Book launched! (and we ate from the book)


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.

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.


That is all.

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


  • 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

So… I’m Publishing a Book

To longtime readers of this blog, you will likely have noticed since last year the pace of translations here slowing to a crawl. Family and other real-life responsibilities aside, the posts have been this slow because I’ve been going forwards with completing the translation of the entire Suiyuan Shidan. Now it’s all finished up and I’m am publishing everything as a book.

That’s right, I have finished translating the entire 18th century Chinese gastronomic manual. All that’s left to do is go through the draft and pick out residual errors. Believe it or not, what started as a frazzle of text is now, amazingly, in publishable shape.

The fantastic book, which you will inexplicably wish to acquire in multitudes, is called “Recipes from the Garden of Contentment: Yuan Mei’s Manual of Gastronomy” and will be published by the Berkshire Publishing Group. On top of being completely reworked, error-checked, packed with improved footnotes, glossaries, and relevant biographies, I have completely re-transcribed the book’s Chinese text faithfully from the original 1792 edition of the Suiyuan Shidan and retranslated everything based on it. This is something I don’ think any publication had done in the longest while, Chinese or otherwise. So if you’re a Chinese cuisine purist nerd, this should float your boat.


Many thanks to Karen Christensen and Marjolijn Kaiser of Berkshire Publishing, who have guided this project through. It’s a lot to do: putting up with my blah writing, my slowness, and the unending stream of inane comments spouting from my cranium. The translation and notes were edited with help from two esteemed scholars: the author of the classic seminal work “The Food of China”, Prof. E. N. “Gene” Anderson, and serial star of multiple BBC Chinese history docs, Prof. Jeffrey Riegel. Needless to say, both of them have been tremendously helpful and provided much insight in the translation process. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with them, and even now I’m still glowing from getting their thumbs-up.

That’s all for now. The posts will continue, but there will be more news of the book to come!

P.S. All that said, the translations on this blog are already quite good, if I may say so myself, and I’ll continue posting all the chapters for everybody. But in all earnestness, the amount of effort put into refining and polishing the text made it truly shine. Think of it like this: While I do enjoy eating raw sauerkraut piled high on streetmeat like everyone else in this city, it is nothing compared to a expertly prepared plate of choucroute garnie at La Strasbourgeoise.