“Up to the Muslim Quarter for biang biang noodles for lunch. We luck into a relatively deserted Muslim restaurant where I can talk to camera about the history of this particular dish – international as it is, with American chilis and tomatoes, carrots and cumin from westwards on the silk road, noodles made from wheat, etc. The restaurant staff are also not camera-shy at all, and keen to let Alvin the cameraman film them at work. It is a national holiday, so outside it is utter chaos. But we get lots of footage in the can.”
So I wrote in my diary on the first day of filming on Route Awakening season two in 2015, but this passage, and the photo snapped in an upstairs room, are a historical record of a book as it started to take shape in my head. That sentence, in a sense, was the first to be written in what would become The Emperor’s Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals, a subject I will be discussing once more on Monday 16th January in a Zoom lecture for the Gloucester Historical Association.