Jonathan Clements in The Emperor’s Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals fulfills the promise of the title: in this extremely detailed position (over 45 pages of recommendations for further reading and footnotes!) you will learn not only the history of Chinese cuisine, but also the entire region and its inhabitants, from prehistory to the present day.
Clements presents a wonderful combination of food, language, and culture. Each chapter focuses on a different dynasty or period: starting with the customs of Liji, the part of “Four Books and Five Classics” which largely deals with food and the rites that surround it, it takes the reader through 5,000 years of history. The Emperor’s Feast of course talks about the titlular feasts at the imperial court, but also about the history of vegetarianism in China, Kublai Khan’s feasts, the influence of the development of the Silk Road or Columbus’ journey on preferred flavors…
The final four chapters, spanning the last 150 years, are fascinating and sensitively and humorously describe the influence of chinatowns on the perception of China abroad, the mishaps of Western leaders at banquets in communist China, the opening of the first KFC in the country – to issues of hygiene and the situation regarding the outbreak of the Covid-19 epidemic.
The Emperor’s Feast will be of interest not only to lovers of history or culinary arts, but also to all enthusiasts of Chinese culture in general – you will learn many interesting facts, get to know fragments of classical poetry, and, after reading it, you will certainly book a table in the nearest Chinese restaurant.