Top Three

Joanne Chen

December 1, 2008

We asked Joanne Chen, author of The Taste of Sweet: Our Complicated

Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History

By Sidney W. Mintz (Penguin)

This classic takes the reader on a fascinating ride through history, explored through the lens of sugar. Engaging, thought-provoking, and wise, Mintz's meticulous study explains how the quest for power led to the quest for sugar and how this humble condiment transformed from a luxury item fit for kings to the junk-food ingrethent we find at Wal-Mart today. Who knew that such a lowly condiment could rock the world and change it forever? (In the same vein, chocolate lovers will appreciate The True History of Chocolate, by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, which lovingly tells the many lives of the cacao bean.)

Sugar and Society in China: Peasants, Technology, and the World Market

By Sucheta Mazumdar (Harvard University Asia Center)

The next time someone complains that the Chinese don't know their sweets, point them to this book. It's heavy and academic, but a fascinating read nonetheless, particularly in the chapters that detail sugar's earliest rise in China. Mazumdar delightfully describes "sugar and honey cakes" and "flower-shaped candy" and other treats that she says "would have satisfied even a presentday sugar addict." (Another book that'll break any preconceived notions you might have - this time about Middle Eastern cuisine - is Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East, an anthology of wonderful, eye-opening food essays compiled by Richard Tapper and Sami Zubaida.)

My Grandmother's Chinese Kitchen: 100 Family Recipes and Life Lessons

By Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (HP Trade)

I don't cook much, but I love this book. From Chinese New Year feasts to family dinners, these pages were just a joy to read, and it inspired me to share some of my favorite family food memories in my own book. (Also wonderful: Martin Yan's memories of his mom in Feast: The Best of Yan Can Cook, and Ken Hom's stories in Easy Family Recipes From a Chinese-American Childhood.)