AAWTV: Writing Asian American Food with Lillian Li, Ligaya Mishan, Naben Ruthnum, Rohan Kamicheril



thank you so much for coming now I'm just gonna introduce our moderator for tonight who were really pleased to have give a big welcome to Rohan Tommy Jarrell he's a writer editor and chef founder and for the online food journal Tiffin the website is basically like a guide to how to be a great food writer he has a series of interviews recipes and stories of international travel his food oriented and journalistic writing has appeared in gastronomic ax the margins hemispheres asymptotes and elsewhere he was also the editor of words without borders literary anthology the wall in my head which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain through rap written and visual work and he's here tonight to moderate this incredible event so give a big round of applause thanks thank you so much I'm just so delighted to be here I love the asian-american Writers Workshop and what they do so Thank You Sophia I'm really glad to see such an amazing crowd over here tonight I think it's a real testament to the appeal of our fantastic panel but also to the magnetism of food is the idea that food can tell a story or should tell a story isn't a new one we see some version of this truism in almost every piece of food reading that gets published today and yet a lot of those pieces many of these pieces are plainly nostalgic gauzy and they sort of deal in sort of platitudes about what food is about or even if they delve into the unpleasant there's always the sense that food reading ought to act as a reparation of sorts but because our appetites are so instinctual and so visceral it would also betray our failings our insecurities and social inequities and indignities that we wish didn't exist but still do and of course joy celebration success too and food comfortably encompasses all of these awkward things together and it can be a challenge to recreate or even to evoke that same mix successfully in writing which is why I'm so delighted they have this wonderful group of writers here today each addresses an unique way in which food culture and the imagination act upon each other and I think you'll really be delighted to hear them speak today and to hear them read so I'll step down and I'll introduce our first reader which is legaia mission the guy Michelle is the author of the hungry City columns in The New York Times a weekly dispatches from restaurants around the city are essential and delectable reading for anyone looking to eat well in New York the restaurants she covers often smaller owned and run by immigrants or the children of immigrants and modestly praised her writing does what so little food writing manages to evoke taste with brilliant and thoughtful acidity but also to remind the reader of all the things that go into taste history family tradition by invoking a living ever-changing picture of how the city eats she reminds us every week of the joys and rewards of the diversity that surrounds us in New York in a recent piece she described a mango shake as the kind of drink that turns your insides to gold that makes you feel rich just to live in New York the city in turn has been immeasurably enriched by her work in expanding the definition of what it means to eat well here please join me in welcoming legaia Michonne to the stage thank you so much for that I hope I can live up to that amazing introduction and thank you all for coming tonight I'm gonna read a little bit from a piece that I that ran in the New York Times is T Magazine in the fall that was about the ways in which Asian American chefs have changed the American palate any immigrant is an outsider at first but for Asians in America there is a stark ER sense of otherness we don't fit into the American binary of white and black we've been the enemy the subjugated the lesser people's who scramble for a foothold in society was historically seen as a menace to the American order and yet we the good immigrants proving ourselves worthy of American beneficence polite humble grateful willing to work 20-hour days running a grocery store or a laundry or a restaurant that will never be authentic enough to spend every dime on our children's tests preps test prep so they get into the best schools because we believe in the promise of America that if you work hard you can become anyone if you try hard enough you might even be mistaken for white among the children of immigrants Asians in America seemed most caught in a state of limbo no longer beholden to their parents countries of origin but still grasping for a role in the American narrative there is a unique foreignness that persists despite the presence of Asians on American soil for more than two centuries none of us however bald our American accent has gone through life without being asked where are you from I mean originally but while this can lead to alienation it can also have a liberating effect when you are raised in two cultures at once when people see in you two Heritage's at odds unresolved in abeyance you learn to shifted will between them you may never feel like you quite belong in either but neither are you fully constrained the acute awareness of borders culinary as well as cultural that both enclose and exclude allows paradoxically acclaimed and borderless nests taking freely from both sides to forge something new for Asian American chefs this seesaw between the obligations of inheritance and the thrill of gold aloneness between respecting your ancestors and lighting out for the hills manifests and dishes that arguably could come only from Minds fluent in two ways of life thus bukkake at Nikki Nakayama Zin naka and Nellie always includes a pasta course her slightly voluptuous carbonara of abalone livers and egg yolks is an homage to Tokyo style wafu spaghetti with briny pickled cod roe only here it's capped with shaved truffles at dau van in New Brunswick Maine the chinese-american chef Kara Statler takes tiles of goat cheese made by Creamery and Sears them as is done in Yoona but instead of merely sprinkling the cheese with sugar salt she counters its meatiness with a bright grace note of mint and watermelon from summers height a Caesar salad as REE envisioned by Chris Koji oka at Sania and Honolulu might be a mossy cliff of charred cabbage a wink at an iceberg wedge dusted with Shia kombu soaked through a dashi and ginger and surrounded by dogs of heady green goddess dressing and buttermilk turned to gel it's not so much just salad as a cheeky biography of it by the Barbarian at the gates achieving the quintessence of an American classic through Asian ingredients and while Asian American cooking may not be expressed in or identified by a single set of flavors one thing that does unites such disparate traditions is an emphasis on textures indeed if the cuisine can be said to have revolutionized American food its by introducing unfamiliar mouth feels crackle where one doesn't expect it slime in a country that's always shied away from that sensation just in you of theater Rex in Houston rhapsodize is about the crunch that you can hear in the back of your head unrendered gelatinous animal skin a fun burst of fat and softness broths barely skimmed or with a spoonful of fat added to coat the lips Katsuya Fukushima of dikaya in Washington DC once turned natto gooey slippery scan of fermented soybeans with a perfume of cast off socks into an earthy caramel over soft sir like latin-american food which made Americans crave heat Asian American cuisine has made difficult textures not only desirable but as integral to food as flavor itself that certain ingredients still make some Western diners squeamish is part of the fun but the question remains does calling this kind of cooking Asian American cuisine deepen and contextualize our understanding of it or is it just a label like speaking of Asian American art or fiction a way of simplifying a complex story and making it a marketable cliche the danger is Feder sizing Asian teachers white chefs are using these ingredients and saying oh it's so strange tin Vuong of little sister in LA said it isn't at the same time it seems reductive to expect Asian American chefs to make food that somehow reflects their personal story on season three of Top Chef hung Huynh a Vietnamese American contestant was faulted for cooking that was technically dazzling but lacked explicit reference to his roots you were born in Vietnam Tom Colicchio the head judge said I don't see any of that in your food it's hard not to hear an echo of the trope of the inscrutable oriental whose motives can't be deciphered and the common criticism of Asian Americans at school and at work is being overly cerebral and lacking feeling must every italian chef make lasagna every french chef cook event i need Aloe who closed her fine-dining restaurant and Nyssa in New York last year cook there for nearly two decades without fealty to one region or cultural tradition this puzzled some diners I had someone come in and say where's the big Buddha head she said when publications request recipes and she submits one without Asian ingredients the response is often we were really hoping for something Asian or Asian ish anything with soy apparently will do I send in Japanese which isn't even my background but that works she's in the korean-american chef Cory Lee in his venue cookbook it's filled with stories of his grandmother foraging for acorns of his mother forcing him to drink a tonic of deer antlers all suggest that Lee's dishes however rarified at the new the tasting menu is $285 ahead are also deeply autobiographical but lead d'amours the way of novelist might fending off a critics attempt to find in his books correlations to actual events wanting them to stand alone his fully imagined works of art there's great pressure for chefs to have a story he said maybe there's no story beyond I want to serve this food and it tastes good it's the eternal plea of the minority to ask to be judged not by one's appearance or the rituals of one's forebears but for the quality of one's mind and powers of invention certainly our country was predicated on the right to shed once past and be reborn to come from nothing and work your way up in this Asians may be among the most American of Americans why is the choice always between exotic caricature or rootlessness the philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that the embrace of ethnic restaurants is merrily tolerance of a folklorist other deprived of its substance the real or other is by definition patriarchal violent never the other of ethereal wisdom and charming customs in the end doesn't it matter not to others but to ourselves where we are from no I don't mean originally I mean the forces that made us the immigrants who raised us with all their burdens and expectations their exhortations to fit in but never forget who we are and the country we grew up in that is our only home that taught us we are other but also seems in some confused tentative way to want to learn something from us for Asian American chefs this is the conundrum and the opportunity the foods in their childhoods were once mocked and rejected by their non Asian peers and by their ashamed or rebellious younger selves then accepted in dilute placating form and now are able to command audiences who clamor for their sensations and aggressive flavors and who might be unnerved they knew exactly what they were putting in their mouths what may be most radical about Asian American cuisine is the attitude that informs and powers it reflecting a new cockiness in a population that has historically been encouraged to keep quiet and lay low it's food that celebrates crunchy cartilage and gelatinous news that openly stinks that declares this is what I like to eat what about you do you dare [Applause] thank you guys so much and I should add to that the piece that the guy is just read from it's also a really wonderful compliment to the work that she does on a weekly basis at the times so if you're not already a regular fanatic of her work I highly recommend that you added to your weekly must-read list a next leader is Lillian Lee Lillian Lee's debut novel number one Chinese restaurant is a complex feeling an indelible portrait of a mainstay of American life that few Americans give much serious thought to a picture of the inner life of a Chinese restaurant in Maryland is shot through with criminal intrigue simmering family resentment the perils of spoiling ambition and amidst all of that the sweet privacy of unexpected love the often stifling reliability of familial love the number one Chinese restaurant is in any one particular restaurant it's an ideal whose shape depends on who is looking at it for an older generation it is a thriving business perhaps culinarily on extraordinary but a powerful tool to give their families the resources to succeed in a new country for Jimmy the son in the novel who's been tasked with running the successful family restaurant after his father's death success means jettisoning the cliche trappings that have made his parents restaurant so popular as the book changes voices from dishwasher to hostess to owner and so on through the ranks you get a full view of the seedings life of this place of the unrelenting work involved in fitting in and in letting go please give a warm welcome to Lillian Lee [Applause] damn that was an introduction thank you so much and thank you all for coming out today it is so good to see so many Asian faces oh my god so my last two readings were in Ann Arbor Michigan and Providence Rhode Island which are very charming towns with a lot of strengths but having a large Asian population is not one of those strengths so just truly thank you for having me out here and thank you look I and a band for reading with me just very quickly like I you just read fell and Semak it was really it basically perfectly articulated a lot of the ideas that my novel just kind of like floats over but that's the difference between nonfiction and fiction and and also thank you Rohan for moderating so charmingly as I'm sure you will and also of course thank you to the asian-american Writers Workshop I have seen the space in pictures as my friends have come through ro Kwan and Carlina and I've just been so jealous to be up there where they were and so it's just a huge pleasure to be here so I'm gonna go ahead and actually read from a latter part of the book so usually when you know you first have your book come out you can only really read from the beginning because no one has read it yet but because of the theme of this panel you know being about writing asian-american food I felt well I have to read this later section so hopefully not too many spoilers come through but basically essentially like Rohan said Jimmy Han is the current owner of his father's restaurant the Beijing duck house which serves a you know basically an American Chinese kind of menu just with the prices supermarkt up which i think is you know a really smart idea but I think Jimmy does not agree so he's gone ahead and started his own restaurant the Beijing glory which is all about Asian fusion and it's also in the heart of DC so where we are in the book right now is it's going to be the soft opening of the Beijing glory but the only thing is that Jimmy is quickly finding that he is way over his head he's had to switch back from the Asian fusion menu that he wanted to his father's menu for a reason that I won't reveal and he has just realized that the cooks he has hired are so new to America into the kitchen that they don't actually know how to cook American Chinese food so that's where we are oh and one more thing is that there is a term that's used within this restaurant world so the family refers to the Latino and Latina staff as amigos and that is not necessarily a pejorative term but it's also not not a pejorative term so that's just an explanatory note Jimmy didn't even get halfway to the kitchen a table ten a waiter was cleaning bones off a customer's plate with his bare hands he seized each chop as if he were about to pick it clean it seemed to Jimmy that half the tables were still waiting for their food that customers were tripping over one another to get to the bathroom the layout of the seats was slightly imprecise people couldn't push out their chairs without colliding straight into others the tables themselves were meant to hold much smaller plates and with no lazy susans outfitting the larger groups people dipped their shirtsleeves into their soup when they reached across the table for wonton chips one peek into the kitchen confirmed it nothing fit together food was dying under the heat lamps order slips were on the ground the new amigos couldn't communicate with the Chinese cooks who couldn't understand the American waiters the duck houses ecosystem had always seemed half hazard to Jimmy he now realized that it had had an internal logic one he had not thought to construct for the glory his father it would have laughed in his face it was easy to imagine what else his father would or would not have done his father wouldn't have hired amigos who'd never worked in a Chinese kitchen or Americans with tongues too lazy to learn the language that came from the back of the house his father wouldn't have gone into debt for a flashy space surrounded by restaurants far more comfortable in their flashiness the new place was everything his father distrusted the outdoor patio would bring vermin and beggars the partially exposed kitchen made even less sense who wanted to watch a fat cook scratch his ass and bang his walk the floor plan was to open the lighting too bright and where pray tell was Jimmy going to find the time to clean all those windows why do people need a view his father would have asked he'll be sitting in their seats for hours but his father had been blocked in by his own golden bricks his dreams compressed like a watermelon grown in a cinderblock Jimmy had different plans he was not going to be so obsessed with monthly returns he was going to focus on the big picture he was finally going to get his hands on the status that eluded his family rich as they were or had been he was going to grow that intangible capital that reached where money couldn't go but in this strident difference would Jimmy allude the money as well would his restaurant drag him down taking his apartment Janine his family his livelihood with it he'd spent his entire life working in a restaurant he'd never graduated from college if they charged him with insurance fraud he would have a record on top of everything how could a restaurant this big feel so small a fist formed around Jimmy's lungs steel fingers crushed the air out as soon as he sucked in yet with each cruel squeeze of his chest there followed an opposite reaction one of expanding heat energizing heat anger built deep in his gut until his body hummed from the knee to do some necessary violence he set off for the waiter with a tray full of bones a moon-faced white boy named Tom he pulled him into the nearest station where the other new servers could overhear grabbing Tom by the wrist Jimmy forced him to look at the greasy print on his arm you an animal Jimmy asked shook his head Jimmy grabbed the plate of bones off his tray and threw it to the ground and use your spoons to pick up the bones like I taught you he left Tom on his knees spoons clinking together the waiters who'd stop to look quickened their pace swing by the cloak cause a Jimmy hung up his jacket and pushed up his sleeves then he headed toward the kitchen he threw the first cook a large stoop man with one bloodshot eye off the line taking his place in front of the flaming wok Jimmy motion for the others to give him their tickets he gave half to the one veteran cook in the entire kitchen a grizzled man who rubbed the white stubble on his face as he received the tickets with an otherwise neutral face throughout your food Jimmy shouted in wooden Chinese he tied on an apron he had the cooks gather as closely around the wok as the narrow space allowed pay attention then you cook like me he cranked the burner as high as it would go until the air in front of his face shimmered with heat and he dropped his ladle into the drum of peanut oil by the wok pouring it straight into the kitchen straight into the pan always more oil he demanded more even more he swirled the oil around in his wok coating the entire surface then poured the oil back into the drum filling his ladle partway again he wet the wok with one more splash of oil and cracked eggs into the gleaming puddle stirring the yellow around he grabbed the container of rice dumped it in mixing the rice into the oil and eggs he lifted the wok with his left hand one heavy flick in the rice transformed into a wave cresting over the edge of the rim and breaking back down into the center of the pan again he tasted sweat as he flipped the fried rice three more times do it till your wrist breaks while he rested his hand he pressed the rice down with the back of his ladle until each individual grain was crisping in oil he handed the wok back to its owner instructing him to toss the rice until he saw it dance then he took over the next wok refilling his ladle with oil he moved down the line walked by wok he left a new cook to finish each dish he started he showed them how to boil vegetables and a spider perched over hot water and how to measure everything with their ladle from salt to soy sauce the green onions he demonstrated Kung Pao instructing the cooks how long to fry the peanuts and had a jostle the frying cage to make sure the oil dropped off the nuts they saw how the coat thin slices of flank steak with cornstarch for extra crispy mongolian beef and how to precook chunks of chicken and deep oil in their walks by the time he reached the veteran cook taking just over 15 minutes his line was busy again and he was free to wipe the sweat from his eyes give him back their tickets he told the old cook clapping him on the back around him the kitchen was alive with fire and fragrance iron clinked against steel and the smell of sizzling meat turned heavy in the air the first cook the one with the bloodshot eye finished his dish he presented his plate his nose running from the heat Jimmy grabbed a nearby spoon and carved into the mound of fried rice he barely tasted the perfect combination of salt and grease before he bit down hard on the spoon his teeth aching against the metal dirty tasting spoon and mouth he was the spitting image of his father thank you [Applause] thank you so much Lillian and for those of you who aren't already aware of this perfectly serendipitous fact we have copies of Lillian's book for sale in the back of the room it just went out yesterday right from a Henry Holt so do pick up a copy i next readers in the Ben Ratnam like curry itself Nibbana rathnam's book is many things it starts as a critique of those books tinged by nostalgia that have come to be known variously as curry books or silken sari books and in this the book is already a success in introducing the possibility of a book that breaks out of the conformity that readers expect in books about the South Asian Diaspora but the book also investigates itself against these criteria finding the paps there's something in the nostalgia of curry books that is baked in the into the experience of being part of a diaspora not an inevitability but a tide that persists in a certain direction but which you can nonetheless fight against nahban Ratnam zone curry book is a bracing clarifying mix of modes memoir cultural critique in history and enthralling provocation his new trailer find you in the dark is actually also out newly from atria books so do check that out at your local bookstore or online and we have copies of curry for sale as well in the back please give a warm welcome to Navin right now Thank You curry is not a cliche well maybe it is the unifying notion of curry is an authentic homeland defining collection of dishes that form a cultural touchstone for diasporic Brown flow folks is a cliche in the same way food based bonds between people from any culture who find themselves in a new land is a cliche but curry can't be trapped if you push through the cliche you arrive at a surprising truth the history of this ever an authentic massive dishes is a close parallel to the formation of South Asian diasporic identity which is which is as much of a blend of conflicting cultural messages forced into coherence as Indian cuisine itself then again the entire category of food writing comes with built-in nostalgia a resurrection of remembered meals that at its best creates hunger to recreate that experience when the topic or the writer is associated with a certain ethnic background that act of nostalgia is positioned as a cultural act of looking back the New Yorkers Adam Gopnik splits the food literature genre into two categories there are two schools of good writing about food the mock epic and the mystical microcosmic the mock epic AJ Lee bling Calvin Trillin the French writer Robert cor teen and any good restaurant critic is essentially comic and treats as small ambitions of the greedy eater as though they were big and noble spoofing the idea of the heroic while raising the minors subjected to at least temporary greatness the mystical microcosmic of which Elizabeth David and MFK Fisher are the Masters is essentially poetic and turns every remembered recipe into a meditation on hunger and the transience of its fulfillment I hope that was it an unfair Adam Gopnik voice I just wanted to you know differentiate food writing is also memoir at least outside the confines of the newspaper restaurant review the elemental is elemental to a life story mfk fishers raptures descriptions of meals in France are also the story of an adventurous American woman abroad eating writing and living in quaint circumstances with a husband or between marriages a great portion of fishers and Elizabeth David's writings deal with food and food experiences in France and continental Europe an ongoing suggestion to readers that real food was something that existed elsewhere not in the country of the writers origin American England respectively fishers adventures trip to isolated restaurants in Burgundy where she served pickled herring that is mild pungent meaty is fresh nuts and trout served oblah got it in cooked half alive in boo-yan agonizingly curled on a platter is as much about the hidden chef in the exuberant server the sense of being alone and given a unique gift in a foreign land as it is about the food which Fischer actually describes in rather quick little clauses compared to the considerable time given to describing the mad waitress fanatical about food like a medieval woman possessed by the devil and her own sensations of hunger surf it's determination and even fear in the face of an epic Meal there are certainly exceptions to this questing in a foreign land in each writers over from Fisher's pan to old Mary the cooks of peach pie at her family's California ranch to elizabeth david's english bread in yeast cookery but Fischer's rapturous descriptions of French meals in life and David's landmark recipe books Mediterranean food and French provincial cooking established their reputations and carried a clear message the truest experiences of eating are out there laba and the amateur cooks hopeless task is to try to create the real thing at home when a food writer is a South Asian immigrants or even a few generational steps from a plane or boat another ripple enters one of the conventions of diasporic food writing dictates that the writers identity and self-discovery are implicitly linked to a tracing back of culinary roots now finding out of who he or she really is in the rich smell of a Corral and masala finally nailed that's dimension to writing about curry and other that's the extra dimension to writing about curry and other ethnic foods beyond meditating on hunger and fulfillment writing about curry in India and the real food of one's ancestors becomes a meditation on personal and familial identity and its relationship to the place where one grew up or where one was rested away from the inability of the writer to reproduce his or her mother's aloo Gobi often becomes as if by default a metaphor for the impossible impossibility of full communique between generations a metaphor so over audits now is codified and recognizable as a no mass in the long way home a 2004 essay from The New Yorker Pulitzer prize-winning Indian American novelist Jhumpa Lahiri contributes to this form of writing the connects family roots secrets and the lost unknowables of the past incarnated in particular delicious dishes in the harry's case her mother had learned to cook by witnessing and participating in her own mother's cooking in Calcutta learning lessons that she carried to America by for example getting down on the floor to pound turmeric or chilies on a massive grinding stone the Harry's mother here joins a line of mothers in this food writing tradition like so many before her she kindly evades sharing her recipes sharing her recipes never records or verbally details them to this day if friends ask how she made a particular dish she cryptically replies it's nothing really you simply take all the ingredients and put them in the pot this reluctance to share methods is perhaps true of many mothers and extremely common in these nostalgic essays and stories my mother thankfully will give up any recipe with detailed directions Lahiri ends up learning her Indian cooking techniques from a cookbook by med whore Jaffrey doyon of sub-continental cookery books in TV since the early 1970s in the end her mother is quietly impressed taking a photo of the spread that Lahiri and her sister make for their parents 30th anniversary in 2016 the writer Sachi coal contributed to the genre with an essay for BuzzFeed on learning how to cook the dishes of her childhood as an adult there's no recipe for growing up listening my mom had watched my grandmother cook for years knew her languages you had a pleat her Cerie or mutter a Kashmiri insults or throw a wedding for her son 25 years after she moved away I don't have any of these secrets because I was born in North America and raised her own white people in a family that wanted to integrate so it felt important to at least try to remember how my own mom did things late last week I called my mom to get refresher on a few of her recipes I wanted to make Rogan Josh aloo Gobi chicken biryani and paneer with Malak but my mom like so many Indian Mother's I know has always avoided giving me complete recipes mothers are an important inauthentic part of the kir'shara both and written not only a source of accessible cross-cultural nostalgia but a reminder that there are domestic comforting aspects to exotic ism the parental link to the homeland especially for writers with immigrant parents who themselves were born in the West or who moved to the West at such a young age at their grasp on the old country remains light question by brown people who dismiss their experiences or white people who say but you seem so white can also have a sinister minimizing aspect if mothers are baggage to the symbolic weight of a motherland and the authors distance from this place and identity they sometimes aren't given much a room of their own to be intact characters themselves mothers are permitted to be mysterious or generous in the system of symbolism but in the heroes essay her mother's pattern of selective withholding becomes her primary trait and Lahiri the writer is burdened with mastering the domestic skill of cooking in order to achieve in an understanding in connection with her mother in cool space being able to cook her mother's food comes to stand in for her need for her lover's her for her mother's love and presence Cole manages to pull off cooking a solid meal catching the intangible sense of her mother's kitchen while she repairs it but the meal wasn't as good because my food is surprisingly palatable as it was didn't include my mom hovering over me with a wooden spoon for these writers their personal relationships with their mothers overwhelms the symbolic standing of mother for mother lands of food and the ability to prepare it properly as a marker of authenticity but for many readers this may not be the case the mother on the page remains a symbolic stand-in for authenticity lost despite each individual writers labor to own the metaphor to make it personal in part these two pieces reflect ways have found myself thinking about my race and family and even writing about these matters at least until I stop myself out of fear that I'm replicating an essay that already exists but this treatment of a relationship between food family bonds and a frank connection to the homeland appears frequently in essays and novels by diasporic South Asians doesn't invalidate it an oft-repeated story isn't a false one experiences and dishes like the ones described by cool and the hairy take place in the kitchens of Brown undergraduates worldwide the two essays above hit many of the same points about authenticity love and being no ability of one's parents but stylistically they are distinct to their authors and there's no sense that the details are anything but true lived experience I mean I've had a bunch of these experiences to a recipe is given over the phone but a half pound of burnt onions and candied walnuts subbing for almond slivers later there's a stovetop of muck that has nothing to do with home comfort a good food just failure distance and a sense that something essential has been lost this is authentic isn't it it's also relatable to readers from any numbers of immigrant backgrounds so why shouldn't it be written about it should be of course stories we get similar stories and they don't become lies as a result but endless encounters with one narrative one that tells us the truth and colonialism are embedded in these family recipes and our failures to cook them make me wonder why I keep reading this particular story over and over again and why white and South Asian public's alike embrace it South Asian food came to major prominence in the West with the explosion of Indian restaurants in the UK and the formative wave of South Asian Diaspora writers followed soon afterward when genres and forms have been around for long enough there comes a point when they risk calcifying becoming the same stories the sanera t'v thread this way of thinking about curry is one iteration of wet Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a recently called the single story one overarching narrative that creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they aren't true but that they are incomplete they make one story become the only story thinking about and writing about a food is culturally complex as curries though were a marker of an authentic past that is now lost or a signifier of a broken bond between generations due to geographical dislocation does a major to service to how delicious curry can be and to how particular a South Asian diasporic experience can be [Applause] I want to thank all of you guys again it was amazing listening to all of you speak and I want to preface this entire segment by saying that I'm very intimidated by this chair but I'm hoping that it doesn't have the same effect that okay but you know listening to all of you speak and hearing you talk about food in your various ways it really made me think about how though all of you talk about food in your work you all approach it from very different angles I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about the particular role that food plays and your individual works in any order no ban if you want to start I mean I never thought it was something that I would write about necessarily something that I cooked and ate but I always enjoyed food writing as a consumer and I and I thought I thought that I could use it in a way to talk about culture and literature in a way that didn't feel too much like grad school you know I felt that uh I was really trying to self educate myself as a nonfiction writer when I wrote this book which hopefully counts her some of its clumsiness and I feel like talking writing about food which I'd never done before allowed me to both be lighter about concepts that I couldn't be light about when I was talking about literature and my career frustrations and it also allowed me to penetrate historically in a way that I'd never really done before in non-fiction writing and it sort of brings to my anything you said about you know doing this in a way that it was approachable one of the real and you know I address this sort of confusingly in my introduction about writing about fruit in a complex way is that food often is delicious you know and this is what we like about it and yet you know we have people like me going out and saying well you know you really have to talk about it in a way that's unpleasant and like brings out because there's a lot that undergirds it that is very unpleasant and unseemly and can be complicated and I guess the real complication for you guys is how do you bring those two things together in a way that's both educational and sort of palatable like I don't know if you guys want to add on yeah I think that disgusting food is a really good segue into what I was gonna say which is that so before I wrote number one Chinese restaurant I actually had the experience of working as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant for a very brief amount of time I was very bad at the job and I think that you know I was expecting to be kind of inundated with food to have food all the time to have delicious food to sort of be smelling tasty things all the time and instead that experience I've never felt more distant from food more like I couldn't approach it more like food was something disgusting that made my hair smell awful every single night that burned my hands I only could see it as a way that it's almost like a vehicle for other ideas right I stopped thinking of it as a concrete tangible thing that is delicious and more as you know a way to talk about class a way to talk about what is respectable cuisine and actually I had to my first you know couple of drafts of the book there was no mention of food being tasty it was all about grease it was all about fat it was all about you know pain and I had my editor finally pulled me aside and say do you like food and I said yes of course I do she's like okay well I'd like to see more of that and so I think it is something that it is easy to forget because food is also such a rich vehicle for a lot of more abstract ideas and it can also hide a lot of really problematic ideas and so it's easy for me to like kind of float away from what's right in front of me you know I kind of have the opposite problem so I've been writing my column for eleven years now I've been reviewing restaurants for that oh not this column but I've been writing about food and write about restaurants for 11 years and I think probably at least five years ago I ran out of ways to write about food and so to write about the deliciousness that something is sweet or sour or bitter or is crunchy on the outside but a soft on the inside and all of these these things all the different adjectives to say something is laced with this or so fused with this or spiked with this I thought something I don't know what to do I either have to move into another profession something has to change and so what changed for me was I had to write around the food I had to find all the other stories in the food and the truth is I mean so for me I think yes something is delicious but that's ephemeral there I'm much so I become much more interested in the stories of the people who make food and so when I think about my column now I really think about it is bringing these stories to the fore it's a wonderful reminder to how we create these artificial sort of divides between let's say food and life and food writing and writing when in fact these things sort of intermingle all the time and I think fear comes really do a great job you know they can be a straightforward review of a place but it evokes so much more than that which i think is what most people are looking for you know in writing anyway my next question is about how you know when you document a food you know whether it's the cuisine of a country that you visited or you read a review about a restaurant it also elevates it to the point where other people can become interested in it and want to learn more about it and the sort of attendant effect of this is also that people sort of develop this mania for figuring out what entik and this certainly has its good points you know I think it forces restaurants to be more adventurous to try new things to be pushing themselves but there's a dark side to it too I was wondering if you know and this is true of writing to you know sort of battling expectations of what you're supposed to write and having other people judge whether or not what you're writing is a sort of a true reflection of something or something if you guys get weigh in on that I feel like authentic has felt like a word I felt like a word that has been sort of more and more on trend lately and almost seems to have taken the place that exotic used to fill now that we know that exotic is not an OK where to use right now for some reason I feel like authentic is the word that makes our food legible too you know the white consumer and in and of itself that were there's nothing wrong with it it's a pretty neutral word as most words go but it does feel in some ways like a kind of guideline now that feels very very restrictive and you know when I think about the food that I eat at home that my parents make for me I've often tried to find those recipes online and I just can't find them because those are in fact recipes that they you know adapted for the Western kitchen right when they didn't have certain kind of vents and they didn't have certain materials and they have some ingredients this is the food they ended up making and it feels authentic in that it is sincere and genuine and it came from something organic that my family developed together but at the same time I don't think that anyone who ate over at my parents house would feel like they were eating authentic Chinese food so it is something that I wonder about and I feel like in general when a word starts becoming kind of buzzy like that it seems to be invitation to examine it and to ask what its kind of holding a place for what people are actually saying when they are saying that word you know I'm sometimes I look back on things that I wrote early on as a food writer and I'm embarrassed and one thing early on I think I described a California role as with that you know avocado that eternal interloper so it was you know I was buying into this idea that it's not authentic but you know I mean California rolls were invented by Japanese immigrants from Japan who were in Los Angeles in the 60s and you couldn't get good to know all year round and what does California have a lot of avocado isn't in a way it's a completely smart innovation that we now then say oh but that means it's not a real it's not a real Japanese restaurant if they're doing they're using avocado so when I look back on that I think I was just buying into this narrative that I really don't think it's true anymore I think there are many different ways that the food of any particular culture can be made and adaptations are inevitable because the ingredients aren't even the same even if they are technically the same they're grown in different soil it's just it's just different and that's part of what's exciting and I think that immigrant run restaurants just get held to this absurd standard where you know some people who aren't him that culture but who have traveled a lot think I've been to Thailand a few times and I know exactly what Thai food should taste like and it is depressing if you've been to Thailand to eat at Thai restaurants in the United States I will agree that that is often true but it's still but it's just not fair at the same time to have this added complication to that is I think the people who are often guilty of judging these restaurants to be an adequate walking are immigrants themselves you know I've definitely gone to restaurants and be like oh you know this is an authentic but if you know it's you know someone who wasn't Indian but to say that I was like god this person is insufferable you know so I mean there's definitely a sort of a continuum of egregious 'no sover there i find a lot of people who are really engaged with authenticity would actually be horrified at the authentic stories of the food sailing come the Portuguese brought chilies to India many of your favourite curries Roommate were originally invented in UK curry houses the Mughal Empire had a huge influence on on Indian foods that we now Empire and colonialism have always been laced through authentic Indian food and that to me is so fascinating and it's not it's not to say that uh it's my stamp of approval on colonialism and empiricism but I do find the the authentic history of these dishes is so much more interesting and the way authenticity is used when you have like the sort of implement and something it's like this is authentic then it ceases to be a story whereas if you're constantly investigating and things are always changing there's life to it and you can sort of find out more about with each recipe chime you make it as an invention even if it's the same recipe you know you have to sort of kowtow to circumstances to time to the availability of produce where you live and you know it's never good writing does too it sort of has to adapt and live right my next question sort of steps offer him something that Lillian has in her burg in which one of the characters says you are the stories people tell of you and this is near the end of the board after which you've gone through a very complicated process of finding out but all the details of these people's lives it gets really some of it is very sorted some of it is very beautiful but you have a very complicated picture of their lives and at the end you still have this notion that you know you can still be sort of summed up by the way that people see you you know and this is true of many minority groups in this country it's always been true of disenfranchised groups everywhere and so my question that perhaps it's an unfair one but is this an unfair question to put on writers who are expected to represent non-white cultures yes next question I think that I you know I hear a lot of you know writers of color and myself included that we often feel like we are not blank enough and that we don't have the requisite experience or the requisite knowledge the requisite stories to be able to tell what feels true to us and I think that come that stems from this idea that we are the ones who are bringing our story into the mainstream and I think that that ends up in some ways turning writers almost against each other because it's a criticism that is so easily lobbed and it's one that is so devastating and it's also one that in some ways hi this devastation in this kind of you know abstract idea of what is enough so I think that you know in general this idea of writing and representing feels like a you know a guideline that is making it so that we cannot be kind to ourselves and kind to each other so at least that is where my head is I mean I just came out with a book so this might be some hedging on my end as well even in so-called service writing you know which I use this very term very loosely there is always this tension between the sort of ameliorative work of writing and then the you know sort of expository the you know sort of exploratory work of writing like how do you balance the two things where you know you can do something good through writing and then you can just do good writing I'm an amoral selfish writer so I of course I engage with that question on in my life and when I'm walking around but I never do at my desk in terms of uh should I be doing something good with this and because I spent so much of my time writing not just fiction but a very story plot oriented entertaining thriller fiction that that question that kind of question only comes up when I when I'm asking myself am i doing something deliberately immoral in the story like for example am i glorifying the pain of a victim and in this in this narrative um when it comes to uh should I be writing educationally perhaps in a way which i think is a pressure we all feel i rail almost immaturely it's a teenage metalhead in me against that so so much no I refuse and yet I did write this book which you know it's it is in a way a memoir of my education my struggle of how to how to write about these things that are really important to me how to write about myself and my own particular version of this of this brownness of the South Asian assay you know I just I didn't do it for the audience I did it for myself when we talked earlier you had a great comment of a sort of occasionally being plagued by these doubts that you were somehow letting down the home team by sort of telling tales out of school you're like oh you know this is something I don't like about the way that we write about ourselves yeah the last thing I want is for and this is sometimes when I look into an audience I think is there a twenty-year-old MFA student who does write nostalgically about homeland about her parents who's listening to me in thinking that I'm saying you're writing his dog which is extremely not when I'm saying I'm saying we should be able to write about anything we want to and many of those stories are extremely valuable but I do think that there is a significant amount of audience and publication industry pressure to continually tell stories that are like that one and also as I was talking about with I'm cool and Lahiri's essays both of which I really like especially the here is I I can't help but think of the person reading it who is not me and how they flatten out that relationship between the daughter and the mother and they see it as between the west and east the guy do these tensions play out at all in your work do you find Wow I was gonna say that in some sense I guess I do think of my writing as a service journalism the way the way you were saying I feel like when I was just writing about food and saying that things were delicious I just had a sense that I would kind of introduce myself to people time and I'm the frivolous writer I just write about food I just write about style and so to kind of a certain point with my column when I decided I know I have a mission that I'm going to write about all of these places that people don't know about in these people's that they don't know about who live in our city I gave my work meaning that I hadn't had that hadn't had before and I feel like there's certain things I sometimes when I'm sending my editor my list of restaurants he says how do you keep finding all these Filipino restaurants and I don't know if he's realized yet that I'm just sneaking them in because I want the people of America to realize what Filipino food is I feel like that nothing else that me mylegacy that people of New York understand Filipino food is so and I think I read I think someone on Twitter suggested you know what what if everybody just tried writing stories that were about people of color for a year no no stories about white people and I thought well that just is my column that's just what it is like that's I don't I just don't write about western restaurants they don't fall under my rubric so yeah so I feel like I do have a secret agenda wait was she saying that you know like white authors should also write people of color for a year she wasn't specific yeah cuz I wouldn't want that but I just want to add one more thing which is that you know I think that uh I I write to try and figure out how to be a better person or maybe what I mean is to be a more active an observant person in the world and I think that that's not a bad guideline at least for me in terms of what story I want to tell is which story do I need to tell in order to understand the world that I am seeing and I am moving through better so that I can better interact with it well there's a very tangible limit to what I can add to this conversation so at this point I invite if any of you have any questions for the panelists you know just raise your hand and someone will come around with a microphone this is specifically for the guy I was wondering if your editor ever rejected a restaurant choice that you made and why they might have they have never done this because they have no idea I just send in this list I'm like there's a Belarusian plays out in Sheepshead Bay and there's you know a Thai plays here and there's this place there and they just say okay so I I'm lucky they have a lot of trust and they're interested the whole point they have empowered me I should say it is not a battle they they they've given me this mission and they're excited about it as well so thank you so much for sharing your wonderful stories a lot of your writing explorers family histories that are contained with food and also how a lot of Asian cultures see food as a communal thing inherently and I was wondering how entering food writing has changed your relationship with your family and how you view your own heritage like how has food writing changed you so as part of like a promotional thing that I was doing that now I just think is really fun I started an author newsletter and I use that as an excuse so that my parents might finally share their recipes with me because they never were interested before they thought they were helping my career and and I realized that I think that what really draws me into learning these recipes that they make that they often say evokes you know a home for them or childhood for them is that at least you know so my parents are from mainland China and they lived through the Cultural Revolution and that means that you know I have had to understand that there are certain stories I might just never get to hear that it would be too painful or traumatic for them to share it and to relive it and you know I have had that chance to kind of mourn the loss of that history and I feel like that grief was then sublimated into a desire to learn how to cook meals that then could take the place of that that I wasn't going to be able to get right that if I could cook the food that makes them think of home in my home but that is a way of understanding the stories that are you know lost to us at this moment and maybe forever so I think that is what really clicked for me when I finally started making you know the food in my own kitchen um my I do talk about my parents quite a bit in this book which it's just gonna happen if you write a curry book and I it has had actually kind of a gratifying impact in the world for my mother and that uh a magazine on Australian one in Canada rented her shrimp curry recipe which is you know she really liked that so it's summer to you I my father is sort of like the father in the wonder years and that we don't ever discuss anything directly we talk about books and movies and I feel that writing a book partially about him and me has allowed us to talk about our lives as though it's another book so I feel that helps I should say that I didn't grow food my mother is it like this is on permanent record but I'm sorry to say this but she's not a great cook so and my father who is an Englishman did most of the cooking he made curry beef curry I'm sure it doesn't it doesn't resemble anything I've ever had at any South Asian restaurant anywhere but it was delicious um so my mom occasionally would make Filipino food and I didn't like it and I had some bad memories associated with it so so this so my job has has changed the fact that now I I love Filipino food I've discovered it I had to go elsewhere to find him and so now when I see my mom we can talk about Filipino food and I asked her lots of questions about about you know customs that I had no interest in when I was a kid so it actually has completely changed my relationship with my for the better so on the topic of parents I guess through writing like a lot of times you might talk about your feelings or as a writer you might be more expressive in your feelings but for like at least for my parents who are from Hong Kong I feel like they're not as expressive in their feelings and sometimes when I compare to like my friends who are like they do talk about their feelings with their parents I'm like oh should I feel guilty about that like how else can I communicate with my parents in a way that's like still like meeting each other halfway but like not having them to hop like talk about feelings I don't know if this makes sense but if you have any thoughts on that yeah food can you know evoke a lot of emotions are the way this sort of under the surface like you said you know it allowed you a segue into talking about things with your father for example I've kind of accepted that my mom isn't gonna talk about her feelings and I think once you accept that that then it's totally okay you express what you want they kind of stand there stiffly when you hug them and and it's I think that at a certain point but you know I'm older than you I think it all just evens out you kind of take them for what they can give you and then they kind of they kind of loosen up a little bit let that's been my experiences over time I just feel like I doesn't we have to stop expecting from them what they just can't give it's just not gonna happen in the way that we might want it but if you can perceive in what they're giving you that there is still something there then so it requires a compromise from us yeah I I find that what my fear is about showing my parents my work is that they will actually be hurt by my feelings that they will see a different side of me and it's different side of them that I am seeing and that it will be too much for them that they won't they'll break down underneath the cruelty of my words and so I was always very very frank to show them the stuff that I was writing and I recently made a kind of pact with myself to stop do it to stop hiding the writing that I was about them where they were the focal point because I didn't think it was fair anymore that I could have all of these readers know so much about our relationship and about them and they would be in the dark and so the first essay that I gave to my parents was actually one that I wrote recently for medium about my father and his relationship with food and diabetes and I was terrified to to show it to him because in it I talked a lot about his mortality and I just figured like that's not something I want to bring up for him right that's gonna be too hard for him to you know grapple with his mortality through my words and it was when I finally gave it to him and he read it quickly and he sent a you know message back that was just like it's great very proud of you very funny love you and I just realized that you know I'd had this idea of my parents as so fragile and that they would be broken by my words but that you know they have survived so much and in the end they are so much stronger than I gave him credit for emotionally and physically and so that was definitely something that has changed recently for me when a writer is born into a family that family is finished there's there's another one that I can't remember whose it is but you have to write as though your parents are dead in Myka my sister has a very close and emotionally open friendship relationship with both my parents I don't which I think we can all tell the problem here but I do feel that through my work as with you that we have managed to establish these reports but this really I can't I can't put a finger on how much you regret I'll be flooded with when they're dead just yet but I think there will be some I don't so you you're asking the wrong person for advice I'm directing at me but that all sounded really good [Laughter] hi there so um going back to the idea I guess of asian-american s and authenticity I wanted to ask what your thoughts are on I guess the idea of in food the idea of either cultural like a welcomed cultural participation versus maybe like overstepping to cultural appropriation of some sort and thinking back to like back when I remember white people discovering bubble tea or discovering soup dumplings or discovering feh even the idea that at the end of the day is it is representation worth it is it is it just good just to be represented like represented I think the issue of appropriation food is really difficult because I think that if people outside the what we're talking on is people outside a culture coming in and and making the food of another culture so I think that it is done with respect and scholarship that should that I feel like that should be allowed I mean I think we should want everyone to want to learn about other cultures and cuisines and I think that I once had a kind of a Twitter fight with someone who was angry because they because I had reviewed a restaurant about that was I'd reviewed a restaurant that was serving it was called Goa taco and but it was not serving South Asian food it was serving food from different cultures using non to make not a taco but a taco like structure so there were many issues so when I wrote about it but when I wrote about it I thought it's so clear this person the chef is not attempting to do anything remotely authentic there's no pretense here so let's be grateful for that the food was delicious I wrote about that clearly somebody was interested in many different cuisines and then somebody called me out on on Twitter and said how dare you give this person any kind of platform you know it when you know you know this was a person who was making paratha and what's up South Asian ancestry and felt and felt that this was appropriation so I kind of I mean in the argument what I what I said was you know I feel like this is totally valid to talk about I don't think this person is saying that what they're doing in South Asian it's so far from being South Asian that I couldn't take of I couldn't personally take offense of it and I think the other issue is that this isn't a person who's making a lot of money this is the other idea that about appropriation the idea is that someone's making money off your food and this was some small hole in the wall some of you didn't have a lot of money running a restaurant and I but I also said I feel like or Killen airy conversation would be impoverished if all of these ingredients and flavors were not part of it and I for one think that I mean I can't help it I think that Western cuisine is improved by Asian ingredients so I want all those chefs to be using them so I think the issue has more to do with money and resources so the fact is that white people can just get loans and investors for their restaurants fast that's the issue the issue isn't can they cook this food as long as they cook it with respect the issue is why do we take that more seriously than why do we take a white chef cooking Thai food more seriously than we might a Thai person Attali immigrant so that I think when you look at the problem in that way it's it's not about attacking like no it's not that no white person can cook this way at least that's my thought yeah I think I just like to add on that you know within your question you use that word discover and I think that's a really key you know distinction the use of that word is what feels like appropriation to me because within it there's a lot of hubris right I discovered this thing that so many people already knew about and I feel like you know the difference between appropriation and and you know cooking with flavors that are not from your region or background is humility is a feeling of humbling right to this when you see these new ingredients you see boba what you should be feeling what what would would feel like it was not appropriation that if that person was just like oh my god how did I not know about this right I am you know I must be really behind on the times you know this is really open my world thank you thank you for this and I remember that after Anthony Bourdain died there was and I'm you know blanking on the name but there was an Asian American person who tweeted that you know what we really appreciated about Anthony Bourdain when he talked about food from different cultures was that you know he would kick it with grandma in the kitchen because he understood that he was the one who had something to learn and so it feels like you know that that distinction feels real to me when somebody is humbled by a new cuisine and when somebody just sees it as a chance to kind of slip it into their cultural tool belt and to show their friends that they're they've you know found something delightful and new if that's the difference for me the guy I was saying to I mean what seems like a model but hard to sort of put into implementation plan is rather than subtracting white chefs we should be adding more chefs of color but like you said there are so many impediments to that in practical terms – hi this question is for legaia so I've been thinking about this Anthony Bourdain quote he mentioned on his show that he would sometimes withhold the name of a place that he had gone to and he did that because he was aware of the impact you know being on a show could have on that place and they could fundamentally change that space and what it was and he felt like there was something you know he made the decision that there was something precious about not altering the place but still talking about it and so I wonder like in your and your job do you ever grapple with this question you know because you do focus on kind of you know smaller places do you ever grapple with you know I really appreciate this place but I had this big platform might I changed the space in covering it and like one thing I would add so that is one thing I love about Filipino restaurants still is that when I go there it's full of Filipino people and whether it's fair or not like I think I would feel away if I went into those spaces and saw less and less of them there it would change the space for me so I'm curious like how you grapple with that I don't know if I have I don't know how much power my column has I feel like it can be transformative for places in in Manhattan or near Brooklyn but but I have had a lot of places that have that I've recovered that have closed within the year of me writing about them so I feel like when I write about a place in the Bronx or that's really deep in Brooklyn or deep in Queens that some people go some people just like to read about it and know that it exists so I mean like I keep track all the ones that have closed and sometimes I think is it my fault because their rents went up what happened so but I have to admit I have never not reviewed a place that I liked partly because I don't feel like it's my kind of don't feel like it's my seat my secret I don't personally I don't feel like I've discovered any place all these place exist they serve the communities they serve I'm the stranger walking in I try to walk in with respect and I feel like when I write about a place I want to give enough of a sense of it that people would know whether they want to make the same journey there so I hope that when I write about these places I write about them in a way that the people who will go will also be respectful so I have it I guess because I just don't think it's happened that these places are overrun by thrill-seekers I don't I don't feel like that's happening but I do think a lot of these places struggle I have had some some restaurateurs have have cried on the phone when I'm I'm fact-checking because the thought of being in the New York Times is overwhelming to them as a reward for years of hard work and I I'm very moved by that because I don't know what it will bring them it might bring them nothing I just don't know I feel like it could also change you know I there was this guy I mean it was a Manhattan place but he had this closet of a of a falafel place literally maybe two feet wide that he was cooking at him and then I my review ran in the month later he has the hole next door run so that that's exciting to me I want all of them to benefit in some way Thanks my question is just whether any of you have felt the limitations of writing about food as a means to experience a culture because I mean certainly food is a big part of that experience but I think I mean there can also be this limitation of someone going to a restaurant and feeling then that they have had this cultural experience and that's kind of it or that this culture even though food is very important is primarily represented primarily through food when there are you know just infinite other ways expressions of culture and if you've ever felt that limitation in fiction or nonfiction I think perhaps due to my my lack of you know kind of service skill as a food writer I couldn't I couldn't write a a solid good restaurant review that would be you know top-class I think because of that I always from the beginning have been looking for that in my own food writing the historical story and the cultural story around the food so it's always been I've never looked at it as a limitation because I've always known that for me because of the particular things that I can be good at I can't just limit myself to that plate and I think honestly with any food writing it has to expand you know beyond just the food the food is going to be your starting point I think a lot of people who do go into a restaurant and think that they they've come out with a fuller understanding of that culture of whatever food they've been eating there um are often incorrect they've they've come to a beginning of an understanding of something new that they can then explore I think that's kind of what I try to bring to my nonfiction food writer I find that in general when writing about food that adds this limitation because it makes food into a metaphor that in no way am I actually ever writing about the food itself it's always through these other kind of veils and that is a limitation in the sense that actually eating the food right that experience of taking something into your body digesting it feeling it go through you feeling nourished by it that seems to transcend some boundaries for people when it comes to just in general maybe openness so rather than food being a vehicle for completely understanding a person's another culture it's a piece of a pie it's still an important piece of the pie because it does something so physical and so tangible that I feel like writing just can't quite approach and so you know in some ways to try and answer your question I feel like it definitely there are limitations but everything has limitations and everything has affordances and almost equal weight and so it is a kind of need to combine and balance a lot of different aspects in order to get a fuller understanding but to only have food or to only have food writing does feel limit it because it's only a slice I think that there is a danger that I find that a big Zotto sizing in food writing so that even though I think what I'm doing is I'm bringing these stories to the fore I feel like I mean this is what I see is the limit am I just am I just reiterating this narrative that here is an immigrant cooking the food of his or her culture and you know touching on some of the same issues we've been talking about tonight is is that the only story we want to hear do we only want to go to an immigrant restaurant if they're cooking their own food that we think is authentic to their country of origin and so I feel every time I write these stories I really have to think about how do I I talk about them and and I look back on my early food writing and I see all these mistakes I made I remember the first time I ate land snails at a Nigerian restaurant and I feel like I wrote about you know I noted that the people at my table were slightly nonplussed by the size of the snail and I even think something like that the truth is it we're in another culture this is something that's completely ordinary and so to write about it as if it's something exotic is wrong and that can be really hard to do when you're writing about food that people are unfamiliar with and don't know about and you want to make it sound special but you don't want to make it sound too special so I don't have that's a limit or just a problem of food writing and I don't know if that answers the question how do you guys feel about msg love it love it I think I can recuse myself from this one right it's not only a big Indian food thing is it my mother uses it I use Kewpie mayonnaise which has MSG in it that's my Mayo so I'd say yes I think we have time for one more question hi so my mom and dad when I was younger also very rarely cooked my I don't think either of them really enjoy cooking especially my mom and a lot of the exposure I had to any kind of their food growing up was either when they made food that they ate when they were younger and had very little money like you know fight pit skin and they wouldn't eat it and they would sing like oh this is kinda bad actually or when they would take me to actual restaurants and the people in those restaurants would make the food for us and they would tell me about how they had eaten that when they were younger so I I've been thinking a lot about how my own access to you know homeland food has been through the space of a restaurant and my and how even though my like if if we're getting technical my home food is like you know Costco pizzas but for some reason Chinese food still has like an element of a nostalgia separation to it so I'm wondering what you all think about you know restaurants and home spaces and their places in how we think about homeland and diaspora um this is a lot of what my book is about because I I'm my parents are from Mauritius so Mauritian food is quite different from Indian food in many ways so by looking at me you'd think that and and knowing that I wrote it wrote a food book you'd think that I learned about Indian food you know at my mother's side watching her this is not the case I learned about it through a succession of like terrible or good or really good restaurants um that's and then through books and to me that just it helped me to sort of it formed the the food thing actually formed the basis of why I was so skeptical of so much um South Asian writing that I would have felt pressured to respond to its in like these which my parents read they they would read the sort of what I call diasporic Book of the Month Club book and they'd respond to it even though it had nothing to do with with their own backgrounds which frustrated me so much when I was younger um because it wasn't it wasn't our story it wasn't my story and then when I you know became a super low level award-winning Canadian writer and realized that oh my god I I have to write one of these if I want a career that's that's literally that is door one two and three it became really troubling to me and homeland homeland and nostalgia for homeland had just never been one of the major parts of the way that I thought about myself or that I thought about my family or that I thought about my future and I think having these sort of you know unique not so unique childhoods where we have a very different relation ship to food than what we're expected to in a diasporic household is actually encouraging an interesting thing and that it's it's proof positive that these stories have to be different we have to tell different stories I think Costco Pizza and fried pigskin and an occasional interesting restaurant meal is is a more interesting is a more interesting story than having a mom was a great cook so like I had mentioned before my parents adapted to a Western kitchen when they made their food and so I actually grew up knowing that there were certain dishes that we should definitely order at restaurants because only a restaurant and their kind of kitchen that they had design would possibly be able to make you know pea shoots as tender as they could possibly be if you made it at home they would be you know really grisly so we could only go to restaurant if we wanted to order that dish so I think that you know using a restaurant as a way to access homeland as a way to access nostalgia feels to me in some ways like a response to growing up or you know living in a space that was not built for you that was not built for you in mind and the existence of those restaurants is proof that you can build and design your own space to work for you even inside of you know a space that is not for you so I think it's actually really you know a lovely memory for me and my parents to go to restaurants to get the food that really reminded them of home I'm just thinking of this saying he was a Chinese writer who said what is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child so it's interesting when you are when it's a confused story what you ate as a child when it's coming from so many different places but an interesting one as we've said here and I do think that for me the best kind of restaurant is the one that makes you nostalgic for a childhood you never had so it could be a restaurant from a completely different culture and you win that that Chef was your mom so yeah I think that this is the gift the restaurants then you can go to a place and really be be taken somewhere else and and how wonderful again that we live in New York where you can go to a restaurant that reverie single cuisine is represented and you can have all of these amazing experiences I think that's a really beautiful note to end on so even though the discussion is ended we'll be milling around and you can meet with the author as we have the Lilian's and events books for sale so please buy them read the guy's column as much as you can I guarantee you'll fall in love with it and thank you all so much for coming thank you the Asian American Writers Workshop and thank you to our panelists [Applause]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *