Fuchsia Dunlop on “Magic Ingredients” and Stocking the Chinese Pantry

In part two of my Special Sauce interview with Chinese-food and -culture writer Fuchsia Dunlop, we tackle common misconceptions about cooking Chinese food at home. Fuchsia addresses those intimidated about diving in, explaining that “people often think that Chinese cooking is very complicated–that you’re gonna need all kinds of weird ingredients–and also there’s this idea often that Chinese food’s not very healthy; there’s a lot of deep-frying and that kind of thing.” But, she says, “I think the important thing to remember is that Chinese food is what most people in China just cook at home every night. People there, they don’t have a lot of time. They want to rustle something up that’s tasty and healthy and within their budget for their family.”

The Land of Fish and Rice author also shares how to stock our kitchens with just a few Chinese items, including what she calls “magic ingredients.” But she doesn’t stop at pantry essentials–you’ll hear all about why mud snails are “absolutely divine.” They are, I learned, “eaten raw and pickled in rice wine ice cold. You crunch it, complete with its shell.”

Even if you’re not quite ready to take the mud-snail plunge, though, she has plenty of recommendations for inquisitive minds and palates. She recommends the five-volume Chinese novel that should be required reading for everyone interested in China, and dishes on what famous distant ancestor would be at her last supper–someone I just had to allow, even though I usually bar family from the list. To hear what everyone would be doing on Fuchsia Dunlop Day, you’ll just have to listen. I will say that Kenji will be very happy when he hears it.