Earlier this year, three cookbooks with ties to Chinese cuisine received high honors from the James Beard Foundation: The Wok by J. Kenji López-Alt (Norton), The Vegan Chinese Kitchen by Hannah Che (Clarkson Potter), and Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul, with illustrations by Joanna Hu and photos by Armelle Habib (Interlink).
Following the success of Chinese-ish, which PW’s review called “a colorful and proudly inauthentic survey of Asian recipes,” Interlink will publish the Bao Family Cookbook by Céline Chung (Sept.). Like Kaul and Hu, “Céline uses food to explore her heritage and her background,” says Leyla Moushabeck, cookbook editor at Interlink. “But Chinese cuisines are not a monolith, and she looks at the unique approaches to food, flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques in eight culinary regions of China. The cuisine is everywhere, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody understands its context.”
Bao Family Cookbook is one of several forthcoming titles by diaspora authors that seek to expand understandings of Chinese, as well as Taiwanese, food.
Taste of home
The Chinese diaspora is vast—there are more than 10.7 million Chinese people living abroad today, according to the International Organization for Migration, or about 60 million, if descendants are included.
Céline Chung, for one, grew up in France, and Bao Family Cookbook bridges the author’s two cultures, Moushabeck says. “Her presentation is stylish and Parisian, but her recipes”—such as salt and pepper chicken, scallion pancakes, and har gao—“are of her mother’s home cooking.”
Simply Chinese Feasts by BBC presenter Suzy Lee (Hardie Grant, Jan. 2024) showcases the traditions associated with the Cantonese dishes Lee prepares in her Northern Ireland home. For example, garlicky scallops and yin-yang fried rice, made with chicken and prawns, are typically served at weddings and other large banquets; seafood symbolizes prosperity and good fortune.
British Chinese content creator Verna Gao, who has more than 450,000 TikTok followers, connects her favorite dishes, such as congee and cumin lamb steamed buns, with mood and sentiment. “We use the word feeling” to talk about food, Gao explains. “Your friend asks you, ‘Are you feeling pizza?’ and you say, ‘I’m not feeling it.’ ” Each chapter in her forthcoming Have You Eaten? (DK, Oct.) is rooted in memoir. “Simplicity & Peace” contains recipes from early childhood, before her parents divorced and she moved from Shanghai to London; “Food for Reminiscing” was inspired by lockdown cooking, when Gao re-created meals from her prepandemic travels. “I’m not a purist,” she says. “I don’t tie myself to authenticity in recipes. My mom laughs and says, ‘You cook for non-Chinese people.’ ”
Yang Liu and Katharina Pinczolits started their Little Rice Noodle food blog in part to document Liu’s experience of immigrating to Austria from Hainan, her hankering for the tastes of home, and their shared passion for vegan cooking. Sixty of the couple’s recipes, including vegan char siu sauce, mapo tofu, and Peking “duck,” are found in Vegan Chinese Food (Hardie Grant, Jan. 2024). In Kung Food (Clarkson Potter, Oct.), Jon Kung, an Angeleno by birth who spent his formative years in Hong Kong and Toronto and now lives in Detroit, gathers 100 dishes influenced by his multinational identity, like chipotle mango sweet-and-sour pork, buffalo chicken rangoon, and dan dan lasagna.
A Very Chinese Cookbook (America’s Test Kitchen, Oct.) is subtitled 100 Recipes from China and Not China (But Still Really Chinese) because it includes recipes for Cantonese har gow and Shanghainese xiao long bao but also Mongolian beef, says author Kevin Pang, who hosts the America’s Test Kitchen series Hunger Pangs with Jeffrey Pang, his father and coauthor. “We have two primary audiences: those who might have ordered takeout, eaten at Panda Express, or gone to Costco to buy frozen egg rolls; they’re interested in Chinese food, but they’re intimidated by the prospect of cooking it. It’s also a book for my Chinese brethren—people who are Chinese Americans.”
Recipes skew toward the traditions of Hong Kong, where the Pangs hail from. “Every cookbook author hopes to help people widen their spectrum of what their food is,” Pang says. “Some people say, ‘I don’t like Chinese food,’ maybe because they don’t like the two or three dishes they associate with Chinese gastronomy. If readers find a new go-to dish in our book, then that’s awesome.”
A storied cuisine
Narrative works appeal to readers’ taste buds, emotions, and curiosity about Chinese gastronomy. Newbery and Caldecott Honoree Grace Lin shares the stories behind many popular American Chinese foods in Chinese Menu (Little, Brown, Sept., ages 8–12). “Each selection, often prefaced with a personal anecdote and historical or folkloric context, whisks readers back in time,” according to PW’s starred review. (See q&a with Lin, “Order Up.")
In Invitation to a Banquet (Norton, Nov.), Fuchsia Dunlop, a James Beard Award–winning author and the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, walks readers through two millennia of China’s culinary history via 30 well-known dishes. “Chinese cuisine is so popular, but it doesn’t receive the acknowledgment it deserves—it’s rich, ancient, technically complex, sophisticated,” Dunlop says. “I examine how it’s understood and misunderstood, especially outside China.”
By way of example, she notes that Chinese meats and vegetables are often cut into small pieces for ease of eating with chopsticks. “Historically, Westerners were unnerved by this; they didn’t know what they were getting and often assumed the worst—that they were being served cheap or ‘weird’ ingredients, an assumption that was rooted in long-held prejudices,” she says. She believes that it continues to be important for Westerners to understand China, especially in a time of heightened geopolitical tension and a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in the wake of the pandemic. “Food is a really great way into a culture and its way of thinking,” she notes. “Chinese food is not only the food of China but also of the diaspora. Understanding it can make us more appreciative, thoughtful, and committed.”
Food for thought
Taiwanese food is often grouped under the Chinese food umbrella but has a unique culinary identity, says Clarissa Wei, a journalist in Taipei and the author of Made in Taiwan (Simon Element, Sept.). “I’ve been guilty of this,” says Wei, a Taiwanese American born in Los Angeles. “I wasn’t able to explain why Taiwanese food was its own category before I embarked on writing this book.”
Made in Taiwan includes 100 recipes—wood ear mushroom salad; pan-fried milkfish belly—that Wei assembled through historical research, reportage, and her experience living on the island. She visited private and restaurant kitchens and adapted the recipes she gathered for a Western readership; frequently, she had to explain her project to home cooks. “They didn’t get why I was interested in their old family recipe,” she says. “But those sources are now excited to have their recipes in written form so that they can be re-created.”
Presenting the perspective of people who live in a proud nation—one whose sovereignty isn’t recognized by China—was crucial for Wei. “Taiwan is at the center of U.S.-China tensions,” she says. “In the States, people can’t distinguish Taiwanese people from Chinese people, and my Taiwanese friends face a lot of discrimination. This book sits at the intersection of all of those things.” Her aim in sharing Taiwanese food and culture is similar to that of other authors PW spoke with for this piece: “I want people to understand where we’re coming from.”
Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor in New Jersey.
Read more from our Cookbooks feature:
Order Up: PW Talks with Grace Lin
In 'Chinese Menu' (Little, Brown, Sept., ages 8–12), Newbery and Caldecott Honoree Grace Lin details the origins of the most familiar dishes in American Chinese restaurants.
4 New Books for Pantry Cooking
These titles help home cooks make the most of chili crisp, ghee, kimchi, tahini, and many other popular ingredients.
3 New Cookbooks with West African Roots
Authors reveal the nuances of West African cuisines on the mother continent and across the diaspora.
4 New Native American Cookbooks
Home cooks will learn how to connect with the land, find native ingredients, and prepare Indigenous dishes.