Big yikes. I really wanted to like this book because some of my favorite book bloggers said it was one of their favorite books of the entire year, which is glowing praise, but I couldn’t get past the cultural insensitivity. Most of it wasn’t bad, but I got to one page that had a recipe for “spicy Chinese noodles” and I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. You’re telling me that Ruth Reichl – former NY Times food critic, former editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, and generally beloved food personality – is so culturally unaware as to call a Chinese noodle dish…literally “spicy Chinese noodles”?
I’m sorry, but as a Chinese person, this just made me so mad. There are DOZENS of noodle types in the incredibly diverse cuisine, what the hell even are “Chinese noodles”? The Wikipedia page for Chinese noodles alone has so many types that it first categorizes them by grain (wheat, flour, rice, oat, egg, etc, take your pick) before listing several examples for each. And then on top of that, the dough can be worked in different ways to produce further types – kneaded, cut, pulled, peeled, extruded, and so on. So when Reichl says “Chinese noodles” does she mean lo mein? Egg noodles? La mian, which are hand-pulled noodles? Rice vermicelli? He fen, a popular wide rice noodle? Cat’s ear? There are just so many types of noodles in our cuisine with thousand-year histories behind them, and yet she seems to completely ignore all of that and sweep it all under the umbrella term of “Chinese noodles”. As if there were one single type – the type known to white people. It’s infuriating that French and Italian and Western cooking in general always have precise names for every single ingredient and dish possible, yet anything remotely “exotic” still gets reduced down to its most simplified label. Given Reichl’s significance in the food world, I have to admit I’m really disappointed and disgusted.