In the West, when we think about food in China, what usually comes to mind are the signature dishes of Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai. But beyond these urbanized eastern areas lies the other China: the high open spaces and sacred places of Tibet, the Silk Road oases of Xinjiang and Qinghai, the steppelands of Inner Mongolia, and the steeply terraced hills of Yunnan and Guizhou. The people who live in these regions--Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Iiao, Hui, Dong, Yi, Da, and others--are culturally distinct, with their own history and culinary traditions.
In "Beyond the Great Wall," Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid--who met and fell in love as young travelers in Tibet--bring home the enticing flavors of these outlying areas of China. This eye-opening collection of magnificent photos, delectable home-style recipes, and inviting stories of people and places is a journey into a fascinating area of the world. China has gradually opened its more remote regions to foreign travel over the last twenty-five years. And in that period, Jeffrey and Naomi have traveled and eaten and photographed in mountain villages and border towns, in nomad yurts, in oases along the Silk Road, in local markets. They've tasted satisfying and delicious dishes at family meals and at small restaurants (that are in fact household kitchens putting out a menu). They've learned techniques from home cooks and market vendors: to shape noodles quickly and easily, to make warming family soups, easy stir-fries, succulent "pulaos," and aromatic grilled kebabs.
Food is so much a part of place, and this family-style food is extraordinarily good. Like the traditional regional cooking of rural France and Italy, it is comfortfood, with direct flavors that speak to the heart and simple ingredients treated with respect. There are cumin-scented chicken kebabs; pea tendrils dressed with sesame oil and dark vinegar; lamb patties with chopped green herbs; slices of spice-rubbed roast pork; enticing salsas and condiments; and succulent noodles of many kinds, served in aromatic broth or dressed wth lively sauces. Some of this food comes from Central Asian culinary tradition, with its pulaos, flatbreads, and kebabs. Uighur nans and Tibetan momos remind us that the Indian Subcontinent is just across the Himalaya. Other dishes, especially those from the peoples of southern Yunnan and Guizhou, are close counsins of the Southeast Asian foods that Jeffrey and Naomi introduced us to in the influential Hot Sour Salty Sweet.
These rich culinary cultures reflect not only layers of flavor, but also layers of history. Naomi and Jeffrey here document the traditions of the people living beyond the Great Wall at a time when these are threatened by the fast pace of change in modern China. And in "Beyond the Great Wall" the authors celebrate that other China, its diverse cultures, appealing food traditions, and vibrant daily life, with the passion and color it deserves.