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Swallowing Clouds

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  42 ratings  ·  7 reviews
An engaging and informative adventure through the captivating world of Chinese cuisine, with folklore and anecdotes.
Paperback, 378 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by University of Washington Press (first published September 1st 1990)
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Beth Cato
Swallowing Clouds is an approachable, engaging book about the evolution of Chinese language as shown through food. It's a bold concept that works well. Zee is a true storyteller. It's as though you are both sitting in comfy chairs and sipping tea as he talks. He features many common Chinese characters (he notes that a study observed if you can read 500 words in Chinese, you can read 69% of typical reading material), how they might be shown on a Chinese menu, and how the character evolved over ti ...more
I'm regrettably unlikely to remember most of what I learned from this book, but I quite enjoyed learning it anyway.

Zee is a physicist who reads Chinese and likes food, and seems to have written this book on a lark. The tone is feather-light and rather fun. He walks you through a bunch of basic Chinese characters, explaining etymologies in a way that makes a lot of them fairly memorable. He's mostly focused on food terminology, with the assumptions that a) most Westerners are most likely to encou
J Moragoda
An absolutely delightful gem. And as readers will discover, a fabulous and apt title. Although Zee's stated purpose is to teach you enough Chinese characters to enable you to understand a Chinese menu, I felt that he was subtly trying to express what Chinese culture is all about to a Western audience. Zee is a perfect cultural ambassador and teacher. His book made me want to immediately begin studying Chinese. His book is truly magical and he brilliantly packs in so many different dimensions in ...more
This is one of the most tantalizing books I've read in quite a while. To fully enjoy Swallowing Clouds, you'll have to have a very specific and somewhat intense interest in Chinese culture, language, and cuisine (all of which I love, incidentally!). Linguistics enthusiasts would have a ball. Zee approaches it in an investigative way with an entertaining, personable tone, directly addressing the reader. The only thing that irked me was the lack of pinyin paired with the Chinese characters. As a C ...more
Biggest problems for me: (1) The characters are hand drawn and in the traditional form; and (2) There's no pinyin to help with pronunciation.
John Jung
Nicely written book that uses Chinese food as a way to discuss the origins and relationships among Chinese idiographs for different culinary items. Even without any ability to read Chinese (I can speak it a little), it is informative to see how the Chinese characters for different foods evolved. I don't think I will remember the material very long, but the presentation gave me more insight into the structure of the language.
Reading this makes me hungry. I also long for pronunciation guide to the Chinese characters.
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