The book starts by examining the lottery: why was it that on March 30, 2005, there were so many lottery winners? When it began to emerge that the lotto winners had been betting the numbers on their fortune cookies, that sets the stage for Jennifer 8 Lee’s amazing book.

Certain books leave you euphoric, certain books strike you as profound. And while I didn’t get the same kind of intellectual high with “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles” as I did with, say, “Godel, Escher, Bach” or “Guns, Germs, and Steel”, Jennifer 8 Lee’s book has an awful lot to say about what it is to be Chinese,  what is good Chinese, and the role and place of the vast array of hyphenated Chinese cuisines.

If you read nothing else, please read Chapter 14, the chapter titled “The Greatest Chinese Restaurant in the World.” In 40-someodd pages it encapsulates the food blogger’s dilemma. She’s really good about explaining each and every candidate restaurant, and then explaining her final choice. I would have picked differently, myself. It’s an interesting exercise trying to decide which one would have been your favorite.

Other than that it’s an education  in how Chinese restaurants work. It follows workers and families as they migrate from New York City to the rest of  the states, follows their troubles and pains. It talks about illegal immigration, and the regions of China most responsible for the girl who hands you your menus and cleans up your table.

The book talks evocatively about Chinese restaurants as spontaneous self-organizing networks, an open source food model as compared to the closed model of food chains, and also about the history of the fortune cookie, ending the search in 19th century Japan.

Yet, in the process, it remains light and breezy and accessible.

Verdict: a blogger must read. You don’t understand Chinese  critically – seriously, I don’t care how much of it you’ve personally cooked – as a cuisine until you read this thing.

Oh, yes, and afterwards, I just had to have Chinese. This is a lamb dish from the Chinese menu of Man Chun Hong.

I’m fond of the books that are part recipe, part  history. I really do want to know how something appeared, what created this or that recipe. I’m not as thrilled by the chemistry of it all; ironic given my university degree. But these two books tickle both my need for a good recipe and my need for the context of it all.

Robb Walsh is an excellent food historian. In this book he gives a simplified version of his Houston Press articles on Tex Mex and the fajita. In it there are useful charts of meats, some food experiments he tried that works (yes, in a Gene-Jon-Sean-Jimmy kind of way – ever try galbi fajitas?).  But if you’re like me, and write or seriously think about food, you buy what Robb Walsh writes because he cares enough to do his research and  get his story right. He doesn’t pull it out of thin air.

Colleen Taylor Sen’s book is lighter and breezier, a two to three hour read. But there are recipes that go back hundreds of years in this book, varieties of curries probably not easily made today. It covers a lot more of the earth than does Robb’s book, touching  usefully on things like Thai, Dutch and Japanese curries. But the best coverage is of the Indian recipes, what they are, where they come from. It talks about the origin of tandoori chicken, for example and has plenty of colorful photos.

Both recommended. I’d say that Robb’s book is a must read for anyone trying to critique Mexican restaurants in America.

One of the nicer things about the holidays is all the home made food, such as this good gumbo, from my father’s current partner.

And Zapps, which I’ve known for their Cajun potato chips, now has a salsa.

Barking Rocks winery, which is owned by relatives of mine, had a nice article written about them via the Texan News Service. The article, written by Morgan Christensen, can be found here. Another interesting link, a tasting of Barking Rocks wines, can be found here. But perhaps more pleasing is this reaction, on the blog Jundogirl, to the article I wrote about Royal Tofu House. Royal Tofu is a mom and pop eatery whose owners really go the extra mile for their customers. Jundogirl happened to be their daughter. Also, many thanks to Gene Lee for mentioning Mirak Korean Restaurant. In my opinion, Mirak has been a little overlooked in the blogging world and I’m glad to see it catch up in the hands of Korean food experts.

I got some books on beer this Christmas, and perhaps the best of them is “The Brewmaster’s Table“, by Garrett Oliver. Garrett Oliver is the owner/brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, and this book attempts to educate people about the possibilities of good beer and how to match beer with food. Useful as a coffeetable book (though it’s small and fat) is Michael Jackson’s book “Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide“. It has picture and short blurbs about a host of beers. The books is alphabetized and an easy read. My brother found this book and went into “Hey, I drank this one!” mode for hours on end during the holidays.