When Chinese people tell stories about Chinese food, the tales quickly begin to sound remarkably formulaic. This essay seeks to explore that phenomenon, understand it, and explode it. From the standard opening and concluding phrases to the stock figures of disguised benefactors and Cinderella-types, these storytelling conventions serve to illuminate a passel of archetypes. Some are universal (the nature of craving, how a sovereign's absolute control over any individual subject belies his dependence upon the mass of them), and others possess Chinese characteristics (the longing for immortality, the tension between virtuoso technique and folk authenticity).

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