Possibly one of the most embarrassing conversations I ever had was about Chinese food at a Society of Authors‘ ‘young’ (i.e. under 40…) drinks party.
I was talking to someone I had just met and bitching about how Time Out‘s Chinese restaurant reviewer kept encouraging readers to ask for the non-English menu, for the one in, er, I think she said Mandarin, in London’s Chinese restaurants. ‘I mean,’ I said, (me, not knowing anything about it…), ‘how many people, apart from the reviewer, can really order from a menu in Chinese?’ ‘Ah,’ she said, nodding and smiling, ‘I wrote that.’ It was, of course, Fuchsia Dunlop. Reader, the place was packed (all those authors still inspired by ‘youth’ who had not yet given up…) so there was nowhere to run and hide my embarrassment.
We became friends afterwards, for a while, before losing touch, but I still remember her absolute non-phased candour and politeness at my downright dismissiveness. She was totally focused on why she’d written it: to encourage a nation brought up on sticky sweet pork and overcooked Peking duck to branch out and try a cuisine that, for the most part, was barely known in its authentic form in the UK.
Since that meeting which was, I think, in 2005, Fuchsia has published several books, acted as a consultant to the marvellous Bar Shu, won awards and appeared on TV, amongst many other brilliant things. It’s doubtful you’d find her in the pages of Time Out anymore.
But, as far as I am concerned, she is still doing exactly what she did that night: educating and inspiring the dunces like me about Chinese food in a completely open and non-patronising way. I recently bought Every Grain of Rice, her most accessible cookery book, and, if you like Chinese food, really really good Chinese food, I can’t recommend it to you highly enough. Continue reading