"Open the school doors and take the classroom into the fields” was a mid-1970s movement that brought university students and professors into factories and farms to learn firsthand from workers and peasants. Image courtesy of Maopost ().

 

 

 

Writes Jemimah Steinfeld: "[Sasha] Gong was part of the sent-down youth movement at the time, which saw thousands of children taken away from their parents and sent to work in the countryside. Writing the book was "a cathartic experience -- a way to go back to a recent, difficult period," she said...Gong admits the irony of writing a cookbook about a period that had little food. But even though it was a time of austerity, her generation learned how to cherish food and create delicious, healthy dishes." Jemimah Steinfeld, CNN.

 

National Public Radio's Rachel Martin cooked three dishes from The Cultural Revolution Cookbook with Sasha and Scott in honor of Chinese New Year and reported about it on "Weekend Edition." "A new book combines the memories and culinary skills of one Chinese political dissident who lived through the country's Cultural Revolution. Since food was rationed, Sasha Gong learned to cook with whatever she could find. 'There's something about humanity,' she says. 'It's hard to suppress.'" Listen to the broadcast here or read the (somewhat shorter) text version here: NPR Weekend Edition. It was NPR's "most e-mailed story" the next day.

 

Jim Stevenson of the Voice of America interviewed Sasha about the cookbook. He writes, "China's Cultural Revolution is remembered as a time of hardship for many on the mainland, who were sent to the countryside by Mao Zedong to live alongside China's peasants and farmers. It is not a time in Chinese history readily associated with food, and cooking. Yet, people at that time had to be very creative given the few culinary resources available." Listen to the interview, which aired on Daybreak Asia.

 

Even the official China Daily published a report on The Cultural Revolution Cookbook. Quoting Sasha, reporter Kelly Chung Dawson wrote, "When Scott first suggested the idea of a book based on 'cultural revolution'-era recipes, I said, 'Are you nuts?' People didn't have enough to eat during that time," Gong says. "But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if we could incorporate the stories of Chinese history in the book, it would be fun and very educational." You can read the story on the ChinaDailyUSA website.

 

"We have come a long way since Chinese food meant Chun King’s canned bean spouts, chow mein noodles brown sauce, and Chun King’s cookbook that featured chop suey for 50 people," writes Raymond Lum of the Harvard Yenching Library - an aficianado of Chinese food - in a thoughtful review of the cookbook for ChinaInsight, an English-language newspaper focusing exclusively on connections between the U.S. and China. "Even the cooking-impaired will enjoy this book because it puts a personal face on the experiences of the 'sent down' youth that is largely lacking in academic histories of the Cultural Revolution and because the book is visually enthralling. It is also a significant addition to our understanding and appreciation of China’s culinary legacy, which is always in a stage of development and discovery." Raymond Lum in ChinaInsight.

 

"新出版的《文革菜譜》 (The Cultural Revolution Cookbook) 一書的作者之一Gong Sasha, 來自中國廣州,現居美國。文革時她下放到廣東農村 . . . 從當地人那裡學來很多簡單又健康的菜式,她一一記錄下來。這本書也成為對時代的反諷." "Sasha Gong, one of the authors of The Cultural Revolution Cookbook, a newly published book of recipes from the Cultural Revolution, is originally from Guangzhou, China and is currently residing in the United States. During the Cultural Revolution she was "sent down" to the Guangdong countryside, and . . . learned a lot of simple and healthy dishes from the local farmers, which she has recorded in a book that chronicles the irony of the times." The Wen Wei Po (文汇报), quoting Time Magazine.

 

Scott was interviewed about the cookbook by Markus Hippi on Britain's Monocle 24 Radio's "The Menu," a "weekly one-hour show about eating and drinking, introducing you to the players you need to know, from food growers to restaurateurs and chefs." The interview aired on January 27. You can listen to the six-minute clip here.

 

“我们能表现创造力的机会不多,所以做饭变成很重要的事情。你想,一共给你三样东西,要你做十道菜你总得想出办法,会想出很多花招来把东西弄得很好吃." "We had few opportunities to demonstrate creativity, so cooking became a very important endeavor. If they gave you three ingredients and asked you to make ten dishes with them, you had to come up with a lot of tricks to make them taste good." Chow Yian Ping (周雁冰) quoting Sasha Gong in an article called "A Nothing-to-Eat Cookbook" ("一本没有东西吃的食谱") in Singapore's Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报).

 

The authors tell the significance behind four of their favorite recipes: Shallow-Fried Potato Shreds, Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes, Honey-Braised Duck and Tofu with Scallions and Sesame Dressing. Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, in TimeOut Beijing.

 

"「文革食譜」分門別類,有蔬菜篇、雞鴨篇、豬牛羊篇、海鮮篇、米飯麵食篇、湯品、甜點篇,以英文寫成,所有食材、調味料均可在美國 Safeway 一般超市買到,讓洋人對做中國菜不再視如畏途." "'The Cultural Revolution Cookbook' includes recipes for vegetables, poultry, pork and lamb, seafood, rice, pasta, soup and dessert. It's written in English, and all the ingredients and seasonings can be bought in an average American Safeway supermarket. This allows Westerners to make Chinese food without fear." Amanda H. Chen (許惠敏) in the World Journal (世界日報). 

 

"The Cultural Revolution Cookbook is a landmark publication whose easy-to-prepare dishes include classics like dry-fried green beans, duckling steamed with ginger and beef braised with star anise. While the cookbook documents with an unflinching eye an unimaginably difficult time, its...recipes also reflect the indomitable spirit and ingenuity of everyday cooks - among them, Gong and her family - making do with very little." Daven Wu, in Destinasian Magazine.

 

Sasha tells how the cookbook got its start, and shares memories of the Cultural Revolution in an interview with Rachel Will: She says the book features "more home cooking than restaurant cooking or fancy food . . . in our cookbook we made sure that you can find everything at an American supermarket . . . The cooking is not fancy or difficult, it’s just easy and I want people to enjoy cooking." Rachel Will in US-China Today, the online magazine of the University of Southern California's US-China Institute.

 

"These recipes, from a "cheerless decade," are actually well suited to today' s harried cooks who are looking for quick, healthy food. The limited ingredients and simple techniques make for easy cooking, and all of them have been tried and tempered to get the most flavor out of the least ingredients." Claudia Kousoulas, Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C., in CHoWLine.

 

Read Danish? The Danish newspaper Weekendavisen reviewed The Cultural Revolution Cookbook on January 6, 2012 and quoted Sasha Gong: "It's one thing to understand history through books. But you get a deeper understanding of history by actually tasting the food people ate in the past...Our focus has been on memories of coping despite enormous difficulty." Peter Harmsen in Weekendavisen.

 

From the Blogosphere

NPR also has a food blog - "The Salt" - and reporter Eliza Barclay serves up lots of stories behind what's on our plates. In "Chow Under Mao," she writes: "Part narrative, part history, part recipe compendium, the book is an ode to the spirit of creativity in lean times. . . Few recipes in Gong and Seligman's book have more than six ingredients, and they are easy to prepare." Eliza Barclay in The Salt.

 

International careers expert Stacie Nevadomski Berdan, author of Get Ahead by Going Abroad and Go Global, wrote in the Huffington Post food blog about an adventure in Chinese cooking involving her two daughters, a few flat-bottomed pots and pans and The Cultural Revolution Cookbook. She writes: "These colorful additions of historical context sparked conversation as we sat down to a traditional Chinese table set with chopsticks and a bowl of rice for each, and the dishes served family style. Although I admit we focused on the delicious dishes at hand -- every one of them a tasty treat -- we also discussed China then and now. It was rich family experience on many fronts." Stacie Nevadomski Berdan in Huff Post Food

 

Elise Bauer, one of the most respected and followed food bloggers on the web today, tests all the recipes she posts and has adapted our Steamed Ginger and Mushroom Chicken recipe into a delightful soup. "...The combination of the ginger, chicken, mushrooms, soy sauce and a touch of salt and sugar is just lovely," she writes. See her version on her Simply Recipes blog.

 

"This...is the starting point for the recipes in this book – a limited number of readily-available ingredients, simple substitutions, and straightforward instructions – and in this the authors have been highly successful. Anyone intimidated by the idea of cooking (much less cooking something as exotic as Chinese food) will find this cookbook invitingly simple...In summary, from professional chefs (who will likely make tweaks as they go) to the average or aspiring home cook (who follows recipes to the letter), this book has a lot of food for thought as well as for cooking and enjoying with family and friends. I would not hesitate to recommend it, whether it’s for your own use in the home kitchen, as a gift for a fellow or aspiring cook, or for someone who has an interest in the Cultural Revolution period of modern Chinese history." Food Blogger Liza Baker, in Tangstein's Blog: Healthy Chinese Home Cooking.

 

Philadelphia-based blogger Curtis Roberts, whose favorite Christmas book this past year was The Cultural Revolution Cookbook, writes: "Sasha Gong . . .has in this handsome, beautifully written and sensibly priced book, transformed proverbial lemons into lemonade as she tells the story of learning by necessity to live, cook and eat simply in the countryside, growing, preparing and sharing pure, good and traditional food. I have been cooking from the excellent, delicious recipes in this book non-stop." Acravan. And in a follow-up post, he featured four recipes from the book, together with his own commentary on them.

Joan Robinett Wilson, a blogger with an eye for a good recipe, caught the NPR broadcast, swore she could smell the Braised Pork in Soy Sauce through the radio, and then tried her hand at it, quintupling the recipe for her large family. She found it "very simple and easy to make and very tasty." Joan Robinett Wilson, in Architect Mom: Drafting a Life.

 

"Overall, The Cultural Revolution Cookbook reminded me that Chinese cooking can be simple, inexpensive, unintimidating and delicious. It does not require special trips to unfamiliar stores for ingredients you’ve never bought before. All you really need is fresh ingredients, simple kitchen supplies, and a healthy dose of China nostalgia." Food Blogger Leslie Forman, in Beyond Chile's Single Story.

 

"It has some wonderful dishes, many of which you won't find in your local take-out joint, 'though you maybe surprised to find some old favorites in simpler (but tastier) form." Food Writer Gary Allen, in On the Table.

 

© 2011-2022, Sasha Gong and Scott D. Seligman