A LITTLE FOOD FLIGHT READING
SNAKEFangSalad:Culinary TravailsinChina by Greg Elms (Black Light Publications, $29.95) is an evocative, handson account of an eating safari.
Elms travels from Beijing to Shanghai and Guangzhou, and from Guilin to Lijiang, Chongqing, Xi’an and back to Beijing. This takes him through deep traditional country where villages and even old towns or cities seem little affected by the modern world, apart from the satellite dishes and televisions.
Elms’s writing style is fairly knockabout, often highly descriptive but always anecdotal and never straying from his colourful experiences. Indeed, you might think he includes too much detail. But you will feel yourself right there with him as he stumbles on the Xi’an version of hotpot in ‘‘ a small, grubby white room (where) a half-dozen laminextopped tables all had a little hot pot recessed in their centre’’.
Or in Shanghai when he sips chrysanthemum flower tea, ‘‘ which when dry was knitted into a tight ball, but when steeped in hot water became a flower of fine green tea leaves and chrysanthemum petals; a beguiling sculpture floating in my glass, giving off delicate perfumes. Small snacks soon arrived: tea eggs with their delicate craze of cracked-shell stains, rice in bamboo leaves and tiny cubes of tofu’’.
Elms’s great strength is his photography, and there are 32 pages of colour images bound together as the centrepiece. But in large paperback size, the book does not do justice to such scenes as Old Town Lijiang with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, or the lone cyclist by the city wall in Xi’an. Elms should get his own large-format picture book to fill. Judith Elen