I’m Sean, a scholar and author passionate about anthropology of food and eating! This website is where I posts various matters on the subject.

I have been interviewed or consulted on various media including: China Daily, CNN travel, Grist, National Geographic, NPR, OMNI Television, PBS, and SCMP among others. I was also a consultant and co-presenter for the award-winning PBS television series: Confucius was a Foodie. I am an Associate at the University of Michigan Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies and my books have won acclaim both internationally and in Canada.

In real life, I hold a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and I work in developing of medical image processing and recognition techniques, as well as various medical devices and informatics technologies.

The Books

The complete translation of the Suiyuan Shidan, heavily edited with new annotations and retranscribed from the original 1729 Chinese texts (generously provided by the Harvard-Yenching and Princeton Libraries), was published and launch in October 2018 under the title: Recipes from the Garden of Contentment: Yuan Mei’s Manual of Gastronomy. Since then, it has garnered accolades including Gourmand International‘s Best in the World in 2019 under the category of translations and National Post‘s Best Cookbooks of 2018.

In February 2019, the English trade edition of the translation was published: The Way of Eating: Yuan Mei’s Manual of Gastronomy. In 2020, it won Best in the World from Gourmand International under the Special Awards Category.

Help support my research on this site by purchasing my books though the links.

If you are interested in what I am reading visit my store at Bookshop.org

* bookshop.org only serve clients with mailing addressees in United State

How this all started

Way back, I heard about the Suiyuan Shidan, and how it was one of the most influential and important treatise on Chinese cuisine. Being one of those less capable Classical Chinese readers (or indeed even normal Chinese for that matter), I automatically looked for the English translation of the work and found…next to nothing. Sure, Fushia Dunlop in her great memoir, Sharks fin and Sichuan pepper had a translated blurb on congee, and a writer by the name of Nicholas Richards offered translations of several recipes in English, but other then these few sources that was pretty much it. From Google’s results in 2013, it appeared that THE treatise on Chinese cuisine had no complete English translation.

So one night I sat down to slog through the Classical Chinese text available at wikisource, taking notes, looking up phrases and words along to way, and noting everything down in a MS word document. Then a thought hit me; instead of keeping it on my own computer to gather dust, why don’t I post it all on-line in the spirit of sharing? And that’s how all this came about.

This site will continue to change as time goes on so be sure to check back!

From the Blog

My blog Way of the Eating provides publicly available translations of the Suiyuan Shidan (published as Recipes from the Garden of Contentment), as well as other food and culture related works.

How can you support Way of the Eating?

There are several easy ways to help support our work.

  1. If you are going to purchase a book listed on Way of the Eating, please click the “Order on Bookshop.org” button on the Way of the Eating page. By doing so, at no added cost to you, we may receive a small commission which allows us to maintain and grow the site.
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All work in this site is under the Creative Commons License:
Creative Commons License
Way of the Eating by Sean J.S. Chen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

34 thoughts on “

  1. This is so incredibly cool! Thank you for your public service of posting this as you go, I love your footnotes explaining your thought process as you translate.

    I write for my hobby, and I’m working on a story where a baku (mythical animal that eats nightmares in Chinese folklore) attends a cooking school and your work is so very inspiring.

    If I ever publish it, can I give you credit for your translation? (alexjhano@gmail.com)


    1. Thanks! It’s a pleasure and fun when I have to time to keep on top of it.

      If you want to credit me, just cite the source back to the blog and the entry. 🙂



  2. Dear Ms Chen, I have read with pleasure your translation. I have a rough translation of the text and find what you have published in your blog superior to my own. (I have published an article on other aspects of Yuan Mei’s life.) But a few notes you may find useful. There are annotated editions of Yuan Mei’s text in the Shanghai library that I have used. You can find references to them online in the Shanghai library catalogue. If you need other references I am happy to help. I also know of a publisher that may have an interest in your work.


    1. Wow! This means a lot coming from someone of your experience and background! I will take a look at the resources provided by the Shanghai Library. So far I have mainly relied on the books of Arthur Waley and J.D. Schmid for background information on the life of Yuan Mei. Can you recommend any particularly good annotated texts on the Suiyuan Shidan?

      Publishing the work from this project could be rather fun and satisfying, though I am only a quarter of the way through the translation and it is unlikely that it will be complete anytime soon. That and the work here needs much editing help. However, do send the publisher a link to this blog if you think they may be interested. Thank you for your help and the feedback!


      1. Berkshire Publishing already have the link to your blog. In fact they provided it to me. The Waley and Schmidt books are first-rate. I can send you my article on Yuan Mei at some point. My copies of the annotated texts are at my place in China. I will be there in about two weeks and send you the references then. I look forward to your next installments.


      2. Thank you in advance for references to the annotated text and please do send me your article(s) on Yuan Mei. Our university libraries have some of your work, though since my wife and I stopped being students, I have had little to no access of online and offline scholarly articles. It would be nice to be able to read the Suiyuan Shidan with a bit more context to the Yuan Mei’s life.

        Berkshire seems to be a rather interesting in the types of topics that they publish and their proposed five volume Encyclopedia of Chinese Cuisines is particularly ambitious. It’s exciting that they have assemble such an impressive group of individuals on their advisory boards. Hopefully the resulting work can rival Huang’s Volume in Food Science in Needham’s Science and Civilization series. It could be a fun read!

        In any case, stay tuned. More translations are coming down the line.


  3. I neglected to mention that, in addition to my article on Yuan Mei that I spoke of previously, I also wrote the entry on Yuan Mei’s life in the Berkshire Dictionary of Chinese Biography. I can send you a pdf of that.


  4. Hi there! I, also, am writing a novel, based in 18th C China due to my interest in Pu Sungling’s work among other things, and found Yuan Mei during my research and thus your translations! They make great reading and perfect information for my work, may I likewise reference your blog? I intend electronic publishing in the first instance so electronic hyper links are a synch!


    1. By all means! Just attribute and reference back to anything you quote and use here. And post a link here when you publish your work, I’m always up for other fun reads!


  5. Thank you for your continued effort in translating this document…looking forward to reading further posts!


      1. dear sir, I am about to start a “paper” with regard to Yuan Mei and/or the Suiyuan Shidan. Any article or entry that you might have will be a great help to me.


      2. Start by checking out the linked articles on wikipedia for both Yuan Mei and the Suiyuan Shidan. If you have access to a university library, you can probably find many more resources including some of Dr. Riegel’s articles!


  6. Hi There! Your project sounds fascinating! I’m working on a Chinese food documentary and would love to pick your brain. Do you have an email I can contact you with? Thanks!


  7. Hi! I just discovered your work via posting on a full translation of the Suiyuan Shidian done by a student here. I wonder if we could join forces? Yours reads better but hers (Beilei Peng is her name) is pretty accurate. I wonder if we could cooperate and get a finished thing out and publish it. You can find ours on my website, http://www.krazykioti.com. Best wishes, E. N. (Gene) Anderson


    1. Are you THE E.N. Anderson of The Food of China’s fame? If so, this is totally wicked awesome. FoC, along with Needham’s Vol.6, were what inspired me start looking at historical Chinese cuisine and techniques, which eventually led me down the road to do this translation.

      I’m totally up for teaming up and completing the translation and annotation with you guys, though we have to figure out how we combine our work and flesh thing out into something publishable. Also on my mind in regards to the translation is “accessibility”. It would be nice to continues writing and annotating this in a tone such that the material is accessible to those outside of academia. I also believe that the content of the translation should be freely available online such that those interested in the work can find it and access it. That said, I don’t mind a freemium model offering pretty books 🙂

      I hope you guys are cool with that, any case, let’s talk more!


  8. Hi,
    you write:
    As indicated on Wikipedia the Suiyuan Shidan is composed of a preface, two chapters on gastronomy, followed by ten chapters of recipes

    why is it only 13 chapters (1+2+10) when on Wikipedia (and your listing) there are 15 ?


  9. What a great blog!

    I have been doing some work on the historical consumption of meat in China, and came across the Suiyuan shidan in a library in Hong Kong. I really appreciate your translations, which are far better than my own.

    One small suggestion, I suspect that the absence of beef recipes may reflect a regional bias. Beef consumption was much more common in the north, particularly in areas adjacent to the grasslands, where the animals were skinned for hides.

    Thank you for posting this great site!


    1. Thank you! And yes, the Suiyuan Shidan is strongly biased towards Jiangsu, since Northern and Western Chinese beef consumption had always been more common. Beef (and to a certain extent mutton) had always been less prevalent in Eastern and Southern Chinese diets, likely as a result of the lack of grazing space in these regions. Here, much of the arable land had been transformed for intensive agriculture, with most animal proteins coming from creatures that can be effectively raised from waste and scraps or otherwise does not divert needed acreage from crops.

      No doubt too that local customs, religious beliefs, along with governmental restriction also played a role in limiting beef consumption and limiting how many the taste for it. A subject worthy of a book on it’s own!


  10. “A subject worthy of a book on it’s own!”

    Well that’s very good to hear, since that’s the book I am writing! 🙂 You are absolutely correct that the issue is extremely complex. There are customs and religious prohibitions, but also grassland policies, government curating of agrarian cattle, demand from Russian and Japanese markets, and more.

    And yes, taste mattered a great deal. One section of this work follow the portrayal of beef and dairy in medical and culinary preparations from the 黃帝內經 up to the 大眾菜譜. With any luck, I will get to spend some time recreating the original recipes!


  11. Greetings from Singapore. I just discovered your fabulous blog and indeed it is a great public service to us. I have always been interested in Chinese culinary history, but have found painfully little that has been translated. I wish I could read Chinese better, being Chinese myself! Thanks so much for your hard work in translating this. I am following and will be reading it closely!


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