Coming from a Chinese American family, food plays a big role in my life, and it played a profound role in my mother's childhood. When her mother (my grandmother) immigrated to the United States as a young woman, she brought with her a millennia-long history of food and culture as well as her courage, determination, and natural cooking talent. She used all these aspects of her identity to open a restaurant in the East Bay, always with the goal of ensuring her family's survival and providing as good a life for them—and us—as possible.
Food is also the language of love in my family. My grandmother was a tough-love kind of lady, but every time we visited she sent us home with bags and bags of homemade pork bao and other dim sum. I remember coming home to her tasty snacks and cut fruit after long days at school. My aunt buys my brother his favorite cookies every time she’s at the store. And even as an adult, I’ll visit my family after a long while and my parents will prepare one of my favorite meals, which I call puddled chicken.
What is puddled chicken? I wouldn't expect you to know, because I made up the name! It’s basically Southern Chinese-style poached or White Cut Chicken, for which you can find a million recipes online. Surely my grandmother called it something else in her hometown’s dialect, but I remember my small but momentous realization as a kid when I connected the key concept with the dish. I dipped the plain boiled chicken into a delicious sauce mix—a “puddle”—of soy sauce, oil, ginger, and green onions.
It's poetic, in a way. Language may change, but the food and feelings associated with it remain the same.
What stories do you have about food in relation to the people and places in your life? Check out a story from this staff-curated Cooking for Community list to see how others have been influenced by food and culture. Maybe you will find inspiration to write your own story!
These cookbooks offer detailed and succulent recipes alongside stories of how the chefs grew their skill, community, and connection to land.