“A Tiger in the Kitchen” is a food memoir by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a Singaporean who has lived in the U.S. for 16 years, and her journey to learn how to cook, wonderfully detailing all the mouth-watering local favorites.
Much to my delight, the book kick-started off with my all-time favorite Chinese New Year treat – pineapple tarts.
“Each year (during Chinese New Year), I looked forward to the bite-size pineapple tarts that are the hallmark of the festivities,” Cheryl Tan wrote. “I considered myself a connoisseur of the treats, which comprise a buttery shortbread base topped with a dense, sweet pineapple jam.”
The pineapple tarts reminded the author of her late grandma who would bake these treats yearly during Chinese New Year, which typically involves great feasting and paying visits to family and friends in Singapore.
“After almost sixteen years in the United States, I realized I had, indeed, become ang moh (a Chinese term that means “red hair,” implying Westernized),” Cheryl Tan wrote. “I did not know, after all, how to make these dishes, the food of my people.”
In that process of learning these recipes that are typically passed down generations through the word of mouth, she fostered closer ties with her relatives back in Singapore and reconnected with her Chinese roots.
Back in October 2011, I got to meet Cheryl Tan during the Singapore Writers Festival during a discussion session. (Click to read my blog post about it)
I remembered her constantly reminding audiences to learn and keep a record of such intangible family heirloom.
This reminds me of my mum who has this big white book she uses for recording down all the recipes she has collected and learned for the past twenty-odd years. You could see how proud she is of her book.
Just like Cheryl Tan’s aunties who are revered for their cooking skills in her book, my mum is a great cook. Great is probably an understatement for my mum she can whip up all sorts of Singaporean cuisine, many often not ‘special’ enough to be found in Southeast Asian restaurants elsewhere.
Every Chinese New Year, she would be the tigeress in our kitchen, whipping up a storm with the clattering and banging of pots and pans to make bottles and bottles of handmade goodies.
So while reading this book, her descriptions sound all too familiar. Like in her household, this year, we also have a whole tribe rolling and making the delectable pineapple tarts – quite heart-warming I must say.To get an actual feel of what Chinese New Year might be, “A Tiger in the Kitchen” is my top recommendation. It is an incredibly colorful cultural piece of work; a great read if you are looking for a peek into typical Southeast Asian Chinese homes.