Love Through Food: Part 1 – Cultivating Culture & Identity Through Cooking

In part one of the series “Love Through Food,” here are six recipes celebrating AAPI communities and heritage.
Photo credit: Georg Regauer

“Love Through Food” series celebrates culture and heritage

Food is a universal language of love. It is a way for us to communicate and connect with one another. Whether cooking or enjoying delicious dishes together, food has a way of opening up hearts and dialogues.

Over the next two days, we are excited to share some of the scrumptious creations from “Love Through Food,” a Facebook Reels series, created by a community of Asian home cooks, creatives, and food enthusiasts. Participants include MasterChef contestants — Fred Chang and Joseph Manglicmot, along with 2021 finalist Suu Khin — as well as Kat Lieu, Subtle Asian Baking founder & Good Morning America ‘Changemaker.’

On this list, you will find a mixture of savoury and sweet recipes – from the national dish of Burma to a Japanese version of the traditional castella cake. They will take you on a journey through the creators’ hometowns and childhood memories. In Part 1 of the series, we asked each creator to share their story, and how food has played a role in shaping their identity.  

Mohinga — Myanmar

About the creator: 

Suu Khin is a chef and creator of Burmalicious, a food blog that specializes in demystifying Burmese cuisine. Born and raised in Myanmar, her cooking journey began at six in the kitchen of her late grandmother — her biggest culinary idol. Khin was the grand finalist on the Season 11 of MasterChef US, using the opportunity to bring awareness of Burmese cuisine to the world.

Tell us about your recipe:

Mohinga — the national dish of Myanmar — is an aromatic fish soup with rice noodles. The recipe of the soup, toppings, and accompaniments differ from region to region. But it all starts with making a broth by extracting the sweet essence of a fleshy fish – ideally catfish – with lots of fresh herbs, including lemongrass and ginger.

“While I was living in Burma, my mom and I would grab a bowl of mohinga along with a cup of sweet tea almost every day after an early market run at a wet bazaar,” said Khin. 

Mohinga is seldom made at home, because it is a tedious task that requires many hands and hours. Plus, it is conveniently found at every corner of the street as early as 5am.

“It is not just a delicious bowl of soup that we savored,” said the 32-year-old recipe developer. “We also enjoyed the sweet smiles of the vendors, who knew all their regulars by name and how they liked their soup to be prepared.”

Mohinga Love Through Food Suu Khin
Mohinga. Photo credit: Suu Khin
Tell us about your heritage/culture and the role food plays in shaping your identity:

“I make food to create conversations and connections, because I believe one’s cuisine is usually a doorway to its country, history and culture,” said Khin. “Food is also the best expression of identity as many traditions and stories are cooked into every recipe.”

Her grandmother taught her that food is much more than a meal, and cooking is the purest form of giving joy, spreading kindness, and expressing gratitude. 

“Growing up in a culture where ‘I love you’ and ‘I am sorry’ are rarely spoken, food is the perfect medium to deliver many sacred words and feelings,” she said.

Chicken Karahi — Pakistan

About the creator:

Laila Mirza is a third-year student at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She was born to Pakistani immigrant parents and raised in Rhode Island. She learned cooking from her mother and grandmother, who also inspired her to start her food blog, Laila’s Pantry, when she was 14 years old. Her dream is to create easy and accessible recipes that encourage everyone, regardless of their experience, to get comfortable in the kitchen.

Tell us about your recipe:

“Chicken Karahi is one of the first meals I turn to when I’m homesick and missing the wonderful food I grew up eating,” said Mirza. “It’s also representative of the love and care my mother put into the food she made us throughout my childhood.”

Chicken Karahi, which originates from the north and northwestern parts of South Asia, is a dry curry made from tomato and chicken. It doesn’t use onions like most Pakistani dishes, and instead emphasizes ginger, making it an extremely light and refreshing meal. It is an everyday dish in Pakistani cuisine, but in Mirza’s household, it was only reserved for special occasions.

Mothers play a massive role within many Asian cultures, says Mirza. This recipe is an homage to her mother who always made sure she fed food cooked with love and care.

chicken karahi love through food Laila Mirza
Chicken Karahi. Photo credit: Laila Mirza
Tell us about your heritage/culture and the role that food plays in shaping your identity?

“Pakistani culture, and South Asian culture in general, revolves around coming together and breaking bread together,” said Mirza. “Growing up, I was routinely exposed to huge dinners where tons of people from the Pakistani community would come over for dinner. That’s how we showed our love.”

She recalled that her mother kept an open-door policy at their house and always had food prepared for anyone who dropped by. 

“[My mother’s quality] is one of the reasons I love cooking and hosting so much,” said Mirza. 

Mee Sua Soup — Fujian, China

About the creator:

This noodle soup symbolizes longevity and originates from Fujian, China. It was also one of the first dishes Zoe Imansjah, a Subtle Asian Traits admin, learned how to make from her grandpa. As a college student always on the move, Imansjah swears by this soup since it can be made in under 15 minutes after a little practice.

Tell us about your recipe:

“Mee Sua is a dish that originates from Fujian, China, and is a basic noodle soup and comfort food my family enjoys often,” said Imansjah.

Traditionally, it is served during holidays and birthdays, since noodles are a symbol of longevity. But Imansjah’s family eats it regularly as a hearty breakfast dish. 

“I have been eating this dish for as long as I can remember, and this was one of the first dishes I ever learned how to cook,” she said, adding that she learned this recipe from her mother and grandpa.

Imansjah loves this dish because it can be done in 15 minutes, which is perfect for a busy family or a college student on the go. Since soup is prepared separately, it can also be used to boil leftover rice in for porridge for the next day, she adds.

mee sua soup love through foood zoe imansjah
Mee sua soup. Photo credit: Zoe Imansjah
Tell us about your heritage/culture and the role that food plays in shaping your identity

“Food is a love language and an adventure,” said Imansjah.Coming from an Indonesian, Chinese and American background, I always love to experiment and explore new types of cuisines and foods, and learn about people’s backgrounds.” 

Food is her way of keeping up with friends, because “it’s easy to say ‘let’s grab some boba’ and [turn] that into a hangout.” 

“[Cooking] is also an activity I enjoy doing with others,” said Imansjah. “The teamwork and camaraderie makes for a fun activity.”

Yuzu Castella Shortcake — Portugal and Japan

About the creator:

Born in Taiwan and raised in Southern California, Fred Chang learned to cook at age 15. Starting with vegan cupcakes, his repertoire expanded to traditional Japanese wagashi, French pastry, and more. As a previous contestant on MasterChef, Chang is best remembered as the one who made a cake so tasty, Gordon Ramsay licked the dessert clean off the plate and threw an apron at him. Aside from working for several Michelin-starred and James Beard Award-winning chefs, he develops recipes and creates dessert content on Instagram and his recipe blog, Freddy’s Harajuku

Tell us about your recipe:

Castella is a sponge cake that originated in Portugal but has since been adapted into Japanese cuisine. It is also quite popular in Taiwan. 

“I had fond memories as a child of my mom coming back from the local Taiwanese bakery with castella as an after-school snack, so this dessert is really in dedication to her,” Chang said. 

This dessert pays homage to Japanese-styled strawberry shortcake, using traditional and modern Japanese techniques to bring it all together.

“Strawberry shortcake has many different iterations [around] the world, and one of my favorites is the Japanese version, which pairs fluffy cake with whipped cream and strawberries,” he said. “In my case, I went with a castella for that fluffy cake just to tie back in with my own childhood.”

yuzu castella cake loove through food fred chang
Yuzu castella shortcake. Photo credit: Fred Chang
Tell us about your heritage/culture and the role that food plays in shaping your identity:

“Food is how I express myself,” said Chang. “Being a more outwardly introverted person, I tend to come off quiet and meek, but I found a voice for myself through the desserts I create.”

Food has also connected him with a community of like-minded individuals.

“I am fortunate enough to have made so many friends who are equally passionate about food and cooking through my time on reality competitions, working in restaurants and bakeries, and through social media,” said Chang. “Baking has really changed my life in a pretty drastic way and has given me a niche and identity that I felt I was missing for so long in my life.”

Pancit Palabok — Philippines

About the creator:

Joseph Manglicmot is a first generation Asian American from Houston, Texas. He displays pride for his Filipino heritage and hometown through his food. He feels blessed to have grown up in a cultural melting pot like Houston which, combined with his love for food, brought him all the way to MasterChef.

Tell us about your recipe:

Pancit is a general term in the Philippines referring to various traditional noodle dishes. Pancit palabok features seafood, pork, shrimp gravy, smoked fish flakes, chicharron, and eggs. It is representative of how Filipino cuisine has many variations of the same dish depending on region. 

“Pancit palabok was one of my mom’s specialties,” said Manglicmot. “At every family gathering, potluck and party, they always asked my mom to make her pancit palabok, and it was one of my absolute favorites.”

As he grew older, his mom made the dish less and less, so he started making it more frequently. Eventually, he was the one bringing the iconic dish to gatherings. 

“Is mine better than my mom’s?” said Manglicmot. “Probably not.”

pancit palabok love through food joseph manglicmot
Pancit palabok. Photo credit: Joseph Manglicmot
Tell us about your heritage/culture and the role that food plays in shaping your identity:

“When you share a meal with someone, you are sharing comfort, celebration, trust, and culture,” said Manglicmot. “We must eat to live, and eating together is sharing life.”

He believes that food is the key to togetherness, and that people feel closer to those who eat the same food as them. 

“It’s [also] nice to read, share, and discuss Asian American culture with others who have had the same experiences and challenges,” said Manglicmot. 

Malai prosecco cooler — India

About the creator:

Natasha Mahapatro is a communications strategist and gastro-tourist based in San Diego. Aside from narrating stories for Fortune 500 companies, governments, non-profits, and trade associations all over the globe, she loves sharing her personal food journeys on her blog. The Tash Mashup features cross-cultural culinary mashups inspired by Indian comfort food. 

After learning about the politics of food and the exoticization of BIPOC spices, dishes, and food writers, she realized her responsibility to introduce, educate, and preserve her identity and culture through storytelling. Her blog is a product of her love of food and experiences growing up as a third-culture woman of color.

Tell us about your recipe:

Malai kulfi is an eggless ice cream treat that is found in many Indian homes. The black pepper in this dish adds an interesting and earthy flavor profile to balance out the sweetness of the malai kulfi.

malai prosecco cooler love throuogh food natasha mahapatro
Malai prosecco cooler. Photo credit: Natasha Mahapatro
Tell us about your heritage/culture and the role that food plays in shaping your identity:

For Mahapatro, “food is a love language.” When speaking with her family, the conversations would always include someone asking, “Did you eat? What did you eat?”  During the early months of the pandemic, she and her sister would schedule WhatsApp video calls with their grandparents, Oja and Aai, on Sunday evenings. Mahapatro would then share her latest mashup recipe while they patiently listened and beamed with pride. 

“It brings me immense joy to bring people together through food with my recipes on my blog,” said Mahapatro. 

“The American dining table is changing and I often think about how to best honor the legacy of my ancestors,” Mahapatro said. “For me, it’s about taking up space in the food blogging industry by making loud and proud cross-cultural food inspired by those who raised me.”

Not only does each recipe represent a personal story of family, love and friendship, it is also reflective of each creator’s journey to embracing their cultures and identities. We hope that you will feel the love as you recreate these culinary favorites for yourself or share them with your loved ones.

And stay tuned for part two of “Love Through Food” featuring more chefs, more recipes, and more stories about community.

ABOUT SUBTLE ASIAN GROUPS: Founded as a safe space for shared experiences among Asians growing up in Western culture, the Subtle Asian Traits Facebook group has spawned a global movement uniting over 2 million members and counting since its inception in 2018. The movement has gone on to inspire an ecosystem of “Subtle Asian” online communities, including Subtle Curry Traits, Subtle Asian Baking and Subtle Asian Cooking.

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