Invitation to a Banquet: The Story of Chinese Food (By Fuchsia Dunlop) *Signed by the Author*
Fuchsia signed each book in this shipment in both English and Chinese, specifically for Mala Market customers. This book is destined to be a classic, so get your signed first-edition copy while you can! (One signed copy per order, please.)
Though Fuchsia Dunlop has written some of the greatest Chinese cookbooks in the English language, THIS IS NOT A COOKBOOK. Invitation to a Banquet is not about how to cook Chinese food, but how to eat it, and why to eat it. It should be a companion to any and all Chinese cookbooks, because knowing the context, history and culture of a dish always improves it. And that is particularly true of Chinese food, which has been so misunderstood for so long in the West.
I wish that I had room to quote the several pages of the introduction that set the record straight about the historical preeminence of Chinese cuisine(s) with breathtaking clarity and efficiency. But that's just the start. Fuchsia's deep research and academic authority combined with three decades of personal experience studying, cooking and eating throughout China make her eminently qualified to tell the 10,000-year story of Chinese food. Plus, she's just a superlative writer.
If you've ever wondered how Chinese food evolved over the millennia, and particularly how it evolved so differently than Western food, then this book is for you. It is loosely organized around specific dishes, one a chapter, but the dishes serve only as the springboard for a much broader discussion of the ingredients, the production processes, the cooking methods and the overall cultural impact and meaning.
For example, she starts with char siu to explore why Chinese cooks almost always cut meat into small pieces before cooking. From the earliest days, she explains, they explicitly saw their kitchen expertise—their numerous cooking techniques and seasonings—as separating the civilized Chinese from the barbarians elsewhere, who simply killed an animal and threw large hunks of it on the fire.
Perhaps my favorite chapters are one devoted to mapo tofu, which examines how the banal-looking little soybean transformed Chinese cooking, nutrition and society; and one devoted to drunken crabs and Shaoxing wine, which looks at how the Chinese discovery of qu fermentation turned grains and beans into so many other life-changing products: wine, liquor, vinegar and jiangs/sauces to start. The fermented soybean, in particular, gave us soy sauce and changed Asian cuisines forever.
Invitation to a Banquet is full of such insight on soy sauce and all the other heritage Chinese products we import for The Mala Market.
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company, November 2023
Format: Hardback, cloth binding, 466 pages