Chinese cuisine without chile peppers seems unimaginable. Entranced by the fiery taste, diners worldwide have fallen for Chinese cooking. In China, chiles are everywhere, from dried peppers hanging from eaves to Mao’s boast that revolution would be impossible without chiles, from the eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber to contemporary music videos. Indeed, they are so common that many Chinese assume they are native. Yet there were no chiles anywhere in China prior to the 1570s, when they were introduced from the Americas.
Brian R. Dott explores how the nonnative chile went from obscurity to ubiquity in China, influencing not just cuisine but also medicine, language, and cultural identity. He details how its versatility became essential to a variety of regional cuisines and swayed both elite and popular medical and healing practices. Dott tracks the cultural meaning of the chile across a wide swath of literary texts and artworks, revealing how the spread of chiles fundamentally altered the meaning of the term spicy. He emphasizes the intersection between food and gender, tracing the chile as a symbol for both male virility and female passion. Integrating food studies, the history of medicine, and Chinese cultural history, The Chile Pepper in China sheds new light on the piquant cultural impact of a potent plant and raises broader questions regarding notions of authenticity in cuisine.
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Dimensions: 216 x 140 mm
Extensive source materials in both Chinese and English form the bedrock for this impressive study into how a relatively unassuming American import so radically changed one country’s cuisines and traditional pharmacopoeia. The history of the humble chile in China is a fascinating one, especially as viewed through Brian R. Dott’s affectionate yet scholarly lens.
A learned as well as lively book with many surprises. How chile peppers came to China from the New World just starts a story involving taste, regionalism, adaptation, and folklore. Chiles were key to Chinese cuisine’s subtlety and variety, and not just in Sichuan and Hunan either.
This is an absolutely wonderful book. It combines scholarship and good food writing—the enormous amount of effort in compiling the databases is duly and modestly cloaked in good prose.
A valuable resource for anyone interested in Chinese culinary culture or the global history of the chilli as symbol — ‘vitamin, vegetable, preservative and spice’. Dott’s research is extensive, while his writing is entertaining, digestible and peppered with much fascinating information.
It reminds us to look for culinary innovation not only where we often do, in the flashy kitchens of professional chefs, but also in the long-term historical processes of everyday life, the contributions to which, like the chile in China, may be ‘found everywhere.’
A book that can be easily understood and enjoyed by casual readers, something not all academic non-fiction books can say.
There is much to praise about the book: its painstaking research, its sensitivity to the diversities of regional and historical contexts within China, and the top-notch storytelling. On the last point, Dott deserves special mention. The Chile Pepper in China will be one of the few books that will be read and savored by academics and civilians alike.
With its lucid, lively style, copious illustrations, and recipes this book could be a model for studies of the assimilation of other New World ingredients, especially in India and China. It will be of great value to students and academics and anyone with an interest [in] Chinese cuisine and culture.
A satisfying history to [chiles] origins as well as their cultural significance in China.
The definitive English-language study of how the pepper arrived in China, how it became part of local cuisine and medical practice, and how it even established itself as a core part of identity formation in southwest China. But one of its most provocative contributions has little to do with China and everything do with the chili pepper's unique relationship to globalization.
It all adds up to a compelling case for how a foreign plant became a national spice.