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The Land of the Five Flavors

by: Thomas O. Hollmann

New York City NY: Columbia University Press 2014, Hardbound

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(4) page(s): 20

This cultural history of Chinese Cuisine describes and illustrates a breadth of Chinese historical sources. It is insightful, clear, and easily understood. It covers the earliest empires and continues on to when published with photos, sketches, even recipes that allow tasting them mentally.

The author, is a China scholar, and in this volume follows food culture from burial rituals to today’s fast food deftly and deliciously. Through them, one gets a sense of China’s regions, inventions, crops, spices, herbs, even many of its superstitions. This is a fascinating view of these and more, and it is a great source of this country’s culinary arts and practices.

Carefully translated by Karen Margolis, her talent brings these eight chapters alive from the first titled: ‘Rice Doesn’t Rain From Heaven’ to the last called ‘Tavern of Eternal Happiness’ and the ‘Epilogue.’ After them, Tables illuminate China’s oil seeds, Allium vegetables, harvest yields, fruits, mammals, birds, fish, and plants. These latter items include their botanical names. They end with a list of China’s ethnic minorities, where most of each of them live, and their population data in 2000.

This book ends with Western, Japanese, and Chinese bibliographic sources in its three-language fifteen-page bibliography; a valuable ending before the sixteen-page two-column detailed Index. We were amazed at the breadth of information in its pages. Would that other authors provided these detailed sources with succinct text, as this one does.

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