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

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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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: 833,129 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Customer Reviews

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Top 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) 4.7 out of 5 stars 11 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ... 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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for anyone interested in Chinese language, food or culture 7 Aug. 2013
By Eegulleye - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Firstly I should say I'm a native English speaker proficient in Chinese language and a good knowledge of food. I re-read this book every few years and always learn something new. Those who don't read Chinese characters sadly can't appreciate the pictographic explanations the author weaves throughout, but his anecdotes about family, food, and Chinese culture will be appreciated by anyone with more than a passing interest in Chinese culture or food. I've bought multiple used copies of this book (which is sadly out of print) to give to my friends and highly recommend the book.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every review is true!!! 11 Sept. 2006
By Laerte Agnelli - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I read so many five stars reviews plain of fantastic and enthusiastic words about Zee's book I have to confess I believed just a little. But I was wrong: it is a great writer!

With humour sense, with culture and incredible style. When I read people were reading it for the second time - an almost four hundred pages book!... But that is a book I know I will read again and again!

Thanks to all of you.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow...what a book! 6 Aug. 2010
By Matti Kniva Spencer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ater buying this book, I knew how to write Chinese. This book is so easy to read and it teaches you the basic techniques of how to write Chinese. Excellent for I was.
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