An NPR 2023 "Books We Love" Pick
A Financial Times Best Food and Drink Book of 2023
One of Smithsonian's Ten Best Books About Food of 2023
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.
About the Author
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.
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
Sweeping. . . . Chinese food has long been dismissed by outsiders as salty, unhealthy and made from creepy ingredients. In Invitation to a Banquet, Ms. Dunlop sets out to change those misguided views. The result is a joyously sensual, deeply researched and unabashedly chauvinistic read, a feast for anyone curious about how 1.4 billion people eat.
— Eugenia Bone - Wall Street Journal
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
This book is an erudite joy that makes you yearn to taste the delights Dunlop describes. Her sensory writing is so vivid that I felt I was actually there with her in the food markets of China.
— Bee Wilson - Sunday Times (UK)
Dunlop has written a 400-plus-page book about a cuisine that, by her own estimation, doesn’t much interest westerners. It’s a decision born of the same confidence and originality that has made her such a successful recipe writer (including for the FT). She’s also a brilliantly effective describer of things, conjuring the 'wet crunchiness' of a chicken’s foot and the 'skiddy' texture of duck intestines in this exciting, non-linear history.
— Harriet Fitch Little - Financial Times
In 30 years of exploring and documenting the country, [Dunlop] has done for China what Elizabeth David did for Mediterranean food and Claudia Roden did for the Middle East. . . . Dunlop’s desire to educate and enlighten finds its fullest expression in Invitation to a Banquet.
— Tim Lewis - Observer
[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 makes a compelling case for the superiority of Chinese cuisine, but in a delighted and expansive rather than chauvinistic way. . . . She makes an equally compelling case that what Westerners think of as ‘Chinese food,’ meaning what most can find at their local takeaway, is neither inauthentic nor wrong. Instead, it is a diasporic offshoot that reflects local tastes but is about as representative of the cuisine’s diversity as a frozen pizza is of Italy’s. Immigration and adventurousness have made the real thing more accessible than ever outside China. Eaters should savour that.
[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
A fascinating look into the history of Chinese food.
— Kathy Gunst - WBUR
[A] love letter. . . . Another food writer might be suspected of trying too hard, but such is the range and depth of Dunlop’s erudition, and so infectious is her enthusiasm, that she is above suspicion on that score. . . . Dunlop has developed a vocabulary equal to the daunting challenge of conveying the huge range of values, ambitions and experiences embedded in Chinese gastronomy.
— Isabel Hamilton - Financial Times
Fuchsia Dunlop, who has lived in China, went to cooking school there, and writes Chinese cookbooks, does something different here. She writes about the history of Chinese food using traditional dishes (stir-fried broccoli with ginger, Shandong guofu tofu, etc.) as starting points for exploring the how and why of each of them. . . . I particularly enjoyed reading about Dunlop’s food adventures throughout China.
— Marion Nestle - Food Politics
Dunlop is an astute and enthusiastic observer, with a fine sense of the intercultural differences and the thread of ignorance and animus that has persisted. . . . Dunlop’s observations are particularly timely in this era of environmental challenges, suggesting this traditional wisdom can be applied in a modern context.
— Kristen Yee - Asian Review of Books
Fascinating. . . . Impressive here is not just her evident mastery of her material, but also the skill with which [Dunlop] translates it to her audience.
— Andrew Irwin - Times Literary Supplement (UK)
Many of the translations in Fuchsia Dunlop’s new book, Invitation to a Banquet, are her own. For many, including the Chinese, it cements her reign as a Chinese culinary queen.
— Mei Chin - The Irish Times
Dunlop’s storytelling is superb. . . . Invitation to a Banquet captures China’s venerable tradition of mindful eating in vivid detail. As such, it will inspire readers to reflect on their own relationship to one of life’s greatest pleasures.
— Miranda Brown - Literary Review
We've got to go with the book of the season because there's really no comparison to it. It's Fuchsia Dunlop's Invitation to a Banquet. It could go in food history, it could go in food writing. She is someone who has so much experience and mastery of not just Chinese cooking but the whole idea of Chinese food, and she translates it to people who are not familiar with that cuisine in a way that is so respectful and interesting, it just draws you in. This book doesn't have any recipes but she has written numerous cookbooks. The best, most renowned books on Sichuan food, on general Chinese cooking, on Hunan are all by her.
— Celia Sack, on KCRW
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 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
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
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
Fuchsia Dunlop is such a gifted writer that the reader cannot help being swept along by her masterful, yet intimate, account of a cuisine that is unmatched not only in its refinement and diversity, but also in the richness of its history of nutritional experimentation and speculation. Invitation to a Banquet is destined to become a classic of travel literature and ethnography as well as food writing.
— Amitav Ghosh, author, most recently, of Smoke and Ashes: A Writer's Journey Through Opium's Hidden Histories
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
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
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
This book is destined to be a culinary classic. Fuchsia Dunlop is a top-notch cook, a first-rate food writer, and a thoroughly grounded scholar of the history and culture of Chinese food. The book is a superb and intensive introduction to Chinese food . . . a delight to read. It will remain a landmark in food and culinary studies.
— E. N. Anderson, author of The Food of China
Dunlop delves into a complex, subtle cuisine with an insider’s expertise.