Invitation to a Banquet: The Story of Chinese Food









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The epic tale of the world’s most sophisticated gastronomic culture, told through a banquet of thirty Chinese dishes

Chinese was the earliest truly global cuisine. When the first Chinese labourers began to sojourn and settle abroad, restaurants appeared in their wake. Yet Chinese food has the curious distinction of being both one of the world’s best-loved culinary traditions and one of the least understood. For more than a century, the overwhelming dominance of a simplified form of Cantonese cooking ensured that few foreigners experienced anything of its richness and sophistication – but today that is beginning to change.

In this book, the James Beard Award-winning cook and writer Fuchsia Dunlop explores the history, philosophy and techniques of China’s rich and ancient culinary culture. Each chapter examines a classic dish, from mapo tofu to Dongpo pork, knife-scraped noodles to braised pomelo pith, to reveal a singular aspect of Chinese gastronomy, whether it’s the importance of the soybean, the lure of exotic ingredients or the history of Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. Meeting local food producers, chefs, gourmets and home cooks as she tastes her way across the country, Fuchsia invites readers to join her on an unforgettable journey into Chinese food as it is made, cooked, eaten and considered in its homeland.

Weaving together historical scholarship, mouth-watering descriptions of food and on-the-ground research conducted over the course of three decades, Invitation to a Banquet is a lively, landmark tribute to the pleasures and mysteries of Chinese cuisine.


‘A serious and intrepid work of culinary history. As a cultural, intellectual and political investigation, “Invitation to a Banquet” is on par with Waverley Root’s “The Food of France” (1958) and Jessica B. Harris’s “High on the Hog” (2011). It is a thesaurus of the senses. The book puts Dunlop, the Cambridge-educated English writer and cook, on a new level as a gastronomic commentator. Her prose is as rich and vivid as that of M.F.K. Fisher and Betty Fussell… If you don’t live within 100 miles of a real Chinese restaurant, or an H Mart, this book will not only entertain and instruct you — it might make you go mad with longing.’ ― Dwight Garner, The New York Times 

‘Any book by Fuchsia Dunlop is cause for celebration, but this one is very special. Heart-felt and beautifully researched, Invitation to a Banquet serves up an entirely new way to enjoy Chinese food. It is a gift to everyone who ever picked up chopsticks.’― Ruth Reichl

‘A brilliantly informative appreciation of Chinese food past and present, told through a series of essential ingredients and dishes… Her sensory writing is so vivid that I felt I was actually there with her in the food markets of China.’ ―Bee Wilson, Sunday Times

‘Dunlop’s erudite historical account tells the story of China’s multifarious cuisine in lip-smacking detail… A compelling blend of scholarship and passion.’ ― Isabel Hilton, Financial Times

‘Dunlop travels from the wheat-eating north to the rice-loving south, dishing up meaty nuggets of history, morsels of politics and, above all, lip-smacking descriptions of food… A paean to Chinese gastronomy as refreshing as a bowl of grandma’s bitter melon and pork rib soup .’  ― Tom Miller, Spectator

‘In 30 years of exploring and documenting the country, Fuchsia Dunlop has done for China what Elizabeth David did for Mediterranean food and Claudia Roden did for the Middle East.’ ― Tim Lewis, The Observer

‘An authoritative new book… Dunlop makes a compelling case for the superiority of Chinese cuisine, but in a delighted and expansive rather than a chauvinistic way.’ ― The Economist

‘A vivid account of China’s food culture, going back to its mythical past to trace the diversity of flavours, textures and techniques that blossomed in the millennia that followed.’ ― Andrew Irwin, TLS

‘Hailed as one of the finest food writers, Dunlop understands that to simply describe food is stagnant. Her style is wickedly erotic… While one is lulled by her words, it is easy to forget how clever her construction. Like a fugue, her motifs echo and dance us to the end.’ ― Mei Chin, Irish Times

‘A landmark love letter to Chinese food.’ ― Mail on Sunday

‘Glorious.’ – Nigella Lawson

‘Fuchsia Dunlop’s expertise in Chinese cuisine is both remarkable and enlightening. She has devoted her life to intricately intertwining China’s rich history with its culinary traditions, making significant contributions in sharing this delicious knowledge. Invitation to a Banquet offers a captivating glimpse into Chinese culture, served as a mouthwatering feast. Indeed, there’s no better way to understand a culture than through its food, and Fuchsia captures this notion with mastery.’― René Redzepi, co-owner and chef of noma

‘Passionate and thoughtful. This book highlights the intricate connections between China’s people, food, and culture over time.’― Nik Sharma, James Beard Finalist, cookbook author, and photographer

‘As a young Chinese food writer, Fuchsia Dunlop’s books were my Harry Potter. She introduced me to the vibrant, expansive, magical world of Chinese gastronomy beyond the four walls of my Cantonese home. Next to my parents, there’s no person I’ve learned more about the cooking of my people than Fuchsia Dunlop. Invitation to a Banquet just might be her magnum opus: the richest English-language accounting of China’s culinary history I’ve ever read. I’m grateful this magnificent book exists.’― Kevin Pang, James Beard Award-winning writer, author of A Very Chinese Cookbook

‘Fuchsia Dunlop is such a gifted writer that the reader cannot help being swept along by her masterful, yet intimate, account of a cuisine that is unmatched not only in its refinement and diversity, but also in the richness of its history of nutritional experimentation and speculation. Invitation to a Banquet is destined to become a classic of travel literature and ethnography as well as food writing.’ ― Amitav Ghosh, author, most recently, of Smoke and Ashes: A Writer’s Journey Through Opium’s Hidden Histories

‘Fuchsia Dunlop is one of the world’s best writers on Chinese food. This book is ample proof of that. Each chapter becomes a course, written in her usual erudite manner but entertaining and informative at the same time. I found the book irresistible, addicting and mouth-watering. If you love Chinese food then you must accept the invitation to her banquet!’― Ken Hom CBE, author of Chinese Cookery

‘How the scales fall away from the eyes reading this masterpiece. Invitation to a Banquet enthrals as it enlightens as it delights. Fuchsia has a way with words and cooking quite unique and mesmerising. I have had to put the book down only out of necessity and wish only that instead of mounting a bicycle headed to work, I had boarded a train bound for China, book in hand, with a blanket, chopsticks and a hamper brimming with dishes prepared by Fuchsia.’― Jeremy Lee, author of Cooking

‘There are cooks who write and writers who cook, but very few succeed in blending both arts to perfection in the way Fuchsia Dunlop does. The flavours arising from these pages are sprinkled with insight and experience, its narrative is infused with anecdote and historical depth. This book is the perfect dish for anyone curious about the story of Chinese cuisine and a joy for those among us simply in need of food for thought.’ ― Professor Roel Sterckx, author of Chinese Thought

‘This book is destined to be a culinary classic. Fuchsia Dunlop is a top-notch cook, a first-rate food writer, and a thoroughly grounded scholar of the history and culture of Chinese food. The book is a superb and intensive introduction to Chinese food . . . a delight to read. It will remain a landmark in food and culinary studies.’ ― E. N. Anderson, author of The Food of China