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Swallowing Clouds: A Playful Journey Through Chinese Culture, Language and Cuisine Paperback – 1 May 2002

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Product details

  • Paperback: 378 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press; 1st University of Washington Press Pbk. Ed edition (1 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0295981911
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295981918
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.7 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,332,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"In this lyrical work, theoretical physicist Zee steps outside his specialty to write about his true loves - Chinese cooking, language, and culture. Zee's format is elegant: he takes a common food on the menu of any Chinese-American restaurant, explicates the Chinese characters designating the food, and relates charming anecdotes and history associated with the food. 'Swallowing Clouds,' for instance, refers to two written characters in Chinese that designate wonton; in Old China, Zee explains, clouds of steam billowed up from the pot of broth carried on the end of a bamboo pole by street peddlers of wonton soup." - Kirkus Reviews "Charming... a study of the very nature of Chinese culture. Zee has a quirky, personal style that draws the reader in." - Anne Tyler, Washington Post Book World "The most delightful food book of the year, Swallowing Clouds is a happy blending of instruction and amusement in the language, culture, and cuisine of China." - Minneapolis Star-Tribune "One of the most interesting and unique books on Chinese food... Family anecdotes, folklore, and good sketches help the author present a new understanding and meaning behind this rich and complex cuisine." - Christian Science Monitor "A truly delightful literary compendium of wit, wisdom, and how-to... Zee provides the amateur linguist with enough clues to demystify the pictographs and history associated with such exotic dishes as 'Woman Song's Fish Broth' and 'Buddha Jumping Over the Wall.'" - Newsday Nominated for the James Beard Award and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Cookbook Award

Inside This Book

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CHINESE CHARACTERS FASCINATE many people. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Billed as a book about Chinese cuisine, "Swallowing Clouds" is so much more. The delicacies and common fare we uncover are a launchpad, sending us into a world of history, folk-lore, contemporary culture and - last but by no means least - language. (The title itself is a transliteration of the commonly known dish 'wonton')

The personal tone and obvious passion for the subject matter make Zee's book eminently readable, and the variety of ways in which the material is presented keep the pages seeming fresh. At times I did feel slightly overloaded with the pictorial Chinese symbols, however I think that is due to my own mindset which wants to memorise them all immediately!

If you are hoping to learn the language, this book won't give you anything more than a few basics - and not even the everyday words that would get you by in another country. What it will give you, is an engaging, entertaining and illuminating view into the world of Chinese culture. And a mouth-watering one at that!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
an accessible intro to the chinese language and cuisine. 2 Sept. 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
before picking up Swallowing Clouds the Chinese language seemed to me to be completely impenetrable. now, thanks to Swallowing Clouds and the insights it provides, i am frequently able to recognize characters wherever i go, but most notably on the menus in Chinese restaurants. needless to say, my dining companions are always interested in the little insights i can tell them about their meals that i learned from Swallowing Clouds. This book is utterly delightful, engaging and fun--it's one of my favourites, and it's near impossible to put down. it's perfect for anyone who's ever picked up a Chinese menu and scratched their head at what intially appears to be a complex and intimidating language.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
The Intelligent Guide to Chinese Cuisine and Culture 2 April 2000
By t. goh - Published on
Format: Paperback
A. Zee has written a very intelligent book on the finer aspects of Chinese cuisine explained with easy to understand Chinese names, their gastronomic connections and the cultural implications. Zee beautifully intertwined food with history, poetry and language. He has spiced his topics with true life stories like a famous Chinese poet eating the poisonous Fugu (puffer fish) and proclaiming it was worthwhile dying for. Truly an inspirational and accomplished work, cerebral and delightful. A must for all who love Chinese food.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
One of my favorite books of all time 8 Sept. 2003
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I first read Swallowing Clouds 12 years ago and it started me on the endlessly fascinating hobby of learning to read Chinese characters. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Chinese culture, cuisine, and history. Dr. Zee's effortlessly entertaining, yet thoroughly knowledgeable, style will entrance the neophyte as well as the seasoned scholar.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Unique Book, Lovely Stories 2 Nov. 2004
By Stephen Jack - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like to be able to speak Chinese but even the thought of studying it intimidates the pants off you? You might be pleasantly surprised once you read ten pages into Swallowing Clouds. A. Zee is a wonderfully patient, fun teacher. You won't learn Chinese simply be reading this book but you might just get hooked enough to want to learn more. So this book is a great starting point. You will learn some very interesting stuff about Chinese food and culture.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
... there is a folktale. 27 Jun. 2009
By Jeffrey D. Scargle - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Some time ago, a scholar entered a his favorite bookstore. The owner asked if he could help find what the scholar was looking for. "I want your best book on Chinese cuisine. I also need a Chinese cookbook, and readable books about both ancient and modern Chinese culture. I need a Chinese language book, a book of Chinese folk tales, and one on the history of China. Oh, and throw in a novel so engaging that I won't be able to put it down. And finally I would like to learn a little Chinese, at least so I can read menus, without doing any work!" The bookstore owner placed an unassuming volume in the scholar's hand, saying "Here it is. Swallowing Clouds."

Amazingly all of these things are to be found in this book. Well, it is not a real cookbook, but its "few recipes" are augmented by descriptions of ingredients and cooking methods for specific dishes, entrancingly woven throughout the narrative. You will not look at Chinese characters on a menu, or Chinese restaurants and food, in the same way after being enlightened by this wonderful book.
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