"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 ().

 

 

 

From the News Media

Writes Maria Alessandra Tioli: "Nel 1969, all'età di soli nove anni, Sasha Gong è stata costretta a lasciare la sua casa a Guangzhou per vivere con una famiglia in un piccolo villaggio nella provincia di Hunan. Sasha Gong è stata una dei 17 milioni di giovani sfollati durante gli anni della Rivoluzione Culturale in Cina. Dopo un periodo di 'rieducazione' passato a lavorare nei campi, ha imparato a cucinare il cibo contadino arrangiandosi con i pochi ingredienti disponibili. Ora, nel suo nuovo libro The Cultural Revolution Cookbook, ci racconta con un velo di nostalgia, gli anni della sua infanzia attraverso una serie di ricette che sono autentici bocconi di storia popolare." La Cucina Economica.

 

Writes Charlie Dickinson: "Ms. Gong organizes her recipes into nine sections. Something for everyone: Vegetables and Tofu, Poultry, Pork, Beef and Lamb, Seafood, Eggs, Rice and Noodles, and Dessert. I tried several of the recipes, including Tofu with Mushrooms, and Stir-Fried Noodles with Pork Shreds and found them keepers. The sauces, in particular, are simple to make and spot-on in flavor. Thus, what these recipes represent is age-old cooking refinement, pared back to the basics without giving up its essence." Cosmic Plodding.

 

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.

 

Andrew Donaldson, writing in the Times of Johannesburg, South Africa, calls The Cultural Revolution Cookbook "a runaway success, acclaimed by foodies and historians alike, who have praised it for its warmth, compassion and insight."  Times Live.

 

"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). 

 

Anyone for Danish? Mads Schmidt, a writer for radio86.com, which focuses on China, posted an online review of the cookbook. He writes: "Yes, we recommend it! The book is great and is definitely recommended by Radio86. Not only does it teach a thing or two about China’s turbulent past, it is also a really good cookbook. The recipes are understandable even for a novice and are interesting enough for anyone interested in Chinese cuisine. Our copy at the office certainly won’t be left on the shelf after this review has been written. It will be used again and again to produce lovely and historic lunches and dinners, as well as just learning a few tips and tricks in the kitchen."  The English translation is here. Mads Schmidt in Radio86.com.

 

"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. Paul Yokota's Portuguese-language take on Rachel's interview appeared on the Asia Comentada (Asia Commented) website.

 

Connie Anderson heard the NPR broadcast and decided to give a few of the recipes a try "since I pretty much had everything in my pantry except the pork belly or pork shoulder. As you will note, there are very few ingredients, and all are easily obtainable." Her family's favorite was Braised Pork in Soy Sauce: "The pork belly really caramelized in the sauce and was wonderful." Connie Anderson, in Alabama's Andalusia Star News.

 

"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.

 

"The book offers recipes aplenty including, dredged fish with ginger and scallions, shallow-fried potato threads, and spicy white radish salad, plus personal anecdotes, facts, and reproductions of socialist realist propaganda posters that – from a healthy distance of geography and time – are positively charming." Chinese food blogger Stephen Jack, in Eating China.

 

Beijing-based blogger Myra Brien writes: "I have always been intimidated to cook Chinese food, even though it's authentic dishes are usually simple to prepare...anyway, I was very excited to see this book available. Not only is it a cookbook full of delicious recipes, author Sasha Gong includes her personal account about what it was like to grow up in China during the Cultural Revolution. The book is also full of other interesting bits about what was happening in China during the time, it's like a culinary history lesson."  Myra Brien in Interactive Expat.

A. V. Crofts, a University of Washington professor interested in the intersection of food, identity and storytelling, writes in her blog that The Cultural Revolution Cookbook "reveals the powerful tether that food -- even in its most simple forms -- can provide those of any society experiencing nightmarish upheaval. They become an act of survival, not just as pure sustenance, but a preservation of identity and normalcy." A. V. Crofts in Sneeze! Pepper for the Beast.

Food writer Molly O’Neill, who interviewed Sasha for her blog, writes: "Food memoirs such as these are more than stories, they’re literature, an experience, shared transformation. They capture something of their subject matter — its raw, physicality, the daily transcendence of a meal well-cooked, the combat sense of its front lines, the tenderness and whole heartedness of it." Molly O’Neill in Cook 'N' Scribble.

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.

 

To usher in the Year of the Dragon, blogger Susan Orlins, no stranger to China and things Chinese, has excerpted four "easy, healthy, delicious and especially welcome" Chinese New Year-appropriate recipes from the cookbook in her Home Goes Strong blog. 

 

"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.

 

Artist and blogger Della Badart writes: "I love the way they break down the meals to the simplest form. It reminds me no one needs fancy tools to make delicious food. A warm heart, hunger and ingredients make the meal. A little bit of attention to detail make the food good." Della Badart at BadArt.

 

One of Sasha's graduate school classmates, Anthropology Professor Eriberto P. Lozada, Jr., happened to tune in to the NPR Weekend Edition broadcast when he heard a familiar voice, followed by a familiar theme. And he went ahead and reprinted the Braised Pork in Soy Sauce recipe. Fuji Lozada's Fieldnotes, 罗力波的网页

 

"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.

 

This home-style cuisine appeals to me much more than elaborate banquet cooking that many people associate with Chinese food.” Ed Ahnert, in TexAsia.

 

“Being one who is always up for a bit of culinary adventure, I was super excited when I heard about the cookbook. Not only does it have great recipes, but the book is also chock full of information about China's cultural revolution and fascinating political art from that period in Chinese history.” Jessica Davis, in The Eagle's Nest.

 

Advance Praise

Sasha Gong and Scott Seligman know China in depth. Drawn from an era of simple ingredients and tastes, the recipes are easy to execute and have what an American would call ‘down home goodness.’ But beyond this, the authors’ addition of contemporary history and cultural insights makes for a unique, entertaining and informative resource. A brilliant idea, beautifully implemented.”

-- Henry Levine, former U.S. Consul General, Shanghai

“Engagingly educational and informative, this cookbook describes the home cooking of ordinary people in China who created a culinary sanctuary for themselves under the harsh life imposed by radical Maoism. While the recipes transform simple ingredients into tasty delicacies, the narratives reveal the often fascinating relationship between food and thought. A great choice for foodies and lovers of food culture!”

-- Yunxiang Yan, Professor of Anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles

“The Chinese are famous for their love of food -- and as Seligman and Gong's The Cultural Revolution Cookbook shows, even in the worst of times, when ingredients were limited and life full of political turmoil, they came up with simple and tasty dishes that helped them survive. The book's use of propaganda posters from the period links the recipes and the politics in a wonderfully entertaining way.”

-- Judith Shapiro, author of Mao's War against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China

“From Proust to Judt, we’ve learned that food is about time, place and memory as much as nutrition. This book deftly places its wonderful dishes in the hothouse culture of the Chinese co-author’s youth during the Cultural Revolution. The book is by turns touching, funny and bemusing; the food triumphs over all.”

-- Christian Murck, President, American Chamber of Commerce in China

The Cultural Revolution Cookbook is a scrumptious treat in every way. Peppered with delectable and little-known historical anecdotes, luscious food photography and colorful, eye-pleasing Chinese socialist realist art, the book is a delight simply to flip through. But at its heart of course, are the recipes. These are not only presented with edifying background and context, but are also concise and crystal-clear. Just as importantly, the recipes are thoughtfully designed to accommodate the equipment and ingredients available in the typical American kitchen. Compliments to the chefs, Sasha Gong and Scott D Seligman, for giving us the best thing to come out of the Cultural Revolution since the trial of Madame Mao!”

-- Ted Plafker, author of Doing Business In China: How to Profit in the World's Fastest Growing Market

“Seligman and Gong manage to bring forth from the bitter legacy of the Cultural Revolution a delightful book of recipes that serves up not just breakfast, lunch and dinner but also much food for thought.”

-- Curtis S. Chin, Former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank

“Not a lot came out of the Cultural Revolution that was good . . . but this cookbook is an exception. Try one of the simple recipes – “Pork with Green and Red Pepper Shreds” remains one of my all-time favorites – and enjoy the wealth of artwork and anecdotes to better understand a very different and important time in China’s recent history. China today exhibits little on the surface of the decade of Cultural Revolution chaos and politics, but one can hardly understand the China of today without being aware of what transpired during that time. Gong and Seligman serve up both good food and history in an easily digestible format.”

-- John Frisbie, President, The US-China Business Council

The Cultural Revolution Cookbook mixes amusing anecdotes, engaging stories and sumptuous recipes to bring to life revolutionary China's culinary history. The authors’ unique expertise in Chinese history, society and culture make this cookbook entertaining, informative and indispensable for any kitchen.”

-- Chris Billing, former NBC News Beijing Bureau Chief and award-winning filmmaker

“Gong and Seligman have produced a delicious feast for the reader – and cook. Clear instructions on how to make the tasty and healthy food that are staples of Chinese diets are seasoned with anecdotes about food and politics during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and Sasha Gong’s memories of her life in China during those tumultuous and terrible years. This is a beautifully written book that you will savor both for its thoughtful reflections on history and its great recipes.”

-- John L. Holden, Former President, The National Committee on U.S.-China Relations

“The authors’ unique expertise on all things Chinese, coupled with their wit, wisdom, gastronomical bonhomie and culinary sangfroid, make this cookbook a joy to use and peruse. I laughed, I cried, I gained 12 pounds in a week testing their recipes!”

-- Sarah Jackson-Han, Communications Director and English News Director Emerita, Radio Free Asia

 
 

© 2011, 2012, 2013, Sasha Gong and Scott D. Seligman