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Soup for the Qan

by: Buell, Paul D. and Anderson, Eugene N.

London UK: Kegan Paul International 2000, $250.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-7103-0583-4

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(2) page(s): 23

This translation is of a medieval text subtitled: Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era As Seen In Hu Szu-Hui's Yin-Shan Cheng-yao (YSCY). Its three parts are mesmerizing, and are: historical and cultural context, analysis of the text, and text and translation. More than seven hundred pages long, it is a tour-de-force.

An explanatory monograph-sized introduction sets the stage and gets the reader into this important time in history. It is an excellent start to reading great information about foods of those times. This volume's original was written by an imperial dietary doctor who detailed foods and their medicinal values in those days and presented the information to the Mongol Emperor Tu-temur who ruled from 1328 to 1332 CE. This Buell/Anderson translation is of the 1456 CE edition, and provides, a page by page translation, with copies of each original page and extensive commentary, also page by page. Included are more than two hundred recipes and court delicacies, dietetic materials, and more. After them is an appendix called: Materia Dietetica et Medica, and another by Charles Perry called: Grain Foods of the Early Turks, neighbors of the Mongol court.

This YSCY, as it is fondly called, has many prescriptions for life and health. It was China's very first dietary manual whose title translates as: Proper Essentials for the Emperor's Food and Drink. Written by Hu, the court's senior dietary doctor who may have been Chinese or could have been Turkic, it is clear that he is well educated and probably grew up in a milieu where Chinese, Turkic, and Mongol cultural elements existed side by side. This book shows influences from Turks, Chinese, Koreans, Russians, and people of other ethnic ancestry who held important roles at the Mongol court.

Health aspects discussed include regulating qi, ways to live longer, and how diet might endanger health. Though the influences of the writer are wide and varied, the medicinal aspects are predominantly Chinese and not Near Eastern. However, there are some Arabic medicinal items. The authors think that this is due to his having a largely Chinese audience in mind, but the food use such as rice has recipes mainly Muslim as it specifies aromatic or fragrant rice.

Besides rice recipes, there are many for soups and liquors and other meal components. All the Chinese and the textual materials are transliterated using the Wage-Giles transliteration and this review uses them.

Before almost every recipe, the original author indicates what the recipe treats and tells how to make it. For example, the recipe for Black Chicken Soup reads:
It cures asthenia, internal impairment by over
strain and evil qi of chest and abdomen.
Black chicken (one; pluck, clean and cut up
into small pieces), prepared mandarin orange
peel (one ch’ien; remove white), lesser
galangal (one ch’ien), black pepper (two
ch’ien), tsaoko cardamon (two).
It goes on to say:
Combine ingredients with onions, vinegar,
and sauce and put into a jug. Seal the mouth.
Let boil until done. Eat on an empty stomach.

Buell, Anderson, and Perry, their Ph.D.’s from Universities of Washington, Harvard, and California at Berkeley, respectively, make a significant contribution to our knowledge of foods in those times. They also expand our understanding of Chinese interactions with non-Chinese cultures in this important Yuan era dietary/herbal/historical/medical/social work. They put that in proper context, that of a cosmopolitan Mongol court.
We feel compelled to advise both readers and publishers that this wonderful book almost did not get reviewed. The book's publisher never heard of Flavor and Fortune and though copies were sent at their request, even after reviewing them, they did not deem it important to send a review copy. We publically chastise them for their short-sightedness. To make amends, we hope they will donate the cost of at least one copy to further the aims of this magazine and its parent organization, ISACC.

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