The Weekend Australian - Travel - - INDULGENCE -

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

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