Invitation to a BanquetThe Story of Chinese Food

An NPR 2023 “Books We Love” Pick

The world’s most sophisticated gastronomic culture, brilliantly presented through a banquet of thirty Chinese dishes.

Chinese was the earliest truly global cuisine. When the first Chinese laborers began to settle abroad, restaurants appeared in their wake. Yet Chinese has the curious distinction of being both one of the world’s best-loved culinary traditions and one of the least understood. For more than a century, the overwhelming dominance of a simplified form of Cantonese cooking ensured that few foreigners experienced anything of its richness and sophistication—but today that is beginning to change.

In Invitation to a Banquet, award-winning cook and writer Fuchsia Dunlop explores the history, philosophy, and techniques of Chinese culinary culture. In each chapter, she examines a classic dish, from mapo tofu to Dongpo pork, knife-scraped noodles to braised pomelo pith, to reveal a distinctive aspect of Chinese gastronomy, whether it’s the importance of the soybean, the lure of exotic ingredients, or the history of Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. Meeting food producers, chefs, gourmets, and home cooks as she tastes her way across the country, Fuchsia invites readers to join her on an unforgettable journey into Chinese food as it is cooked, eaten, and considered in its homeland.

Weaving together history, mouthwatering descriptions of food, and on-the-ground research conducted over the course of three decades, Invitation to a Banquet is a lively, landmark tribute to the pleasures and mysteries of Chinese cuisine.

Fuchsia Dunlop was the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, and has been traveling around China, researching and cooking Chinese food, for thirty years. Her James Beard Award–winning and best-selling books include The Food of Sichuan, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, Every Grain of Rice, and Land of Fish and Rice, several of which are now published in translation in China. Based in London, she speaks, reads, and writes Chinese.

How the scales fall away from the eyes reading this masterpiece. Invitation to a Banquet enthrals as it enlightens as it delights. Fuchsia has a way with words and cooking quite unique and mesmerising. I have had to put the book down only out of necessity and wish only that instead of mounting a bicycle headed to work, I had boarded a train bound for China, book in hand, with a blanket, chopsticks and a hamper brimming with dishes prepared by Fuchsia. – Jeremy Lee, author of Cooking

Fuchsia Dunlop is one of the world’s best writers on Chinese food. This book is ample proof of that. Each chapter becomes a course, written in her usual erudite manner but entertaining and informative at the same time. I found the book irresistible, addicting and mouth-watering. If you love Chinese food then you must accept the invitation to her banquet! – Ken Hom CBE, author of Chinese Cookery

As a young Chinese food writer, Fuchsia Dunlop’s books were my Harry Potter. She introduced me to the vibrant, expansive, magical world of Chinese gastronomy beyond the four walls of my Cantonese home. Next to my parents, there’s no person I’ve learned more about the cooking of my people than Fuchsia Dunlop. Invitation to a Banquet just might be her magnum opus: the richest English-language accounting of China’s culinary history I’ve ever read. I’m grateful this magnificent book exists. – Kevin Pang, James Beard Award-winning writer, author of A Very Chinese Cookbook

Passionate and thoughtful. This book highlights the intricate connections between China’s people, food, and culture over time. – Nik Sharma, James Beard Finalist, cookbook author, and photographer 

Fuchsia Dunlop’s expertise in Chinese cuisine is both remarkable and enlightening. She has devoted her life to intricately intertwining China’s rich history with its culinary traditions, making significant contributions in sharing this delicious knowledge. Invitation to a Banquet offers a captivating glimpse into Chinese culture, served as a mouthwatering feast. Indeed, there’s no better way to understand a culture than through its food, and Fuchsia captures this notion with mastery. – René Redzepi, co-owner and chef of noma

There are cooks who write and writers who cook, but very few succeed in blending both arts to perfection in the way Fuchsia Dunlop does. The flavours arising from these pages are sprinkled with insight and experience, its narrative is infused with anecdote and historical depth. This book is the perfect dish for anyone curious about the story of Chinese cuisine and a joy for those among us simply in need of food for thought. – Roel Sterckx, author of Chinese Thought 

Any book by Fuchsia Dunlop is cause for celebration, but this one is very special. Heart-felt and beautifully researched, Invitation to a Banquet serves up an entirely new way to enjoy Chinese food. It is a gift to everyone who ever picked up chopsticks. – Ruth Reichl

Fuchsia Dunlop’s rapturous Invitation to a Banquet . . . reveals a universe of delights, innovation and versatility so deep and broad it will subdue even readers who believe they know all about the cuisine. – Howard Chua-Eoan ,  Bloomberg

[Dunlop’s] latest is one of her most ambitious works to date. . . . While the book brims with descriptions of delectable feasts, this is more of a historical deep-dive than it is a travelog. Above all, Dunlop wants her readers to approach Chinese food on its own terms and to challenge common misconceptions about it. She explores a time before rice’s dominance, when emperors offered sacrifices to “Lord Millet”; why the roots of Japanese sushi lie in Chinese zha; and why the wet markets unfairly maligned in Western press in 2020 are essential to communities. – Diana Hubbell ,  Gastro Obscura

[Dunlop] is a legend in the world of Chinese cookery. . . . In one chapter, about a soup of wild catfish cheeks, she writes about the dozens of different food textures that the Chinese both admire and have highly specific words for. In another, she writes about a dish made by braising the cottony, seemingly inedible pith of a pomelo until it becomes ethereally delicious—a creation so ingenious that it flips the famous notion that Chinese people are willing to treat anything vaguely edible as an ingredient entirely on its head. – Luke Tsai ,  KQED

Fuchsia Dunlop’s masterly new book, Invitation to a Banquet . . . [is] a serious and intrepid work of culinary history . . . a thesaurus of the senses. If you don’t live within 100 miles of a real Chinese restaurant, or an H Mart, this book will not only entertain and instruct you—it might make you go mad with longing. – Dwight Garner ,  New York Times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *