Three World Cuisines: Italian, Mexican, Chinese

Ken Albala. Rowman & Littlefield/Altamira, $40 trade paper (392p) ISBN 978-0-7591-2126-3
Historian and gastronomer Albala notes in his introduction, "that every culture discussed here…harbored various and often opposing food ideologies, each of which made their rival claims upon every individual." After the opening chapter’s impressively quick-paced historical overview of cuisine in Italy, Mexico, and China, Albala approaches modernity via individual foodstuffs. He demonstrates how all three cultures cook and serve porridge, then moves through vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, desserts, and beverages. The array of information here is potentially overwhelming, and it’s clear that some kind of organizing device was needed. However, the choice to present by category instead of by cuisine leads to confusion, and for readers this choice will seem needlessly complicated. Albala’s writing lacks dynamism, but perhaps the greater fault is the scattershot nature of the recipes that close each chapter: they’re far from comprehensive, and lack standardization. While Albala convincingly asserts that "to claim a single ‘correct’ form of any dish is to suggest stopping evolution," his measurement-free recipes simply do not provide enough information for anything less than an expert cook to feel confident. With those caveats, this text should be recognized as an impressive, if imperfect, addition to the culinary or history classroom. (May 2012)
Reviewed on: 01/14/2013
Release date: 05/01/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
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