A Not Very Antiquated Classic
Alright, so this book is a bit outside of my normal purview, but I couldn’t resist including a book that’s both a feast and a collection of ghoulish ghost stories at the same time. Ying Chang Compestine’s A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts includes eight stories. Each one is paired with a dish and a recipe, forming a complete banquet for those who love to cook.
It was my lovely spouse who actually recommended this book. I’ve mentioned that Halloween is her favourite holiday, but I haven’t mentioned how much she loves to cook. She takes a recipe, follows it, and then rapidly makes it her own with unique variations perfectly suited to both my taste and hers. She has a limitless memory for every taste I’ve mentioned having and she keeps folders of recipes for every occasion — from historical dishes to the foods from cultures near and far. Bread is her specialty, and we’ve stopped buying it because she’s so good at making it.
She’s made quite few of Compestine’s recipes and enjoyed them almost as much as I know she enjoyed the stories. So I’ll wish you a Happy Thanksgiving as I talk about this banquet made to delight to ghosts and mortals alike.
The stories included in this collection are written in the style that I tend to enjoy the most. Short, brutal narratives that usually involve an ending that is supernatural and haunting but also involves a twist of fate that punishes the villain with an apt comeuppance. The illustrations by Coleman Polhemus are disturbing and beautiful and only add to the experience of reading each of these tales of terror.
It’s a spooky good read which I would recommend for anyone who enjoys the occasional young adult horror fiction. Even though it’s YA, I’m an adult and I found A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts enjoyable. I didn’t even realize it was YA until I started to conduct the research before writing this post.
As I said, each story is paired with a recipe. Two are appetizers, two are entrees, and two are desserts — so it truly is a complete banquet. The recipes are well-written and easy to follow, not to mention being delicious.
In addition to a recipe, each story also comes with explanatory notes about the Chinese customs and Chinese historical events that might be unfamiliar to the reader. I always appreciate it when a book goes above and beyond being a good yarn — despite the fact that when I pick up a book of ghost stories that’s all I usually expect to find. I learned a lot about China reading Compestine’s work. She uses the experiences of her childhood to bring a personal touch to historical facts and to educate her reader as to the context of her stories and the events occurring in the space and time they are set in.
A Few Words on the Cookbook Crossover
The cookbook crossover has become a pretty popular genre in and of itself. And it doesn’t stop at recipes. I’ve seen mystery books with crochet patterns, and cats, and vegetables, and recipes. It’s gotten a bit out of hand at times. Is it not enough for a good book to just be a good book and not some kind of utility knife in order to justify taking up space in our exceedingly cluttered brain attics?
That being said, when a book actually manages to actually be effective at being two things at once, I can only praise it. Compestine manages to do what seems to be the impossible. She writes well, she educates well, and she writes a great recipe too. I don’t really wonder why this book is considered a classic even though it was originally published just over ten years ago.
So, am I a fan of the more-than-a-book book? In general, not overly. But I would make an exception for A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts. And I’m also sure there are a few more exceptions out there that I just haven’t come across yet.
So, it looks like the leftovers of our feast are going to last us most of this week, but there’s something satisfying about that. It’s like you’re enjoying the bits and pieces of a special meal throughout the days to follow, and you get to remix it in so many ways into so many new dishes.
I’m not a whiz in the kitchen. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t cook except to boil water for instant rice or instant ramen. Instead, I like to help my lovely spouse by chopping and dicing the vegetables and meat, and doing the small prep tasks that she asks me to tackle. Then I sit on the other side of the counter and I watch her deftly put together ingredients and make something amazing.
It’s a bit like watching an everyday form of magic because it’s a process that I can’t imagine replicating but I can’t take my eyes away from. I’m always awed when she puts the plates on the table which smell wonderful and look even better, because an hour or so ago all I saw was cheese, potatoes, a few vegetables, and seasoning.
My lovely spouse doesn’t like to toot her own horn, but that’s alright. I’m here and I’ll gladly sing her praises for her, at any opportunity I get.