Swallowing Clouds

A Playful Journey through Chinese Culture, Language, and Cuisine

A. Zee
With a new afterword by Linda Rui Feng

  • $29.95 paperback (9780295994208) Add to Cart
  • hardcover not available
  • Published: 2014
  • Subject Listing: Food; Asian Studies / China
  • Bibliographic information: 386 pp., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Physics professor Zee writes about how to understand the menus in Chinese restaurants, explaining the characters, what they mean, and the colorful stories behind the names of various dishes. Anne Tyler (in the Washington Post) called Swallowing Clouds "a study of the very nature of Chinese culture. Zee has a quirky, personal style that draws the reader in."

Replaces ISBN 9780295981918
A. Zee is professor of theoretical physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics and An Old Man's Toy: Gravity at Work and Play in Einstein's Universe.

"A delightful and rewarding book for anybody. . . . For the even mildly curious, Swallowing Clouds is almost essential foreplay, not just to one but to a lifetime of good Chinese meals."
-James Barber, The Urban Peasant
Time Line
A Word about Pronunciation

Beijing Men Built a Fire
Slicing through Water

Interlude 1: Phonetics, or Why Some Characters Look Horribly Complicated

Sleep of the Truly Inebriated
Swallowing Clouds
Chinese Pigs Stand

Interlude 2: The Appalling Ignorance of Some Scribes

A Delicacy for Aging Men
No Contest between Fish and a Bear with Eight Legs
Courtesans Do Not Eat Crabs

Interlude 3: To All You Carnivores

The Sweet Fragrance of Crops Ripening
How to Avoid Being Vulgar
The Pockmarked Woman and the Pearly Empress

Interlude 4: Words Are Like Our Children

Buddha Jumping over Walls
Act without Acting, Taste without Tasting

Interlude 5: Like Eating Potato Chips

The Sublime Faith in Illusions
Pieces of Her Heart
Elixirs and the Food of Health
From Banquets to Voyages of Discovery

Epilogue: All Banquets Must Come to an End

Afterword by Linda Rui Feng

Appendix A. How to Exercise Your Arm and Throat while Drinking
Appendix B. A Few Recipes
Table of Dynasties
Table of Some Common Radicals Used in this Book
Table of Characters and Radicals Cited by Chapter
A Final Note

"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."
-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, . . . a happy blending of instruction and amusement in the language, culture, and cuisine of China."
-Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Interesting and unique. . . . 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."