westerner to attend a prestigious cooking school, The Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine.  This is probably my favorite part of the book because here, we learn many details about the finer arts Chinese cookery and the philosophy behind its preparation.  In order to become a student, Dunlop also learned the local dialect, which was no small feat.

I admit, a few of her recipes were mouthwatering, including fairly “normal” sounding ingredients, ones that I might find at the local grocery store.  But many others would put my culinary adventurousness to the test.

Reading about how much Fuchsia assimilated into the culture through language and through sharing meals, how being willing to embrace local foods with people opened many doors to her, I realized that these are powerful ways to be missionaries in a society.  It reminded me of Paul’s missionary method, which he shared to the Corinthians in his first letter:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

I just wonder, if in order to win people to Christ in China, if I’d have the stomach to eat a rabbit’s head.  That alone would demonstrate God’s incredible power.

If I recommend any books that you’d like to purchase, consider buying them through Amazon using the links on my site, so I get a percent of the purchase price back to buy more books to review!

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