Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China - Jen Lin-Liu The second most disturbing part of this book was learning that the secret ingredient to the highly addictive xiao long bao I obsess over is probably jellied pork skin.

The most disturbing part was that I then immediately googled ways to make jellied pork skin.

If you are the type of person that systematically rates buffets on their dumpling choices, seeks out Chinese restaurants which offer more than the generic and ubiquitous one page paper menu, or has contemplated naming your firstborn Dim Sum; then this book is for you. Jen Lin-Liu puts a playful spin on the I-went-to-another-country-and-saw-weird-stuff genre of travel writing. Starting in Beijing, she fumbles through a Chinese cooking school and moves on to internships and volunteer work at noodleshops, a fine dining restaurant and rice picking.

Peppered with borrowed recipes and asides on the history and use of MSG and noodle making techniques, Lin-Liu’s mixture of personal anecdote and research results in a light literary dish. It gets a little sappy toward the end when she starts bringing her personal love story into the book. Overall, her wok-side view of contemporary China is a funny and honest take on the lives of those feeding a nation of some billion-plus bellies.

Plus, you’ll need its recipes to figure out what to do with your vat of jellied pork skin.