Recipes from the Garden of Contentment is an Arts Magazine!?

I recently found out that Recipes from the Garden of Contentment  was featured on the Winter 2018 issue of the Dutch art magazine See All This. This was something of a surprise for me. Even though I consider gastronomy and cuisine other types of art, never did I expect the book to turn up in the section of such a beautiful fine arts magazine!

screenshot from 2019-01-16 22-11-45

Seems they are also quite enthusiastic for Li Ji’s fantastically hedonistic ink-brush art, of which I’m also a big fan!

Many thanks to Sarah Knigge and the team at See All This for the feature!

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2018 Retrospective and Some Future Plans

As I continue to plod through posting the Vegetable Dishes chapter into 2019, I have to say that 2018 has been an absolute blast. Combined with the insanity of work and daily life this year, it was an exhilarating roller coaster ride to the finish to finally publish the translations on this site for the Suiyuan Shidan as a book: Recipes from the Garden of Contentment.

I was completely overwhelmed and caught off-guard by the positive responses from all the scholars and chefs, who praise the book in their blurbs. On top of that, the book-launch at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus was awesome, and it was great to meet able everyone there and have the opportunity to share the fantastic meal with them. To top it off, the book was named as one of the best cookbooks of the year by the National Post!

When I first started off the translation project five years ago, I could not have even dreamed of publishing it as a book, much less imagine the reach that this book would have and all the great people I would meet. Rest assured that the rest of the translations will be posted here, and that the entirety of the English translated and annotated Suiyuan Shidan will be available online for everyone’s perusal and (non-commercial) taking. I’m hoping to have all of it out before the end of Summer 2019.

As for the next projects, I am weighing several ideas and have even started off one. I won’t divulge too many details just yet since some are still nascent and others somewhat half-baked, but I would put them into two categories:

  1. More Chinese Cookbook Translations: Over the last year I have been reading other older Chinese culinary texts and have been translating and annotating them. When they’re ready I’ll likely post them in interspersed with the continuing Suiyuan Shidan posts. I’ve also been mulling over doing more translations of obscure recipes using less-used flora and fauna from the Cookbook on 100 double-steamed items. Considering the degree of interest and limited outrage from the bear paw post, it should be interesting.
  2. Tool to Reconnect Overseas Chinese to their Ancestral Culture: Growing up overseas I found that one doesn’t have access to good resources and motivation to provide impetus to learn Chinese (reading and writing). My experience with Chinese schools is that they tend to be rather useless in teaching the language and worse for connecting a child born overseas to their ancestor’s culture. In fact, I would argue they do the opposite given the 19th century Chinese education strategies that insist on equal measures of: rote memorization of culturally disconnected artifacts (e.g. Tang poetry) coupled with the endless carving of Chinese characters into pages. This insanity need to be change and I have some ideas of projects to facilitate them. I will share them as they firm up.

In any case, here’s to more great stuff next year! Happy New Year!

Book launched! (and we ate from the book)

OH WOW IT'S A REAL BOOK (By: UTSC 2018)
OH WOW IT’S A REAL BOOK (By: UTSC 2018)

This past Tuesday, we did the official launch my book “Recipes from the Garden of Contentment” at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. Needless to say it was a blast and loads of fun; a truly intellectually stimulating and taste bud tantalizing event!

Starting things off, I spoke about the story of how this project started and what fun and fantastic stuff we all (scholars and enthusiasts alike) can learn from this fantastic book. There must be at least several talk to be had from the contents of the Suiyuan Shidan and at least one or two PhD degrees from studying and analyzing it. I hope with this translation English reading students from China studies departments will be able to delve in!

As well, we also heard the talks of the ever fantastic Carolyn Phillips and Nicole Mones, who brought to life the cuisine and region of the Suiyuan Shidan, and to Yuan Mei himself who is in many ways an iconoclast and rebel of his time. The talk from these ladies were phenomenal. Indeed, I have much to learn.

By: R. Halpern 2018
Braised quail. Firm textured and bursting with flavour! (By: R. Halpern 2018)

The highlight of the book launch event was no doubt the cooking provided by Chef Nick Liu of Dailo, who did his modern take on 5 of the dishes from the book:

  1. Imitation Pheasant (假野雞卷)
  2. Imitation crab(假蟹)
  3. Braised Quail (煨鵪鶉)
  4. Red Braised Pork Belly (紅煨肉)
  5. Radish Braised in Lard (豬油煮蘿蔔)
By: R. Halpern 2018
Nick Liu slicing red-braised pork belly. Melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness… (By: R. Halpern 2018)

For me, the most interesting out of all these dishes was the imitation crab, which Nick paired with wintermelon, no doubt echoing the classic pairing of crab with wintermelon as seen with dishes such as the renowned wintermelon smothered in crab (蟹肉扒冬瓜). But my favourite has to be the pork belly, which the chef expertly braised with a mix of white wine, Chinese Shaoxing jiu, and white port and coloured it with a touch of red yeast.

By: UTSC
Imitation pheasant. Chicken croquettes, but for adults. (By: UTSC 2018)

Although I knew there was academic interested in the book, I was completely overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and response to the book from everybody in the Toronto food community and beyound. And despite its textbook-level price, we actually finished off all our retail copies almost immediately and had to start selling by personal copies!

Winter melon with imitation crab. Luscious. (By: author 2018)
Winter melon with imitation crab. Luscious. (By: author 2018)

I want to thank and acknowledge Prof. Rick Halpern, Natalie Ramtahol, and Chef. Nick Liu of DaiLo, and all of Culinaria at UTSC for making this event possible.

And a thank you to all of those who attended! It was great meeting you all! And now…I’m going to go crash and not wake up until Monday.

Famous People like my Book!

In anticipation of the launch of my book Recipes from the Garden of Contentment: Yuan Mei’s Manual of Gastronomy later this autumn, we have started asking for comments from range of authors and I am thrilled to have such fantastic endorsements of them. Here’s a selection so far:

“Food historians rejoice: at last a complete translation of the 18th century classic of Chinese gastronomy. The recipes range from exotic to homey and comforting and most can be cooked in an ordinary kitchen. Yuan Mei also offers sage advice on choosing ingredients, how to combine flavors and introduces techniques that will be unfamiliar in the West; in many respects he is the Brillat-Savarin of Chinese cuisine and is equally opinionated and funny.”
Ken Albala, author of Three World Cuisines and Noodle Soup: Recipes, Techniques, Obsession

“Finally: a lively, scholarly and usefully-annotated English translation of Yuan Mei’s seminal cookbook and culinary treatise that captures the spirit of the original work. Sean Chen and his team have performed a great service for the world of gastronomy by making this fascinating text accessible to English-speaking readers.”
Fuchsia Dunlop, author of Land of Fish and Rice and other cookery books

“The publication of the bilingual edition of Recipes from the Garden of Contentment: Yuan Mei’s Manual of Gastronomy is indeed a landmark event and not only in culinary scholarship. Yuan’s wit and love of food is an added bonus and greatly enhances our understanding of one of the world’s greatest cuisines.”
Ken Hom, OBE, author of My Stir-fried Life and other cookery books

“Chinese cuisine is often misunderstood, mistaking one of the most delicate, beautiful, and tasty cuisines for Americanized semi-fast food. This books explains the complexities and delicacies of Chinese food. I enjoyed reading it very much, and recommend it for anyone who loves food.”
Kai-Fu Lee, AI expert, author of AI Superpowers, former president of Google China

“The Suiyuan Shidan is a classic and two centuries later it still sparkles with Yuan’s irascible charm, his epic passion for food, and his near-religious devotion to the pleasures of the senses.”
Nicole Mones, author of The Last Chinese Chef and other novels

“The Suiyuan Shidan is one of China’s greatest classical cookbooks. It is also unique in that it beguiles its readers with wit, intelligence, and brevity, much like Fernand Point’s Ma Gastronomie. Translating something as difficult as this is therefore an event worth celebrating, and kudos go out to Sean Chen for his meticulously scholarly approach. Open the cover and prepare to be enchanted.”
Carolyn Phillips, author of All Under Heaven and The Dim Sum Field Guide

Needless to say, I was completely unprepared, absolutely bowled over, by these kinds words from Ken Albala, Fuchsia Dunlop, Ken Kom, Kai-Fu Lee, Nicole Mones, and Carolyn Phillips.

Thank you!

Sugar Chicken

I’ve been wanting to say this for a while but things have been rather busy and it sorta slipped my mind.

If you look at the “Birds” Chapter you’ll see tonnes of Chicken recipes with a fair amount of sugar in them including at least 3 or 4 that actually tells you to top the finished chicken dish with a generous quantity of sugar or rock candy. It seems serving chicken with chunks of sugar, and to a lesser extent making chicken sweet, was a relatively normal thing to do in Chinese cuisine several centuries ago, and even continues today with dishes like soy sauce chicken or sanbeiji. Chinese food in North America has extended this even further such that sugar actually becomes the main seasoning instead of simply a highlight.

Which goes to show, Sugar Chicken is not just some passing joke in Rick and Morty.

IT HAS HISTORICAL PRECEDENCE.

That is all.

P.S. Here’s an AUTHENTIC sugar chicken recipe.

AUTHENTIC SUGAR CHICKEN

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large spoons of water
  • 3 large spoons of whatever vinegar
  • 2 large spoons of whatever soy sauce
  • 4 large spoons of corn starch mixed with water
  • A bucket of fried chicken bits
  1. Mix sugar, water, vinegar, and soy sauce (add minced garlic for a dish that will surely impress the family connoisseur)
  2. Put oil in the pan and stir-fry sugar mix until all hot and molten.
  3. Add the corn starch mixture to the hot molten sugar and stir until thick, hot, and molten
  4. Throw fried chicken into thick hot molten sugar sauce and mix
  5. Serve SUGAR CHICKEN in a trough with rice