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!