Recently released Dumplings and Noodles by Pippa Middlehurst has been the subject of some controversy since it was published, and I can’t give a comprehensive review without touching on reasons for that. At its heart, this remains a review of the cookery book from a reader, cook and greedy person’s perspective.
What’s The Controversy?
In her introduction to the book, Pippa says: “I taught myself using the classics—Ken Hom’s Simple Asian Cookery, Ching-He Huang’s Chinese Food Made Easy. But I wanted more—more authenticity, more of those strange textures, more of those unusual ingredients. Stinky tofu? Doubanjiang? What were they used for and what did they taste like?”
Pippa is a white British author with no cultural link to the cuisines she covers in her book and dismisses by name the work of food writers who are from those very cultures. This shows a lack of understanding of how much home cooking and the hunger for global cuisine has changed in the decades since Ken Hom first brought Chinese cooking to an American (and by extension, British) audience.
Pippa may well consider Ken Hom’s recipes as insufficiently authentic for her, but is ignoring the reality that he wrote for a very different audience in a different era. People now cook Asian cuisines at home regularly, once-difficult-to-find ingredients are readily available, we eat out often at far more authentic, regional Asian restaurants, and a higher number of us travel overseas, getting to know cuisines in their countries of origin.
There is also an uncomfortable Othering of Asian cuisines in Pippa’s description of “strange textures”; they may be unfamiliar but often need little more than a shift in context to make them more so—silken tofu is much like panna cotta in texture, gelatinous pork rind jelly is not unlike wibbly wobbly dessert jelly, and stinky tofu is no more whiffy than a pungent cheese.
There is no doubt that Pippa has a deep passion for East and South East Asian food. Since 2017 she’s been delving into several Asian cuisines, with a focus on dumplings and noodles, and she has clearly amassed a lot of knowledge in that short time. But the way she has centred and promoted her expertise over authors from the cuisines she is featuring in the book, rankles.
I can’t help but consider this within the context of the ongoing bias in food publishing towards white authors. Book deals for authors of colour are far harder won than for their white counterparts, the authors are usually typecast to write only about their ancestral cuisine, and seldom invited to write more widely about other subjects.
This ties into the issue of cultural appropriation, which is often misrepresented. People can and absolutely should write about other cultures and cuisines to their own, but do so with respect, accuracy, and an acknowledgement of the forerunners who championed those cuisines at a time when they were far less prevalent and known. And it should go both ways, with opportunities given equally to authors of different backgrounds and ancestral origins.
Pippa’s note that she sought more authenticity set up my initial expectation of what the book would provide. But she goes on to explain that many of the recipes in the book are “approachable recreations” and “a homage to time-tested favourites“, suggesting that she realised over time that sharing easy-to-follow, delicious and appealing recipes is more important than a slavish pursuit of authenticity. To that end, she has found more in common with the books of Ken Hom and Ching-He Huang than she thought.
Back To The Book
The book starts with some helpful tips on using it, explaining that recipes (with step-by-step photos) for making dumpling wrappers and noodles are given at the start of each chapter, followed by individual recipes, with a reminder that readers can make those recipes with shop-bought wrappers and noodles instead. There are some short notes on measurements, chillies and spices, and about oil safety and sterilisation of jars and bottles, as well as a reminder that eggs are large unless stated.
After this, three pages on essential ingredients, with a helpful introduction to each, followed by additional store cupboard basics, and some advice on freezing and cooking from frozen; and then a list of different types of dumplings wrappers and noodles that Pippa suggests are fine to buy in ready-made and store in the freezer or store-cupboard—this includes gyoza wrappers, spring roll wrappers, wonton wrappers, egg noodles, rice noodles, soba noodles, udon noodles and wheat noodles (such as ramen and somen).
Next, a run through of essential and useful equipment followed by a meal planner that suggests a few recipes each for Friday Night In, Dinner Party for Friends, Vegan Dinner, Dinner for Two, Something Comforting for when you have a bit more time, and Something for the Kids.
The rest of the book is divided into just three large chapters: Dumplings; Noodles; and Sides, Snacks and Sauces.
Under Dumplings, two dumpling wrapper recipes are provided at the start of the chapter, for Fa Mian Dumpling Dough (used in four of the following recipes) and Jiaozi Dumpling Dough (used in three), with well-detailed and illustrated instructions. Three individual recipes include ingredients and steps to make the specific styles of doughs needed (including har gau, glass dumplings and baked pork buns). Another three make use of ready-made gyoza and wonton wrappers.
Some of the dumpling and bun recipes in this chapter are char siu bao, Shengjian bao (mantou), Taiwanese peppery pork buns, sweet potato jiaozi, juicy Xinjiang lamb dumplings, crab XLB (soup dumplings), har gau, weeknight veggie gyoza, best Sichuan chilli oil wontons, and pork and prawn sui mai.
The Noodles chapter starts with a couple of pages titled A Word on Noodle Science. Here, Pippa gets her molecular biology geek on, sharing what happens to noodle dough on a molecular level—as she says, it’s not necessary to know any of this to make good noodles, but it is certainly interesting and may also give you added confidence when making the recipes. She starts with some notes about the different effects that kneading and resting dough has on the formation of molecular bonds, and what that means for the texture of the noodles. Next, a very brief reminder that there are many more things that will effect the dough, from the use of extra ingredients (beyond flour and water), to whether your water is hard or soft, and the variety of wheat that your flour is milled from. Lastly, a discussion on hydration (the amount of water), and adding Riboflavin (Vitamin B) and Kansui (an alkali salt) to your dough, and instructions on how to make kansui yourself if you can’t or don’t want to buy it.
The recipes for making fresh noodles provided are Egg Noodles (which feature in five of the following recipes), Hand-Cut Noodles (used in three recipes), Biang Biang Noodles (used in just two), and Ramen Noodles (which are called for in nine recipes of which four are different styles of ramen). There are supporting recipes too for making ramen eggs, chasu pork and two different types of broth. The chapter also includes one recipe calling for dried vermicelli noodles, one for soba, one for udon and one that works with any type of noodle you have to hand! I find myself wishing that recipes to make fresh Soba and Udon noodles had been included too, as two of my personal favourites, but appreciate that the book is not intended to be an exhaustive collection.
Noodle dishes in this chapter include wok-fried noodles with beef and pak choi, breakfast yakisoba, Singapore mei fun rice noodles, Taiwanese fishing dock noodles, zha jiang mian (fried-sauce noodles), cumin lamb biang biang noodles, dan dan noodles, kick-ass tofu skin mala noodles, cold sesame noodles, chilli crab noodles, hangover noodles (charred broccoli soba), yuzu shio ramen, miso clam ramen, ox cheek mala xiao mian, Hong Kong wonton noodle soup, Chongqing noodles, and curry udon (amongst others).
Sides, Snacks and Sauces is the last chapter. Here you’ll find recipes for plenty of small dishes that are perfect complements to the dumplings and noodle dishes, and will help to make your meal into more of a feast. There are dishes like kai lan with oyster sauce, braised Chinese leaf and shiitake, smashed cucumber salad, crispy spicy potatoes, miso butter corn on the cob, multi-layered Shanghai spring onion pancakes, curry sweet potato korokke, and real-deal prawn toast. Sauce recipes include dan dan instant sauce, spicy sesame stir-through, and poor man’s XO sauce. You will also find Pippa’s recipes for Sichian chilli oil and chiu chow chilli sauce, which she sells in jars via her website. Lastly, some garnishes such as addictive crunchy topping, pickled carrot and daikon, and pickled fennel and Asian pear.
Photography is used really well throughout the book, in the simply styled and appealing food photos (which are provided for most—but not all—recipes), and particularly when it comes to Pippa’s very helpful step-by-step instructions for making the dumpling wrappers and noodles, and for filling and shaping individual dumplings. There are cute little hand-drawn illustrations too; scattered through the Dumplings and Sides chapters are drawings of bao, dumplings and vegetables and in the Noodles chapter you’ll find colourful squiggly lines of noodles.
The index is straightforward, allowing you to find recipes by key ingredients as well as by type of dumpling, bao or noodle.
Cooking Dumplings and Noodles
We have made six recipes from the book so far; we started with the Taiwanese Peppery Pork Buns, a recipe that’s self-contained with its own dough recipe rather than the wrappers shared at the start of the chapter. Next, we made handmade Ramen Noodles, which we used in both the Spring Onion Oil Noodles and the Dan Dan Noodles. And lastly, we made the Fa Mian Dumpling Dough and used it in the recipe for Crispy Miso Mushroom Bao Buns.
The noodles were very easy to make (though it helps that we have the Kitchenaid pasta rolling and cutting attachment). Both the dishes we made with them were delicious, though we felt the Dan Dan sauce was a touch too peanutty in flavour and will adjust the balance between tahini and peanut butter next time we make it (or better still, find some proper chinese sesame paste in place of both).
The pork buns worked well; a Taiwanese friend of mine is at pains to point out that this recipe bears no relation to anything she recognises as Taiwanese but Pippa describes eating the buns at Raohe market in Taipei. We couldn’t find sufficiently fatty pork (Pippa calls for pork with more than 20% fat), so the filling was not quite as juicy as it probably should have been but we really enjoyed the buns, and will definitely make them again.
Pippa’s Fa Mian dough method involves making a yeast-based starter, which proves for 2-3 hours, before making a dough which incorporates all of the starter. The dough is then proved, shaped and steamed to create the bao. Given the short proving period for the starter, we weren’t sure of the reason behind creating a starter first and then a dough, rather than plunging straight into a yeasted dough (as is the process in other bao recipes we have used).
The marinated and fried Crispy Miso Mushrooms were really simple and tasty, and delicious in the bao, with pickled gherkin slices (in lieue of the pickled carrot and daikon Pippa suggests), and kewpie mayonnaise.
Recipes from Dumplings and Noodles
We have permission from Quadrille to share some recipes with you from the book:
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Dumplings and Noodles by Pippa Middlehurst from publishers Quadrille. Book cover and original recipe images provided by Quadrille, photography by India Hobson & Magnus Edmondsen. Additional images Kavey Eats.