A Memoir of Food and Family

A Tiger in the Kitchen
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

I love food. Like, really, really love it. So when I saw that this title would help me in my quest to read more authors present at this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival, I decided to pick it up.

Tan was born and raised in Singapore, where she inherited a deep, abiding love for eating good food. Her love never transferred into an interest in cooking it, though. Only after moving to the US for college, getting married, and starting a career, did she yearn to be able to cook the foods from her childhood.

I certainly empathize. Growing up, I loved my grandmother’s food. Chicken parmesan, cavatelli with sausage and meatballs, fettucine alfredo – oh my goodness. Delicious. To this day, I wrinkle my nose at going out for Italian food – I’ll just want till I go home, thankyouverymuch. It wasn’t until after I graduated from college that I spent time with her in the kitchen, trying to learn her secrets. I certainly identified with the author’s experiences, especially learning how to agak-agak (guesstimate).

One thing that struck me while reading was all of the texting and tweeting and blogging going on. This was the first time I noticed this in a book, and it just seemed a bit…odd. Which is ironic, since, um, this is my blog. And as indicated in the upper right corner, I do the twitter thing. These mentions, more than specific dates, seem to anchor the book in a very specific time period. I can’t help but wonder if this will seem awfully quaint ten years from now.

That said, I kinda want to try the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge she and some fellow bloggers attempted. I do think I’ll skip anything that takes a 5-day starter, though.

My biggest frustration with this book was the outrageous amount of privilege evident. There aren’t too many people who get laid off from their job, and immediately commence a yearlong, round the world travel and cooking adventure. When she visits a friend’s house, who lives in “a government-created housing estate” she’s quick to reassure you that she’s not visiting anything like a New York housing project. “An estimated 80 percent of Singaporeans live in comfortable, affordable apartments built by the government.” (pg. 175). I’m glad that the author was able to travel, live in nice places, and be with her family, but especially in the current economic climate, well, it’s a bit much.

It is clear that there is lots of love in the Tan family. Ultimately, this book is about more than food – it’s about spending time with your loved ones while you have the opportunity. If you can’t travel to be with them, as Tan’s father said they’re only “a telephone away.”

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