The Chile Pepper in China: A Cultural Biography

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Chinese food without chile pepper is almost an anomaly, but the plant is not native to China. It arrived in the 16th century courtesy of sailors, pirates, smugglers, and merchants. Chile took hold quite soon, spreading its welcome across the country. Adaptable to the climate in all regions, chile became a feature in vegetable gardens, widely enjoyed by the ‘nonelite,’ and not solely reserved for the upper echelons of society. Before settling on ‘spicy pepper,’ the chile acquired almost 60 regional names. The cuisine tended to be less flavorful before chile joined the gastronomic inventory, and the recipes included on these pages attest to the variety of dishes it has impacted, including a tribute to the inventor of General Tso’s Chicken.

As Brian Dott writes in this scholarly biography of the pepper’s place on the cultural spectrum, the chile has been valued for its medicinal properties. By the 18th century, its value had expanded, and it was regarded as a medical miracle, a remedy for a range of conditions, among them diarrhea and dysentery, digestive problems, malaria, snake bite and hemorrhoids.

The Chile Pepper in China is a compendium of scientific information and anecdotes, complemented by a series of mouth-watering color plates. Chiles have become a familiar element in contemporary art. Travelers and tourists can even purchase shiny red glass replicas as mementos, personally inscribed by hand. Due to their shape, they are known to complement prayers to the blessing of a son or grandson.

Dott’s familiarity with the Chinese language enabled him to explore historical gazetteers as a primary source for detail. There are numerous footnotes, maps, black and white images, two appendices, and a lengthy bibliography.

Reviewed By:

Author Brian R. Dott
Star Count 4/5
Format Hard
Page Count 296 pages
Publish Date 2020-05-12
ISBN 9780231195324
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue August 2020
Category Cooking, Food & Wine


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