Like many people, I've no time for pleasure reading these days. I read stuff for research but not fun stuff that aren't work related. But there are a couple of books that I sneak into from time to time. Ironically, they're both kind of wild — but for different reasons.
Fuschia Dunlop, a British journalist who has authored two groundbreaking Chinese cookbooks — Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook (Hunan cooking) and Land of Plenty (Sichuan cooking) — recently released a memoir titled Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper. While Dunlop's recipe books are good if you want to understand some of the mysteries behind Chinese cooking. The instruction at times are not what they can be. What she excels at is story telling, and the memoir is an outpouring of her insights from being a foreigner trying to negotiate the many oddball and wondrous foods of China — from familiar places like Hong Kong to the far western portion of the country.
She writes with a self-deprecating sense of humor and is an observant journalist who captures the moment very well. If you've ever spent any time in China or have qualms about 'exotic' Asian foods, this is an entertaining and informative book to read. Dunlop has the ability to take you with her on the wild experiences of savoring and understanding the splendors of Chinese cuisine.
My other sneak read is a reference book that Al Meyers, a contributor to this blog, led me to. Edible Wild Plants of Vietnam by researchers Yoshitaka Tanaka and Nguyen Van Ke is a great handbook. There are full-color photos of the plants, short descriptions, information on where they grow, and blurbs on how they are used in the kitchen and for medicinal purposes. Botanical names, of course, are included. I was happy to find out that the nasty clover growing in my yard has some use! It's a great handbook for the plant geeks among us. I only wish that diacritical marks were included with the Vietnamese terms.