Secrets of the Table 食宪鸿秘

Let’s talk about some of these food books–starting with why they’re not cookbooks.

Secrets of the Table comes from the late 17th-early 18th century, and was written by the poet Zhu Yizun 朱彝尊 (1629-1709). Like most elite writers of the time, Zhu was an avid book collector, which is important because this genre of food writing isn’t supposed to be inventive, it’s supposed to be exhaustive. Secrets of the Table is more like an encyclopedia than a book of technical instruction. Maybe more like a bird watching manual. It tells you how to recognize a bluejay, not how to make one.

Let’s start with the name 食宪. It’s a reference to another book from the northern Song dynasty (10-12th century), and means to eat well. A precise translation would be “expansive collection of dietary secrets.” This is why I’m not going to bother with precise translations.

Using his bookwormy talents, Zhu collects techniques from centuries of older books, focusing on practical and health benefits. He has recipes for making different kinds of starch out of vegetables like lotus root and all manner of pastes and porridges. Being a southerner, he has lots to say about seafood, especially crab, as well as pork and ham, and delicate dishes like sparrows. Plus a whole section on tea. Cooking instructions have a lot to say about proper knife technique–a very Southern predilection.

Book 1
– theory 总论
– drinks 饮
– grains, starches and porridge 饭,粉,粥
– breads and cakes 饵
– sauces 酱
– vegetables 蔬

Book 2
– fruits 果
– fish 鱼
– crabs 蟹
– fowl 禽
– eggs 卵
– meat 肉
– spices 香

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