Food and Culture Books – Food Tank
Food can be a link with a country of origin and a heritage, a link with the past and an anchor to the future. It can preserve a sense of community, provide a livelihood, or be a nuisance in a school lunch box. It can build a bridge between cultures and be a source of identity.
These 15 books written by voices from Asia and the Pacific Islands remind us to embrace foods from other cultures, welcome refugees and immigrants, and learn to listen and listen to each other.
1. American harvest by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
Marie Mutsuki Mockett, born to a Japanese mother and a white father in California, grew up visiting her paternal parents but knew nothing about farming. When she inherits her father’s land in Nebraska, she is invited to stay with an evangelical Christian wheat-harvesting conservative community in the enclave. She strives to understand the great divide between the beliefs and values of her home and this community, as well as the nature of the area. What she finds are competing versions of American history and the overt relationship between colonialism and Christianity. She explores these beliefs and assumptions while finding her own identity.
2. Chamoru cuisine: a cultural heritage of the Marianas by Gérard and Mary Aflague
Educators Gerard and Mary Aflague, both born and raised in Guam, created this cultural cookbook of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Not only are there over 100 recipes and cooking practices that reflect the heritage of the Pacific Islands and the Mariana Islands, but the book also includes an in-depth educational section on the Mariana Islands. With maps of the islands, tales of the Chamoru people, stories of the Chamoru culture and cooking phrases in Chamoru, readers will learn much more than a recipe from this book.
3. Cook real Hawaii by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder
Chief Sheldon Simeon, twice Excellent chef finalist, takes readers to her home state, Hawai’i, to share the recipes for her ohana, or with family. It showcases the cross-cultural influences of Hawaiian cuisine, from indigenous traditions to Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Portuguese influences through recipes and stories. Get to know the Hawaiian Islands through its flavors and vibrant dishes.
4. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
In this memoir, Michelle Zauner looks back on the time she cried at H Mart, an Asian supermarket chain, after her mother died. Growing up in an interracial family, Zauner’s connection to his Korean heritage was through his mother. After the loss, Zauner looks for ways to mourn and reconnect with his Korean identity, finding the cuisine of traditional Korean dishes like mul naengmyeon and seolleongtang. Start as trial for the New Yorker, Crying in H Mart follows Zauner’s journey through loss and identity.
5. Curry: eat, read and go shopping by Naben Ruthnum
Naben Ruthnum delves into the history of his Indian heritage and his identity in the modern world. Although often synonymous with the identity of brown individuals, it is not even a true dish of native Indian cuisine. Ruthnum investigates the origins of curry in the British colonial imagination and the dynamics of imperial power it creates. He then explores the modern use of the word and the dish and its influence in the Indian diaspora experience. He also discusses his experience as an Indian writer, trapped in his racial identity and the expectation of curry narratives and stereotypes in his writing (and using a pseudonym to escape the genre).
6. Dreaming in Spice: a sinful vegetarian odyssey by Hari Pulapaka, Ph.D., CEC
In his second cookbook, Dreaming in Spice: a sinful vegetarian odyssey, Hari Pulapaka challenges cooks to delve into the intricacies of spices, vegetables and textures to create complex dishes where meat is sure to be meaty. Executive chef and co-owner of Cress Restaurant and Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Stetson University, Pulapaka introduces readers to the various benefits of a plant-based diet. The book includes 251 world-inspired recipes, including popular meat dishes like empanadas, sloppy joes, and reubens.
7. Eat a peach by David Chang and Gabe Ulla
Eat a peach is Chef David Chang’s memoir documenting Chang’s tumultuous journey from childhood to the opening of his award-winning Momofuku Noodle Bar. Chang recounts his experience growing up in a Korean American religious family, his feelings of otherness and his relationship with his parents. He’s downright honest about his sanity, his mistakes, and the brutality of the restaurant industry. This book shows how a Korean chef reached the top through passion, courage and luck.
8. Eating Asian America: A Reader of Food Studies edited by Robert Ji-Song Ku, Martin F. Manalansan and Anita Mannur
American pop culture has deep connections to Asian Americans and Asian cuisine, the editors of Eat Asian America Argue. But it can often mask the forces of class, racial, ethnic, sexual and gender inequalities present in the cooking practices, ideas and images of Asian Americans. This anthology brings together 20 scholars from different disciplines to examine how culinary practices shape people’s understanding of Asian American identity. This is the first collection to feature the stories of Asian American immigrants and connect them to public ideas about Asian American foods.
9. Eating Identities: Reading Foods in Asian American Literature by Wenying Xu
According to author Wenying Xu, food is an identity shaped by what people choose to eat, what is available to eat, and how they prepare it. Working at the intersection of culture and politics, Xu analyzes the writing of Asian American authors including John Okada, Joy Kogawa, Frank Chin. In doing so, she reveals how the cuisine, food, and the ingredients themselves act as Asian-American identities in terms of race and ethnicity, gender, class, diaspora, and sexuality.
ten. Eat wild: seek life, love and the perfect meal by Ava Chin
Ava Chin is an urban forager, that is, someone who searches for edible plants and mushrooms in an urban setting, such as New York City. In this memoir, Chin, from Queens, uses urban foraging as a way to cope with an emotional moment in her life – losing her grandmother and mourning a failed relationship. Walking and foraging allowed Chin to rediscover himself by discovering the interconnected ecosystem of flora that surrounds him. It takes the reader on its journey while including knowledge and recipes on edible and medicinal plants.
11. Handmade by Abarna Suthanthiraraj, Shruti Thiruchelvam and Frank Thiruchelvam
This cookbook uses food to center the stories of 34 Tamil women in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the decades-long civil war. Their individual stories show the strength, hope and struggles that go with rebuilding a country after war. The conflict has shaped local food traditions and relationships with food, due to shortages, meals in refugee camps and traumatic events, but these women find peace by cooking dishes like vadais (a fried snack) and uluththamaa koo (a sweet porridge). This cookbook celebrates Sri Lankan cuisine while sharing the history, culture and people behind it.
12. Mango and peppercorns: a food memory, an improbable family and the American dream by Tung Nguyen, Katherine Manning, Lyn Nguyen and with Elisa Ung
This fortuitous true story follows Tung Nguyen, a pregnant woman who escaped Saigon in 1975, and Katherine Manning, a graduate student from Miami who was hosting displaced Vietnamese refugees. Mango and peppercorns documents how they got to know each other, raised a child and became a family. Using Nguyen’s brilliant culinary skills, they also opened an award-winning Vietnamese restaurant, Hy Vong. This story features the voices and experiences of Nguyen, Manning and Nguyen’s daughter and includes 20 complementary recipes from Hy Vong.
13. Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cuisine by Krish Ashok
This scientific exploration of Indian cuisine shows readers exactly what goes on inside the pot. Find out why salt makes kheer (rice pudding) tastier, grandmothers use their knuckles to measure, and what happens when onions turn brown with friendly explanations of chemistry. By better understanding the processes behind the recipes, Masala Laboratory hopes to inspire readers to eat and cook Indian dishes.
14. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
This novel by Roselle Lim, a Chinese Filipino author, explores food, heritage and community. When chef Natalie returns home to San Francisco’s Chinatown and learns that she inherited her grandmother’s restaurant, she finds the neighborhood in trouble. While coping with the loss of her mother and their complicated relationship, she must cook from her grandmother’s cookbook and rekindle relationships with neighbors in Chinatown. She explores her own identity within her heritage and the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters. The book describes the dishes beautifully and is peppered with recipes like lumpiang sariwa, or spring rolls.
15. The Taste of Control: Food and the Filipino Colonial Mindset Under American Rule by René Alexander D. Orquiza
A taste for control explores the history of Filipino cuisine and its influences from colonial rule. When the islands were colonized by the Americans in the 1890s, Filipino cuisine was considered inferior. The influence of colonization had an impact on the behaviors, relationships and perceptions of the Filipino culture of their own dishes. Food historian René Alexander D. Orquiza explores these changes through archived restaurant menus, letters from American soldiers, Filipino cookbooks and textbooks from this era. These primary sources provide insight into how Filipino cuisine became the fusion of foreign influences it is today.
Photo courtesy of Ying Ge on Unsplash.