I find books written in a “Westerner lost in the Orient” style to be very hit or miss. So much depends on the author's ability to not only have grown from the experience, but to be able to express the depth of it in a manner that can be identified with. No story survives without engaging characterization, and far too many tales of trial and tribulation simply fall flat and make the reader wish for their time back.
Unsurprisingly, many such stories use food as a focal point. A unifying constant like food, deftly manipulated with things that pass for 'foreign' or 'outlandish' is an excellent way to create attention and thought without losing a reader's base, or sense of self. Everyone eats, and a place to eat is a classic literary neutral ground, from which possible adventures might come. “How to Cook a Dragon” is yet another of those, starting with the author's lovesick trip to China after a man, and working through her own manifold issues over the course of a few difficult years.
I liked it at first- the first half or so is a modestly engaging read, and the occasional recipe is both solid and workable. But the more pages I turned, the more I felt the life and vigor draining from the words. The tales become frustrating, the characters flat. The end is particularly abrupt and awkward, trying hard to build sympathy for the author as she clears the last hurdle of her time in China. Painfully rushed, it ends on a lot of pain, some self reflection, and a lousy potential story hook that's barely fit for a supermarket paperback sob story.
Add that to the fact that the recipes are placed at random without benefit of an index page for them, and you have a pretty lackluster finish to what could have been so much more.
For those that like this genre but want better stories or more talented authors, I recommend Elin Hilderbrand's The Blue Bistro, or Nicole Mones, The Last Chinese Chef. My review of the latter will be linked below.
“How to Cook a Dragon” is the restaurant kind of Well Done: undesirable, dry, tough, and hard to finish. Skip it.