The Land of the Five Flavors: A Cultural History of Chinese Cuisine

We rated this book:


The Land of the Five Flavors is a curious cross-cultural text: this edition is an English translation of a German text that speaks about the social history of Chinese food. I’m still wrapping my head around this language puzzle. How far removed is the translation from the culture being discussed? Did they use existing English translations of ancient Chinese sources, which are quoted in sidebars throughout the book? Did they translate everything afresh? I wish the publishers reassured readers like me with a note on their translation process.

Setting aside these questions though, this book provides an amazing analysis of China’s culinary obsessions. With regional recipes interspersed with illustrations and the occasional statistical chart, Chinese food is put under a microscope. Everything from noodle production, historical food prices, and cannibalism is covered. My favorite chapter is the one on alcohol. Booze and its effect on Tang period literature made me laugh. It’s all heady, heavy stuff.

Since it’s an academic text, the book is occasionally bogged down with its precise and pedantic language. This isn’t easy-to-read nonfiction. For those who are up to the challenge, though, The Land of the Five Flavors is both rewarding and illuminating.

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Star Count 4/5
Format Hard
Page Count 216 pages
Publisher Columbia University Press
Publish Date 2013-Dec-10
ISBN 9780231161862 Buy this Book
Issue April 2014
Category Cooking, Food & Wine


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