The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens by Patricia Tanumihardja
The holiday season is fast approaching (already!) so take note now … order this book for everyone on your list who likes to eat! Part cultural history, part talk-story, and all thoroughly delicious, author Patricia Tanumihardja “interviewed, cooked with, and connected with grandmothers, mothers, aunties” who shared recipes with origins in China, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. “Regardless of where in Asia they come from,” writes Tanumihardja in the book’s introduction, herself of Chinese/Indonesian descent by way of Singapore then Seattle, “these recipes represent a universal theme – they tell the story of our immigrant past.”
For all immigrants, food is a defining part of both their identity and heritage. I think that’s infinitely more true for Asian immigrants. Thank goodness for the invention of vacuum-packed kimchi that travels without leaking, because some of our longer trips to remote areas just wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without our comfort foods! And yes, I’m not above also carrying a small rice-cooker (and the right rice!) in our carry-on luggage, as well. We’re serious eaters! Thank goodness, too, that our kids’ Korean grandparents are only five minutes away, and we’re invited for dinner every week (with leftovers to go). My mother, of course, is convinced that my children would starve if she didn’t feed them!
“Just when did the restaurant become the keeper of our Asian food heritage?” Tanumihardja questions. I will confess that we go out for Vietnamese pho, Thai (or Vietnamese) green papaya salad, Chinese beef chow fun, South Indian dosa, and Burmese green tea salad with regularity. “Whatever the reason, modern times are making Asian home cooking a lost art … and many of the new generation of Asian Americans are now ignorant of these skills.” Is she talking about me?
So think of this gorgeous, toothsome volume as a cultural investment. If nothing else, you will eat very, very well. You’ve got a whole section on cooking how-tos, ingredients with pictures, prep times, and clear, easy-to-read instructions. Even I’m convinced I can do it … my children are so thrilled at the prospect of getting wok-fried dou miao (pea shoots) regularly!
One teeny tiny little quibble … in the next edition (and hopefully many will follow), I would so appreciate seeing more pictures, ideally a little salivating inducement for each of the recipes. Just like in many of those (heritage-keeping) restaurants where I’m not familiar with all the dishes, I love using the point-and-“oh, could I please have one of those?”-method of ordering. For the uninitiated hungry like me, visuals are key. Of course, now I’ve got a 130-recipe excuse to stay in … and, uh, get the hubby cooking!