The Chile Pepper in China

A Cultural Biography

Brian R. Dott

Columbia University Press

The Chile Pepper in China

Pub Date: May 2020

ISBN: 9780231195324

296 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $32.00£28.00

Pub Date: May 2020

ISBN: 9780231551304

296 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $31.99£28.00

The Chile Pepper in China

A Cultural Biography

Brian R. Dott

Columbia University Press

Chinese cuisine without chile peppers seems unimaginable. Entranced by the fiery taste, diners worldwide have fallen for Chinese cooking. In China, chiles are everywhere, from dried peppers hanging from eaves to Mao’s boast that revolution would be impossible without chiles, from the eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber to contemporary music videos. Indeed, they are so common that many Chinese assume they are native. Yet there were no chiles anywhere in China prior to the 1570s, when they were introduced from the Americas.

Brian R. Dott explores how the nonnative chile went from obscurity to ubiquity in China, influencing not just cuisine but also medicine, language, and cultural identity. He details how its versatility became essential to a variety of regional cuisines and swayed both elite and popular medical and healing practices. Dott tracks the cultural meaning of the chile across a wide swath of literary texts and artworks, revealing how the spread of chiles fundamentally altered the meaning of the term spicy. He emphasizes the intersection between food and gender, tracing the chile as a symbol for both male virility and female passion. Integrating food studies, the history of medicine, and Chinese cultural history, The Chile Pepper in China sheds new light on the piquant cultural impact of a potent plant and raises broader questions regarding notions of authenticity in cuisine.
Extensive source materials in both Chinese and English form the bedrock for this impressive study into how a relatively unassuming American import so radically changed one country’s cuisines and traditional pharmacopoeia. The history of the humble chile in China is a fascinating one, especially as viewed through Brian R. Dott’s affectionate yet scholarly lens. Carolyn Phillips, author of All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China
A learned as well as lively book with many surprises. How chile peppers came to China from the New World just starts a story involving taste, regionalism, adaptation, and folklore. Chiles were key to Chinese cuisine’s subtlety and variety, and not just in Sichuan and Hunan either. Paul Freedman, author of Food: The History of Taste and Ten Restaurants That Changed America
This is an absolutely wonderful book. It combines scholarship and good food writing—the enormous amount of effort in compiling the databases is duly and modestly cloaked in good prose. Eugene Anderson, author of The Food of China

About the Author

Brian R. Dott is associate professor of history at Whitman College. He is the author of Identity Reflections: Pilgrimages to Mount Tai in Late Imperial China (2004).