The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from Around the World by Linda Lau Anusasananan, art by Alan Lau, foreword by Martin Yan
How come no one is out there cooking their way through all the recipes of an Asian cookbook and blogging about it, then making a movie with … say, Jackie Chan fighting the good fight with woks and chopsticks?
Really, if I had any talent in the kitchen (the only thing I can do well is eat!), this is the culinary challenge I’d pick. Learning about Hakka cuisine (previously knowing absolutely nothing) and doing so by going around the world, sounds like the perfect premise for a most appetizing peripatetic eats fest. Any media mavens out there getting hungry?
Longtime favorite chef Martin Yan fills his “Foreword” with his own memories of Hakka cooking (which date back to his childhood in Guangzhou), throws in that a formidable 80 million people around the world claim Hakka ancestors (a Chinese subgroup, the Hakka are believed to have originated in what is now central China), exclaims “‘It’s about time!’” for a Hakka cookbook, and ends with the heartfelt query: “Honoring our culture through delicious food: is there a better way?”
Author Linda Lau Anusasananan does just that, taking us on a culinary journey channeled by memories of her beloved Hakka grandmother, Popo, who reminded her and her brother Alan (who contributes his dreamy art throughout the book), “‘You should be proud to be Hakka.’” After spending over 35 years writing predominantly about Western food for renowned Sunset magazine, Anusasananan’s “knowledge of Chinese food was superficial,” she confesses. “With this book, I’ve discovered my family history and how it merges into the Hakka diaspora,” she explains. “I’m recapturing the flavor and spirit of my Hakka culture through [my grandmother's] life and her food.”
Anusasananan begins her journey in “Popo’s Kitchen on Gold Mountain,” in California, where Au Shee arrived in 1921 via Angel Island as a new bride. When Anusasananan was born in 1947, as Au Shee’s first grandchild, Anusasananan’s birth transformed Au Shee into Popo. Decades after Popo’s death – as “reminders of my Hakka identity grew scarce” – Anusasananan returns to the family’s ancestral home in China, where the “taste of true Hakka food” gives her “a baseline for comparison.” She continues her culinary adventures – learning from home cooks and famous chefs – through Beijing, Luodai, and Hong Kong, and onto stops in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Mauritius. She crosses the Pacific to Peru, Hawai’i, and Tahiti, and back to North America to Toronto and New York, before coming back home to Gold Mountain. “Finally, I have fulfilled Popo’s wishes. Yes, Popo, I’m proud to be Hakka.”
Distinctive cooking, little-known history, heartfelt family memoir, and quite the global movable feast. Might I just add: mmm mmm good!