Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods

Little, Brown. Sept. 2023. 288p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780316486002.
Gr 3-7–Newbery and Caldecott Honor author/illustrator Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon) delivers a scrumptious smorgasbord of folktales, myths, and origins of popular items on the menu. The contents read like a who’s who of favorite foods on a Chinese menu, from dumplings, to teas, to fortune cookies. Highly researched, the book delves into each delicacy, telling where and when the foods originated. Each dish starts off with the author sharing childhood and family memories, an explanation of what the dish contains, and the significance of the dish in the Chinese culture (or whether it is simply a dish that Chinese restaurants have created to please the American palate). Following this is the true heart of the book: a folktale or myth to tell the story behind the food. In one, a dog with nine tails travels to the heavens to find rice grains, returning with just one tail, but also with the rice seeds, thus explaining why dogs have one tail and where rice came from. Each of these folktales can stand alone and holds up to rereadings, of which there will be many. Appetites will be ignited as tweens will want to try dishes new to them, and to rediscover their old favorites. Lin’s gorgeous, identifiable gouache and pencil illustrations add charm and depth to each item. Included is a food origin time line, a family recipe for scallion pancakes, end notes, bibliography, and index.
VERDICT Not to be missed, grab your chopsticks, some oolong tea, and dive into this culinary treasure trove.

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