Several weeks ago, I received a care package from home. Inside was a stack of books that are either too difficult to find or too expensive or yet to be released in Singapore. One of those books was A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Singaporean in New York City, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan.
A quick synopsis: “A serendipitously timed layoff from her job sends Tan to Singapore on and off for a [lunar] year, where her relatives generously welcome her, not only to satisfy her culinary quest but also to feed her heart and soul with lost and forgotten family stories. As Tan masters her favorite childhood dishes, she also realizes ‘that the point hadn’t truly ever been the food.’” (The above is an excerpt from Terry Hong’s review on the Smithsonian BookDragon Blog. Click for more.)
While Cheryl’s food memoir is similar to other books in the genre (namely Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen), it’s humorous, informative, and well-written.
For me, Cheryl’s painstaking explanations of Southeast Asian ingredients, hawker stand favorites, Singaporean Chinese culture, and local lore served as the perfect elixir for a recent bout of culture shock. As I told Cheryl on Twitter, “[your book] has made comprehensible many things I [have found] quite incomprehensible about Singapore.”
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In one memorable scene in A Tiger in the Kitchen, Cheryl attempts to make bagels, a New York City breakfast staple. I don’t miss many foods from home but I do sometimes crave a chewy, poppy seed bagel with a smear of cream cheese. What gives New York City bagels their chewiness is high-gluten flour. (What gives New York City bagels their flavor is the City’s tasty tap water.) If Cheryl found it difficult to find high-gluten flour in New York City, it’s probably impossible to find in Singapore. There goes my harebrained attempt at boiling and baking my own.
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