One of the Chinese Four Masters, Ni Zan (Yuan Zhen 1301 - 1374) is known for his paintings during the Yuan and early Ming Dynasties. Born in Wuxi, Ni Zan’s family was wealthy. They were able to afford the Confucian education that ignited his imagination and developed his talents in painting and scholarship. He travelled extensively during the political upheaval of the late Yuan Dynasty. It was during this time that he developed his unique style that incorporates tight landscapes and shuns portraiture of people.
So why would a food researcher be interested in this man?
Ni Zan was noted for his opinionated lifestyle; and one thing that he seems to have been particularly dogmatic about was how his household was run. He wrote a household manual titled “Yún líntáng yǐnshí zhìdù jí” (Cloud Forest Hall Dietary System). Within this document are fifty-three recipes. A majority of these are how to cook his food. There are also a few interesting recipes on ink preparation, ink stone care, and incense making.
I am aware of two English translations. The first was published in 1998 in Petit Propos Culinarie volume 60. It is a translation and commentary by Teresa Wang and E.N. Anderson. Anderson is known for other works on Eastern food and foodways such as The Food of China.
Petit Propos Culinarie volume 61 published Francoise Sabban’s ‘Some Remarks about the Translation of Yun Lintang Yinshi Zhidu Ji Published in PPC60”. Sabban questioned several of Wang/Anderson’s translations and inferences. This set of remarks is a good addition to the original publication.
The second full translation has only just been published by the scholar, Alec Story, on his blog, Medieval Sundries, in 2018. Story has returned to the Chinese manuscript and fully translated it. His dedication to the translation is evident and has illuminated several issues I had with the original translation.
The primary problem of an English-speaking food studies researcher that does not read Chinese is getting a reliable copy of this work in English. Having these three resources has opened my ability to make better decisions in my assumptions during my redactions.
As I continue with my redactions, I will be referring to both full translations. Both works number the recipes slightly differently and have translated the titles differently. To standardise my redactions, I will refer to both names and numbers. The translations most often give will be those of Story as he has made his work free and has licensed it under the Creative Commons Attribution – ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
So, that was a fast year. And I do realize that I never updated about the class. It did happen. There was a lot of fun, laughter, and food. I even remember writing a blog post about it while I was waiting for my daughter at one point. If I can find the handwritten copy, I will post it.
Over the year and a bit between then and now, I have been having a life outside of Mongolian Food study. I know, I know. I should be ashamed. I am.
To that end, I am going to try to make up for it. I am excited to say that I have set myself a challenge. [Cue ominous music]
An amazing person named Alec Story has translated the Ni Tsan household book into English. This gives me two full translations of the work to play with; along with notes on the Wang and Anderson translation. I thought that it might be kind of fun to redact as many of the recipes as I can from this work. The Story translation is CC cleared to work with on my site.
Can you guess what I am about to say?
Yes, I am going to redact and post the recipes here. I am planning on posting one or two recipes a month, so this is a long term project.
Hopefully, you will find this interesting and useful. Let me know.
Natal'ia Vladimirova 'doch enjoys travel and learning about new cultures. She has a fascination with deciphering old recipes and trying to redact them to be used by modern cooks. Mongolian history and food is one of Natalia's favourite areas of study. She also has interest in the medieval lands of Arabia, the Vikings, and the Slavic States.