A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan was born in the year of the Tiger --- not a particularly auspicious beginning for a baby girl in traditional Singapore. Tigers are passionate, determined and headstrong. Rather than following the traditional route and learning to cook as most girls do, Tan was all about education and ambition. Encouraged by her father, she followed her heart and chose a path that took her from the small island where she was born to the vast shores of America where she settled on the East Coast.
Years passed, and her desire for the addictive dishes of her homeland overwhelmed her. The images and memories of culinary delights, lovingly prepared by the sisters of her mother and father, such as Teochew Braised Duck, Popiah, Bak-Zhang, Pandan-Skin Mooncakes and Pineapple Tarts wafted across the miles and lured her back to the kitchens of her native land.
After a life-changing event, Tan found herself with time on her hands and so began the year-long commute from New York City to Singapore. As a tentative cook, the intricacies of Singaporean cooking seemed overwhelming at first. As the year passed, however, Tan found herself becoming increasingly comfortable preparing dishes that nourished her body and her soul. Armed with an ink pen and notebook, she recorded not only the steps to recreate the recipes she so strongly desired, but also many of the memories, stories and family history that accompanied her cooking lessons with the women she loved and admired. A TIGER IN THE KITCHEN was born.
Here, Tan shares with us the journey that reconnected her with her Singaporean roots in a new and different way than ever before. The love and acceptance she finds in these kitchens are a far cry from the competitive business world of New York City, and she blossoms and grows during her numerous trips back home. She also elaborates not only on her adventures in native cooking, but on her love of baking bread as well. Tales of successes and failures with bagels, light wheat bread, ciabatta and focaccia shed additional light on the development of Tan's skills in the kitchen.
A TIGER IN THE KITCHEN is a mouth-watering true tale of one woman's reconnection with her roots and the cuisine of her formative years. Weighed down with the stress of a career in one of the most competitive cities in the world, Tan embraces the unexpected 12-month sabbatical that takes her home again and allows her to view her family members and herself in a new light. While the book focuses on something humans have been doing since the beginning of their existence --- gathering, preparing and eating food --- Tan connects it to our hearts, emotions and general well-being in a special way. As you read it, you'll find yourself considering the food of your younger days, no matter what your heritage, and remembering with love those who prepared it for you.
Reviewed by Amie Taylor on March 28, 2011