Now, to complement my dwindling supply of Brillat-Savarin vignettes, here’s something from Fatting Tinsik Cheng’s Musings of a Chinese Gourmet (1954). Cheng, a former Chinese ambassador, writes extensively on the subject of Chinese dining, hospitality and foodstuffs, and the book is peppered with anecdotes like this one:
The custom that tea is sign of welcome is so universal in China that it once saved a scholar friend of mine from being robbed. He was on a trip by boat to some mining district in the interior. One evening, a bandit appeared and, with threats of violence, “arrested” the boat, demanding a search of his belongings. My friend, though a little scared, had the presence of mind to offer the intruder a cup of tea. At the sight of this, the latter at once changed his threatening countenance, and, after questioning my friend as to whether he had firearms or money, and receiving an answer in the negative – went away, leaving his straw hat behind. My friend relating this incident laughingly said, “Thanks to that cup of tea, I not only lost nothing but also gained something – the hat!”.
The book also includes recipes for ethically dubious delicacies like bear’s paw, bird’s nest, shark’s fin, turtle skirt and, er, bean curd.
More of this to come.