For a long time, the idea of attempting to make Chinese food at home would spark trepidation in western home cooks. The seemingly endless list of ingredients, cooking tools and new techniques required was daunting.
But over the years, attitudes have changed, with people becoming more inquisitive and welcoming of new regional cuisines and flavours.
The increasing availability of essential Chinese ingredients on supermarket shelves is also emboldening for home cooks who are looking to try their hand at something new.
Even if you can’t find a specific ingredient in Sainsbury’s or Morrisons, the number of online Asian grocers that have popped up to fill the gap is nothing short of a miracle for home cooks.
These days, there is nothing quite as exciting as opening up a box of new spices, herbs, sauces, and dried ingredients to try in the kitchen – for us, receiving such a box of playthings has brought much joy and flavour into an otherwise dreary, depressing lockdown.
It is inevitable that a country as big as China – sprawling over 9.3 million sq km, with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people – has so many regional variations and specialities that it would be near-impossible to detail them all in a single cookbook. Chinese cuisine is incredibly exciting in that way – there’s always something new to discover and try.
So if you’re looking to embark on a culinary journey from the comfort of home (and perhaps spend a bit less on takeaways), look no further than our selection of the best Chinese cookbooks that will inspire you to create and explore flavours and textures you may have only dreamed of.
We tried two or three recipes from each book to test for ease and clarity of instruction, as well as how tasty they were. Most of the cookbooks we chose have detailed tips and how-tos on technique, and are simple enough that we were confident we could follow each step. We also wanted to ensure there were recipes for every dietary requirement and have included cookbooks with vegetarian and vegan recipes, as well as those with gluten-free substitutions.
Each book we chose is packed with knowledge and experience, with detailed recipes to help you get the most out of your cooking.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
‘China: A Cookbook’ by Terry Tan, published by Anness Publishing
Containing an encyclopaedic wealth of knowledge about China’s different regional cuisines, Terry Tan’s award-winning cookbook is a revelation. Chef Tan manages to cover a broad spectrum of dishes from across China’s 23 provinces.
The recipes are divided into four regional sections – northern, eastern, southern and western China. Each offers an overview of the history, geography, culinary traditions and main festivals, giving the reader some context and understanding of what they will be cooking and where it comes from.
There are a whopping 300 recipes in this book, accompanied by maps and lots of photographs. We believe this will become your go-to book for Chinese cooking for years to come.
Buy now £25.00, Waterstones.com
‘Hunan: A Lifetime of Secrets from Mr Peng’s Chinese Kitchen with Qin Xie’ by Mr Peng published by Cornerstone
Hunan, a restaurant located on London’s Pimlico Road, is revered among its patrons who rave about the nearly four-decade-old eatery where owner Mr YS Peng and his son Michael serve up course after course of Chinese dishes – all without a menu. It’s been hailed as the best Chinese restaurant in London, so, in 2014, when the Pengs decided to create a cookbook based on their signature dishes, it was welcomed with much excitement.
The result is an endearing homage to Mr Peng’s many years in the industry. The dishes featured are restaurant-quality, yet simple and accessible enough for someone cooking at home.
Buy now £25.00, Foyles.co.uk
‘This is a Book About Dumplings’ by Brendan Pang, published by Page Street Publishing
Every culture has dumplings – but it must be said that the Chinese do them particularly well, and in a stunning array of flavours, shapes, and textures. From delicate and deliciously moreish soup dumplings to beautifully translucent shrimp parcels, to the more robust, crispy-bottomed potstickers and pillowy soft BBQ pork buns, they are a beloved element of Chinese cuisine.
Brendan Pang’s ode is therefore a must-have for dumpling lovers. We especially liked the sections on dumpling wrappers and folds, which are the most important steps when making these delicious morsels. They can be fiddly and tricky to get right, but once you do, it’s highly rewarding – and this cookbook is perfect for helping you achieve dumpling nirvana.
Buy now £17.99, Blackwells.co.uk
‘Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking’ by Fuchsia Dunlop, published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Fuchsia Dunlop’s expertise in Chinese food – especially Sichuan cuisine – is highly regarded among chefs and cooks alike, and for good reason. Every Grain of Rice won Dunlop her fourth James Beard Award, and it teaches home cooks how to plan a Chinese meal, which is very different to how a standard Chinese takeaway order looks.
As she writes, a typical home-cooked Chinese meal “consists of a few simple dishes made mainly with vegetables, with relatively small amounts of fish, meat or poultry”. Her recipes are clear and easy for anyone to follow, and the extensive glossary at the end of the book is wonderfully helpful.
Buy now £17.39, Blackwells.co.uk
‘Complete Chinese Cookbook’ by Ken Hom, published by Ebury Publishing
The bestselling cookbook by the beloved Ken Hom is a great resource for anyone keen to get into Chinese cooking. It features in-depth guides to ingredients, cooking equipment and techniques that can be easily adapted to a western kitchen, as well as 250 recipes covering both classic Chinese dishes as well as lesser-known, more adventurous meals.
We especially liked Ken’s “useful hints” throughout the book, telling readers how to get the most out of the ingredients – for instance, he advises you to soak dried fish or seafood to make it easier to chop, or to be gentle with fragile beancurd so it keeps it shape when cooking. It’s little notes like this that make cooking more enjoyable and approachable.
Buy now £27.00, Waterstones.com
‘To Asia, With Love’ by Hetty McKinnon, published by Prestel
Although not strictly focused on Chinese cuisine, Australian-born Hetty McKinnon’s collection of stories and recipes is a beautiful love letter to Asia. She explores the flavours of her childhood growing up in a Chinese household, juxtaposed with her experience of being a third-culture kid – those who are raised in one culture while living in a significantly different environment throughout their childhood.
Growing up in the diaspora means that McKinnon’s take on some dishes are what she calls a “cross-pollination of ideas and techniques… not distinctly Chinese, not Australian, but rather a third interpretation”. The results are sometimes surprising (such as the tomato and egg “shakshuka”), sometimes intriguing (butter miso Vegemite noodles, anyone?), but always delicious.
Buy now £26.00, Foyles.co.uk
‘The Veggie Chinese Takeaway Cookbook’ by Kwoklyn Wan, published by Quadrille Publishing
Chinese takeaways can sometimes be a bit disappointing for vegetarians and vegans, but Kwoklyn Wan’s cookbook puts a delightful veggie-first spin on these popular dishes. Contrary to the popular belief that Chinese cuisine is meat-heavy, vegetarianism is a hugely important part of Buddhist and Taoist practices followed by many Chinese people. Wan’s cookbook takes its cues from the Buddhist temples of Hong Kong and their humble vegetarian fare to serve up delightful veggie options.
He does include some non-Chinese recipes, such as Thai tom yum soup and Vietnamese fried spring rolls, but these dishes are often found in Chinese takeaways across the UK. Although some recipes in this book are not vegan, they are easily veganised.
Buy now £12.00, Whsmith.co.uk
‘Asian Green’ by Ching-He Huang, published by Octopus Publishing Group
Vegans, rejoice! The charming Ching-He Huang’s latest cookbook is filled with plant-based delights, inspired by her husband’s veganism. Not all of her recipes are Chinese – she has taken cues for her dishes from across Asia – but this cookbook is filled with plenty of nourishing meals that are focused on one’s health and wellbeing.
She makes full use of fresh produce and flavours from the different regions in China, and, with some ingenuity (see: “chia egg”), manages to make cooking Chinese food for or as a vegan that much more possible.
Buy now £17.99, Waterstones.com
‘Dumplings and Noodles’ by Pippa Middlehurst, published by Quadrille Publishing
If perfecting the art of homemade noodles is a goal you’ve set for yourself this year, then this cookbook is essential. Pippa Middlehurst, formerly a cancer research scientist, uses her noodle to understand the science behind making them. She goes into great detail about molecular processes that take place in the dough, the importance of hydration and kansui (lye water), and the ins and outs of gluten science.
That all might sound a bit intimidating, but this cookbook is anything but. Middlehurst does an excellent job of breaking down the information into short, digestible pieces and her warm, encouraging tone throughout the book will leave you feeling like anything is possible.
Buy now £16.99, Pippyeats.com
‘Xi’an Famous Foods’ by Jason Wang with Jessica K Chou, published by Abrams Books
The rise and rise of Xi’an cuisine in North America can be traced back to Xi’an Famous Foods, a family-run chain of restaurants based in New York City. The business is headed by Jason Wang, whose family migrated from Xi’an – one of the oldest cities in China – to the US when he was eight years old. This book tells the story of his family and their journey towards founding and owning one of the most well-loved Chinese restaurant chains in the Big Apple.
Wang takes readers through a brief guide to the flavours of Xi’an, which is especially famous for its spicy-sour combinations, before introducing us to essential pantry ingredients, must-have sauces and chilli oils, and the different types of noodles and breads traditionally used in Xi’an cuisine. This cookbook takes you on a proper journey both through the region and the life of an immigrant family in the US.
Buy now £23.99, Blackwells.co.uk
The verdict: Chinese cookbooks
Terry Tan’s China: A Cookbook is a fantastic resource that covers the entirety of China, and is a worthy successor to our well-worn copy of China: The Cookbook by Kei Lum and Diora Fong Chan. For specific types of dishes, Pippa Middlehurst’s Dumplings and Noodles is an excellent deep dive, and vegans will love Ching-He Huang’s Asian Green cookbook.
We’ve also found the best vegetarian cookbooks , packed full of delicious recipes and ideas