You are what you eat and not just in the context of food’s nutritional properties relative to your physical health. Food plays an important role in shaping cultural identity. Which is why we’re highlighting some of the best books about food by Asian authors who interlace their stories with identity and culture.
Wenying Xu, author of the book Eating Identities: Reading Food in Asian American Literature, suggests that “Food, as the most significant medium of the traffic between the inside and outside of our bodies, organizes, signifies, and legitimates our sense of self in distinction from others who practice different foodways.”
The relationship between food and Asian American identity is explicitly an ongoing narrative. So often exoticized in white America, Asian cuisine has fed into the stereotype of Asian Americans as perpetual foreigners and aliens.
The discourse is two-fold. On the one hand, Asian people are shamed for their cuisine for being “unsanitary,” as we’ve seen with The Breakfast Cure’s misappropriation of congee. But, on the other hand, romanticizing and fetishizating Asian food and culture without fully understanding its roots is also harmful.
As a part of the Asian North American diaspora, it’s worth highlighting the critical discourse between food and identity. From memoirs, non-fiction, fiction to cookbooks, this list features 14 best books about food by Asian authors in Asian North American literature.
EAT A PEACH: A MEMOIR BY DAVID CHANG
This memoir traces restaurateur David Chang’s coming-of-age journey in the culinary world.
As a household name among celebrity chefs, Chang digs deep and shares his personal story in Eat a Peach. Chang recalls his childhood growing up as a son of Korean immigrants, battling feelings of abandonment, isolation, and loneliness.
Not only does this memoir recall the humble beginnings of Chang’s Momofuku and restaurant empire, but it’s also an inspiring story about adversity, struggles, failures, and learned lessons.
CRYING IN H MART BY MICHELLE ZAUNER
As one of 2021’s best books about food by Asian authors, Michelle Zauner (also known as Japanese Breakfast) shares her evocative and poignant memoir in Crying in H Mart.
Not only is this book about food, but it’s also about family, grief, and endurance. Zauner shares her experiences growing up as a half Korean American. She details her relationship with her late mother and how her mother’s death led her to reconnect with her Korean heritage through food.
MANGO AND PEPPERCORNS: A MEMOIR OF FOOD, AN UNLIKELY FAMILY, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM BY KATHERINE MANNING, LYN NGUYEN, AND TUNG NGUYEN
For all the fans of culinary non-fiction, this inspiring memoir is a riveting read peppered with recipes.
This memoir is a retelling of a real-life American dream story from the acclaimed chefs behind the award-winning restaurant Hy Vong, a tiny, no-frills Vietnamese eatery in Miami. Mango and Peppercorns is about resilience, family, and how food represents a longstanding tradition of welcoming refugees and immigrants to the United States.
KHABAAR: AN IMMIGRANT JOURNEY OF FOOD, MEMORY, AND FAMILY BY MADHUSHREE GHOSH
Slated for release in April 2022, Khabaar explores the South Asian immigrant journey of food, memory, and family. This book focuses on chefs, home cooks, and food stall owners.
Author Madhushree Ghosh, a daughter of Indian (now Bangladesh) refugees, dives deep into her immigration story and questions what belonging means when food is carried over from the old country.
CHOP SUEY NATION: THE LEGION CAFE AND OTHER STORIES FROM CANADA’S CHINESE RESTAURANTS BY ANN HUI
Chop Suey Nation follows Chinese Canadian Globe and Mail journalist Ann Hui as she drives across Canada. From Victoria, British Columbia, to Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Hui meets and shares the stories about small-town Chinese restaurants and the families who run them.
This book weaves together Hui’s own family history with the stories of Chinese restaurants from coast to coast. Chop Suey Nation uncovers the importance of these outposts of chop suey cuisine to Canadian history.
HAVE YOU EATEN YET? STORIES FROM CHINESE RESTAURANTS AROUND THE WORLD BY CHEUK KWAN
Released earlier this year, this book unravels a complex history of cultural migration and world politics.
Author and documentarian Cheuk Kwan tells the personal stories of chefs and entrepreneurs of Chinese kitchens worldwide. Readers will meet bringers of dim sum to culinary hybrids. Have You Eaten Yet is a fascinating collection of stories about economic survival. Learn how Chinese immigrants have resisted complete assimilation and maintained strong senses of cultural identity through food.
TASTE MAKERS: SEVEN IMMIGRANT WOMEN WHO REVOLUTIONIZED FOOD IN AMERICA BY MAYUKH SEN
Taste Makers is a collection of biographies that honours seven inspiring immigrant women and explores food, immigration, and gender histories.
Written by Bengali American Mayukh Sen, this book travels in time from World War II to the present. Sen challenges readers to look beyond what’s on their plate and reflect on the labour of the women behind those meals.
INTIMATE EATING: RACIALIZED SPACES AND RADICAL FUTURES BY ANITA MANNUR
Miami University professor, Anita Mannur, draws on critical ethnic studies and queer studies to examine how food can create new forms of kinship, intimacy, and belonging.
This book explores the South Asian diaspora, focusing on how racialized South Asians become visible in various intimate eating settings.
Intimate Eating will be released in March 2022.
ARSENIC AND ADOBO BY MIA P. MANANSALA
This Reference and User Services Association award-winning novel is the first book of three in the “cozy mystery series,” A Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery.
Manasala uses humour, drama, and mystery to unravel aspects of the Filipino diaspora. This novel follows Filipina protagonist, Lila Macapagal, who is trying to save her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant. Arsenic and Adobo touches on Filipino culture and family dynamics.
The second book of the series Homicide and Halo-Halo was released earlier this month.
UNMARRIAGEABLE: A NOVEL BY SONIAH KAMAL
Set in modern-day Pakistan, this novel is about love, festivities, marriage, class, and sisterhood.
Unmarriageable follows Alys Binat, the Binat family’s second daughter, who has sworn never to marry – until she meets Mr. Darsee at a wedding, making her reconsider her self-sworn promise. Without giving away spoilers, readers will have their hearts warmed by a familiar dish weaved in throughout the novel.
MÃN BY KIM THÚY
Award-winning Vietnamese Canadian author Kim Thúy returns with Mãn, a poetic novel that reveals how love and food are intertwined.
Mãn, the story’s protagonist, discovers her natural talent as a chef after marrying her husband – a Vietnamese restaurateur. Mãn creates dishes that evoke memory and emotion. But everything changes when she finds herself treading in a love affair after meeting a married chef in Paris.
SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT BY SAMIN NOSRAT
This cookbook-turned-Netflix-series uses food science to bridge the gap between the home and professional kitchens.
New York Times columnist Samin Nosrat demystifies the four elements of good cooking: salt, fat, acid, and heat. This cookbook inspires a new generation of cooks with honest tips and easy-to-follow recipes, paired with beautiful illustrations and infographics.
MOONCAKES AND MILK BREAD: SWEET AND SAVORY RECIPES INSPIRED BY CHINESE BAKERIES BY KRISTINA CHO
This cookbook of sweet and savoury recipes will take you through a nostalgic journey. Turn your home kitchen into a Chinese bakery with Mooncakes and Milk Bread.
From baked and steamed buns, breads, and cookies food blogger Kristina Cho teaches readers a range of baking skills. Find out how to knead dough without a stand mixer, avoid collapsed steamed buns, and infuse creams and custards with aromatic tea flavours.
THE WOK: RECIPES AND TECHNIQUES BY J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT
The Wok is one of Time magazine’s 10 Most Anticipated Cookbooks of 2022. It is the ultimate guide to the science and technique of cooking in the most versatile pan in the kitchen: the wok.
Cookbook author and New York Times recipe columnist, J. Kenji López-Alt, is already a legend in the food world. López-Alt is known for his James Beard Award-winning debut book, The Food Lab, and his eponymous, popular YouTube channel.
This cookbook will teach you how to master the basics of the wok. From stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, simmering to braising.
With more than 200 delicious recipes, The Wok will be released in March 2022.
I hope this list of the best books about food by Asian authors is valuable for readers to expand their reading lists while deconstructing historical stereotypes about AAPI identities and food.
There are so many more incredible books about food and Asian American identity, so let us know if you have any recommendations!
Like David Chang said in Eat a Peach, “Deliciousness is a meme. Its appeal is universal, and it will spread without consideration of borders or prejudice.”
Featured photo: @alvapratt
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