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"Starting with charred fried rice and ending with flaky pineapple tarts, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan takes us along on a personal journey that most can only fantasize about--an exploration of family history and culture through a mastery of home-cooked dishes. Tan's delectable education through the landscape of Singaporean cuisine teaches us that food is the tie that binds." "Starting with charred fried rice and ending with flaky pineapple tarts, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan takes us along on a personal journey that most can only fantasize about--an exploration of family history and culture through a mastery of home-cooked dishes. Tan's delectable education through the landscape of Singaporean cuisine teaches us that food is the tie that binds." --Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles After growing up in the most food-obsessed city in the world, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan left home and family at eighteen for America--proof of the rebelliousness of daughters born in the Year of the Tiger. But as a thirtysomething fashion writer in New York, she felt the Singaporean dishes that defined her childhood beginning to call her back. Was it too late to learn the secrets of her grandmothers' and aunties' kitchens, as well as the tumultuous family history that had kept them hidden before In her quest to recreate the dishes of her native Singapore by cooking with her family, Tan learned not only cherished recipes but long-buried stories of past generations. A Tiger in the Kitchen, which includes ten authentic recipes for Singaporean classics such as pineapple tarts and Teochew braised duck, is the charming, beautifully written story of a Chinese-Singaporean ex-pat who learns to infuse her New York lifestyle with the rich lessons of the Singaporean kitchen, ultimately reconnecting with her family and herself.


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"Starting with charred fried rice and ending with flaky pineapple tarts, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan takes us along on a personal journey that most can only fantasize about--an exploration of family history and culture through a mastery of home-cooked dishes. Tan's delectable education through the landscape of Singaporean cuisine teaches us that food is the tie that binds." "Starting with charred fried rice and ending with flaky pineapple tarts, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan takes us along on a personal journey that most can only fantasize about--an exploration of family history and culture through a mastery of home-cooked dishes. Tan's delectable education through the landscape of Singaporean cuisine teaches us that food is the tie that binds." --Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles After growing up in the most food-obsessed city in the world, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan left home and family at eighteen for America--proof of the rebelliousness of daughters born in the Year of the Tiger. But as a thirtysomething fashion writer in New York, she felt the Singaporean dishes that defined her childhood beginning to call her back. Was it too late to learn the secrets of her grandmothers' and aunties' kitchens, as well as the tumultuous family history that had kept them hidden before In her quest to recreate the dishes of her native Singapore by cooking with her family, Tan learned not only cherished recipes but long-buried stories of past generations. A Tiger in the Kitchen, which includes ten authentic recipes for Singaporean classics such as pineapple tarts and Teochew braised duck, is the charming, beautifully written story of a Chinese-Singaporean ex-pat who learns to infuse her New York lifestyle with the rich lessons of the Singaporean kitchen, ultimately reconnecting with her family and herself.

30 review for A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family

  1. 4 out of 5

    Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)

    I love to cook, and I love Asian food. I was also born in a Year of the Tiger, so this sounded like it would be just my drop. However, I guess my age is showing because I found myself being more annoyed by the author than anything else. She not only name-drops, she status-drops. Constantly. Not only does she make sure we know that her cooking friends are top chefs in the most expensive restaurants of whatever country they happen to live in; all the restaurants she describes herself visiting are I love to cook, and I love Asian food. I was also born in a Year of the Tiger, so this sounded like it would be just my drop. However, I guess my age is showing because I found myself being more annoyed by the author than anything else. She not only name-drops, she status-drops. Constantly. Not only does she make sure we know that her cooking friends are top chefs in the most expensive restaurants of whatever country they happen to live in; all the restaurants she describes herself visiting are (in her words) "toney", hard to even get a reservation in (but she manages, because yeah! she and the chef are best buds), and even places "her grandmother wouldn't dream of visiting." She can't just mention that her aunt runs a girls' school. No, no no! Her aunt runs "the most prestigious girls' academy in Singapore." We need to know how important it is. We are also given the name of the author's favourite perfume, which is of course designer and expensive, as well as the shoes she buys knowing her husband will disapprove. This status-hunger slops over into her cooking. She can't take a few cooking classes in NYC, where she lives and works. I'm quite sure there are short-term classes in Asian cooking of all types there, as well as Cordon Bleu training schools. No, no! She jets back and forth between NY and Singapore for a year. I can understand that what she really wanted was to reconnect with her family, and food is often the best way to do that. But then we are told that she has spent very little time with her mother-in-law who lives in Hawaii, because it's "something of a trek from New York City"--and Singapore is so much closer to New York, don't you know! Even when she cooks at home, she ignores the resources at her disposal in her own city, and takes an "international cooking challenge." I hope Peter Reinhart paid for the plugs of his book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, and this "challenge" thing--unless he too is one of her extra-special celebrity friends? Tan and the younger women in her family seem to suffer from a modern disorder I have observed in women forty and younger. They boast about their inability to cook. Since when is the lack of a life-skill a point of pride? I guess what we're being told is that they make enough money that they can eat most of their meals out, or pay to have someone else prepare them--or like one of my acquaintances, have a boyfriend/husband/SO who does it for them. Her horror and disgust at discovering that meat looks like the animal it used to be made me wonder why she wasn't a vegetarian. At least Tan wakes up somewhere along the line to the fact that preparing good food doesn't have to be hard, though it is time-consuming sometimes, at least until you learn the shortcuts, many of which are available online. I guess I'm old-fashioned. When I became interested in Asian food (Indian, Japanese, Korean, whatever), I just websearched for some of the multitudinous websites that offer free advice, tutorials, videos and recipes, and worked it out. I visited a couple of restaurants, watched a few cooking documentaries, bought the occasional cookbook, and experimented. I didn't need a social-media "challenge" to motivate me--just as I don't need to be "challenged" to read. I just want to say here, it drives me crazy when I get an email from GR telling me I finished a book! I know that--I was there. I paid attention. I even wrote a review! As an insomniac, I may read over 200 books in a good year, but believe me I know it and don't need to be told. Strangely, by the end of a year of constantly shuttling between Singapore and NYC, Tan says she "isn't sure she'll ever be back." I looked her bio up online, and nowhere do I see her age mentioned, but surely she has at least a couple of decades left! Or did she put herself so deeply in debt to the airlines that she can never do it again? The main recipes Tan mentions in the text are included at the end of the book, but I won't be preparing any, principally because she assumes, like a good little New Yorker, that everyone has access to the more obscure ingredients such as fresh pandan leaves. She doesn'tcite online sources for ingredients, and even the celebrity chefs do that these days.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sharlene

    "A bowl of porridge a hallmark of traditional Teochew cuisine appeared. The water was just slightly milky, the grains of rice soft, yet still separate and not so soft that they were mushed together, as they often can be in lesser versions. The porridge was simple and clean a lovely canvas for the subtle dishes that would follow. A giant steamed fish came prepared with silvers of ginger and swimming in a slightly sweet broth with tinges of the tomatoes and sour plums that had been steeped in "A bowl of porridge – a hallmark of traditional Teochew cuisine – appeared. The water was just slightly milky, the grains of rice soft, yet still separate and not so soft that they were mushed together, as they often can be in lesser versions. The porridge was simple and clean – a lovely canvas for the subtle dishes that would follow. A giant steamed fish came prepared with silvers of ginger and swimming in a slightly sweet broth with tinges of the tomatoes and sour plums that had been steeped in it. A crunchy beggar’s purse erupted in an avalanche of diced chicken when sliced open. Perfectly fried prawn balls were crunchy outside and hot and juicy inside. Goose legs and wings were braised in sweet soy sauce to such softness that the meat was like cotton puffs on our tongues." Being part Teochew myself, I salivated over the many Teochew and Singaporean dishes that Tan, who lives and works in the US, consumes and learns to make from her family in Singapore. I longed for more, much more. I got some, with my fill with her tales of making pineapple tarts, rice dumplings, duck soup. But to be honest, in the end I was a little disappointed. With a myriad of food-related memoirs out there, it’s a tough market. This book’s hook – Singapore food. A rojak of Singapore food. There’s Chinese New Year pineapple tarts, duck soup, a Malay dish, and plenty of bread baking. Reading A Tiger in the Kitchen made me think of home, it made me think of my late grandmother, whom I would find sitting in the kitchen when we visited for Sunday dinners. ‘Mama’ I would greet her and nose around the dining table to check out what we were having for dinner (of course the kids ate at the plastic table on the front porch, not with the adults at the rosewood table). I would request for her kong bah (stewed pork belly with steamed buns) and prawn fritters for my birthdays. But what I miss most are her rice dumplings, orh nee and braised duck, the recipes of which have been lost forever. Reading this book made me think of the wonderful times spent with my mum in kitchen, helping her chop and wash and cook, helping her whack out the snowskin mooncakes from their wooden moulds. It’s been so long since I’ve had her mooncakes, her simple yet delicious quiche, her sayur lodeh (a vegetable curry). I can’t wait till August when she and my dad come to visit! Hopefully she won’t mind doing some cooking when she’s here! So in that respect, all good. A book that brings up such fond memories, that stirs up the appetite – what could be better? But there was this sense of disconnect in A Tiger in the Kitchen. Tan’s from Singapore, but lives in the US. First a fashion writer, then a food writer. She starts out quite clueless but thanks to help from her family in Singapore, and her friends and ‘uncles’ in the US, she begins to learn to cook and bake. The book isn’t just about Singapore food, as Tan is fond of baking and breadmaking. And sometimes it’s a bit too back and forth. In Singapore, in the US, cooking Singapore food, baking bread. I mean I understand it’s not all about making mee siam and nasi padang, life in Singapore is very ‘rojak’, but it left me feeling like tighter editing might have come in handy. This book is also a story about her family. However I felt that while bits of her family are revealed, there is much more left unsaid. I can understand, Singapore is a small country, somehow it always seems like there are less than six degrees connecting each other, and I wouldn’t really want people to read about my life! So I kept having this impression that I was always just skimming the fat off the surface of the soup (yeah those food metaphors were just prepped and ready to be used). I wanted to plunge my spoon in deeper, to dig to the bottom of the soup bowl for all the good stuff, to learn more about her family, her passion for food. I know photos can be a little overdone when it comes to memoirs/food-related books, but just to have a hint of the food in the recipes would be better, especially for those who are unfamiliar with Singapore food. And then there’s the cover. I really hate this whole ‘oriental’ rubbish. This is a book about food, so why the red cheongsam? It’s as if they searched ‘Asia’ or ‘Oriental’ and used the first image they found. Then added the chopsticks to signal that this book is not just ‘Oriental’, it is food-related. So why not a picture of food? A Tiger in the Kitchen may have its flaws (which book doesn’t) but it did something that few books have. It made me long for home, for my family, for my food.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    In theory, I should be the biggest fan of this book. It hits all the topics that I enjoy: food, immigrant life, reconnecting to family history. When Cheryl Lu-lien Tang wrote about being an overachieving student in Singapore who then had to move to the US to study and missing certain foods, it reminded me of my own experience since I had to go through a similar situation. That being said, I don't think this book was ready for prime time. As other reviewers have noted, the chapters are somewhat In theory, I should be the biggest fan of this book. It hits all the topics that I enjoy: food, immigrant life, reconnecting to family history. When Cheryl Lu-lien Tang wrote about being an overachieving student in Singapore who then had to move to the US to study and missing certain foods, it reminded me of my own experience since I had to go through a similar situation. That being said, I don't think this book was ready for prime time. As other reviewers have noted, the chapters are somewhat disorganized and disjointed. Ms. Tan introduces her plan to return to Singapore to learn her paternal grandmother's recipes. Which she does. But along the way, she talks about her bread-baking blog collaborative project... which I suppose makes sense as she's trying to tell us how good she is in the kitchen, but I felt that it muddled the central focus of the book. It's also curious how Ms. Tan wants to learn how to cook the authentic dishes passed down through her family, but there were several instances where she admitted that she didn't want to touch the food, namely the pork belly and duck. It felt like she only wanted the cute, sanitized experience but when she has to deal with the yucky parts, she would rather pass. It didn't convince me that the author really wanted to cook; she only wanted to eat good food. (Originally posted on LT, 9-Sep 2011)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I liked this book, but did not love it. My review echoes others here- where, oh, where was her editor? This book needed a GOOD editor so badly. There is so much that is good in this book,her sense of humor, candid comments, her interest in cooking, and in her case this involves reconnecting with her Singaporean family and learning more about her own ancestry along with cooking some really challenging dishes. Tan's exploration of food and family bring her to some realizations about why she I liked this book, but did not love it. My review echoes others here- where, oh, where was her editor? This book needed a GOOD editor so badly. There is so much that is good in this book,her sense of humor, candid comments, her interest in cooking, and in her case this involves reconnecting with her Singaporean family and learning more about her own ancestry along with cooking some really challenging dishes. Tan's exploration of food and family bring her to some realizations about why she embarked on this adventure and this part of the book is interesting and full of warmth. However, so many questions arise (her parents are divorced? why? when? how does she afford all this international travel after being laid off? what does her sister think of this quest? how involved is she? did the divorce make her want to learn more about her ancestors? what does the bread baking in America really have to do with learning about cooking her native Singaporean dishes? ) that is begins to distract from what is really a wonderful story. Along with many other readers here I lament the absence of an editor for this book- it could have been great.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cindy

    I have almost nothing in common with the Singapore writer of this book. I married young, started my family early, and both my husband and I have Southern roots. But like her, food is a big part of my family tradition. Reading her journey to discovery her culinary heritage reminded me of the big family traditions we had back in Texas and the meals I enjoyed at my grandparents homes. It also made me a little hungry, but not super hungry, because I'm not quite sure I wanted to sample all these I have almost nothing in common with the Singapore writer of this book. I married young, started my family early, and both my husband and I have Southern roots. But like her, food is a big part of my family tradition. Reading her journey to discovery her culinary heritage reminded me of the big family traditions we had back in Texas and the meals I enjoyed at my grandparents homes. It also made me a little hungry, but not super hungry, because I'm not quite sure I wanted to sample all these recipes! But it was a great, funny, enlightening read. What dedication her family had! What love put into food! Thanks to the LT Early Reviewers program for the chance to read this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I came across this randomly while browsing the food literature section of the library and was intrigued by the prospect of a memoir of Singaporean food and family. What I liked about this book: it is about food. And I could connect with the context - educated and Westernised female who took her grandmother's cooking for granted as a child and never took an interest in food preparation wishes, as an adult, to be able to create and taste those familiar recipes again. What I disliked: the writing. I came across this randomly while browsing the food literature section of the library and was intrigued by the prospect of a memoir of Singaporean food and family. What I liked about this book: it is about food. And I could connect with the context - educated and Westernised female who took her grandmother's cooking for granted as a child and never took an interest in food preparation wishes, as an adult, to be able to create and taste those familiar recipes again. What I disliked: the writing. I've read plenty of food related literature by different writers. Bourdain, Ruhlman, Reichl, Gabrielle Hamilton, Fuchsia Dunlop - they all have very different styles. Some are lyrical, some have more muscular, punchier styles of writing. Different, but all excellent. Tan's writing reminded me of a top Singaporean student writing an essay during the Cambridge O level examinations. Content is all there, grammar is impeccable, but stilted and lacking in flair. Like "The piece de resistance, however, was a dish of hello dollies I very enthusiastically attempted after spying the recipe on a bag of chocolate chips at the grocery store." I can't quite put my finger on it but reading this sentence (and many others) just made me squirm. Maybe because it reminded me of my own awkwardly composed exam scripts as a teenager. If you're familiar with the Singaporean dining scene, you'd either be impressed or put off by Tan's casual mentions of the F&B heavyweights she's bffs with - dining at Per Se with KF Seetoh, the "founder of Makansutra, a Zagat-style guide to restaurants in Singapore, a fact that our waiter had duly noted and conveyed to the chef"! Cooking with Willin Low! Drinking "expensive gin" with Gunther, the "head chef of one of Singapore's most expensive French restaurants"! Having Teochew porridge with "well-regarded Singaporean chef" Ignatius Chan. Oh and one last final gripe: what is WITH the red Chinese cheongsam on the front cover? When I went to college, I used to snigger when (non-Chinese) students would wear the gold embroidered red cheongsams they had picked up from Chinatown to formals, thinking it exotic and sexy. Back home, only waitresses in Chinese restaurants (and even then, only the very old school Chinese restaurants) would wear cheongsams like that. With an image like that on the front cover, I'm not quite sure what the target audience of this book is.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    This is an inspiring, funny, and hunger-inducing memoir about a young woman who goes back to her Singaporean roots and begs her Aunties to teach her to cook. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a feisty, intelligent, and rebellious Chinese girl, grew up with more freedom and independence then most young Chinese women. She left Singapore for college in the US at age 18 and was quickly westernized in her views and beliefs. At 30 years old she finds herself jobless in New York, increasingly out of touch with her This is an inspiring, funny, and hunger-inducing memoir about a young woman who goes back to her Singaporean roots and begs her Aunties to teach her to cook. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a feisty, intelligent, and rebellious Chinese girl, grew up with more freedom and independence then most young Chinese women. She left Singapore for college in the US at age 18 and was quickly westernized in her views and beliefs. At 30 years old she finds herself jobless in New York, increasingly out of touch with her Chinese family, and wishing she knew how to cook, a skill she scorned as a child despite growing up with a host of Aunties who were especially skilled. She begins making trips home to learn the dishes of her childhood and, naturally, learns a whole lot more in the process. Lovely book! To start with the food descriptions are fantastic. I can just smell the thick pineapple jam simmering and the braised duck sizzling in the wok. The writing is clean and fresh, not an imitation of one the many popular food writers, but uniquely her own. Her various family members are portrayed with love and humor. Cheryl talks about the highs and lows of learning how to create delicious food with such honesty and clarity that I kept finding myself nodding along. I remember so well what it feels like to slave all weekend over a project that ultimately fails or to whip up a miracle that people can't stop eating. A Tiger in the Kitchen is a charming book that anyone who takes pleasure in cooking will appreciate.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Tan's humorous and hunger-evoking memoir chronicled the year she left her Brooklyn apartment for her family back in Singapore. Tan moved to the US for university at 18 and while she'd been back for visits over the years, she'd never spend any time in the kitchen with her grandmothers, aunts, or mother. Once she's back in Singapore, she learns about her late-paternal grandmother's hard life and her maternal grandmother's sad marriage. Even Tan's own father led a complicated life, but after 270 Tan's humorous and hunger-evoking memoir chronicled the year she left her Brooklyn apartment for her family back in Singapore. Tan moved to the US for university at 18 and while she'd been back for visits over the years, she'd never spend any time in the kitchen with her grandmothers, aunts, or mother. Once she's back in Singapore, she learns about her late-paternal grandmother's hard life and her maternal grandmother's sad marriage. Even Tan's own father led a complicated life, but after 270 pages, I found him endearing and charming and one of my favorite characters in the book. Another favorite character is Tan's husband, Mike. She at first describes him as an American guy who hails from Iowa and enjoys sweet and sour Chinese food. But even his identity is more complex than at first glimpse. He's patient and supportive of his wife's many trips to Singapore that year, including an excursion to Tan's ancestral home in China (another fascinating look into the generational and gender differences between mainland and overseas Chinese).

  9. 5 out of 5

    Camy

    I wonder if we are related...I have Tan family in Singapore. I can relate so well to everything that Cheryl wrote in this book. I too left family to go abroad to study and have missed the wonderful food from back home. I found her book easy to ready, could relate to every word and could savour and smell all the food she was describing. This was the first book I bought online for my KOBO and was worth it. I hope to attempt some of the recipes that she included in the book. More than anything I wonder if we are related...I have Tan family in Singapore. I can relate so well to everything that Cheryl wrote in this book. I too left family to go abroad to study and have missed the wonderful food from back home. I found her book easy to ready, could relate to every word and could savour and smell all the food she was describing. This was the first book I bought online for my KOBO and was worth it. I hope to attempt some of the recipes that she included in the book. More than anything else- the book was about family ties - about searching for one's roots and sense of belonging. The language was so south east asian -lah!! The sights and sounds so familiar - homesickness sets in with each page turned. Good job Cheryl - you have touched my heartstrings!!!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cat Chiappa

    This book made me hungry! I really enjoy food memoirs and this was a good one. I did find myself getting a little lost for a bit somewhere in the middle as there was a point where there were more descriptions of food prep and less story but then it picked up again. I was drawn to this book as I will be visiting Singapore for the first time this fall and I definitely took note of some places to go eat. If you like food memoirs, then you should pick this one up!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    It's good I'm done with this book because reading it on my bus ride home from work made me ravenous every day. I want to go to Singapore and eat all the food. Cheryl describes her family and her cooking adventures in such a vibrant way, I truly felt attached to everyone and connected to her search for her place in a culture she had been so far removed from. A really fun enjoyable read. I'm so glad I grabbed it on a whim at the library.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ellen McGinnis

    Really loved this! The author's physical journey to Singapore to learn to cook from her Aunties turns into a journey of self-discovery and a reunion with family. Her voice is personal, clear and often funny. Great read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Madhulika Liddle

    Ever since I first learnt to cooka little before my teens, watching my mother in the kitchenIve become familiar with a crucial meaning of the Hindustani word andaaz when used in culinary terms. Roughly, approximately, wing it. Use your judgement. Or, as the Singaporeans say, agak-agak. In her thirties, Cheryl Lu Lien Tan, long settled in New York City, went to her native Singapore for the Chinese New Year. On a whim, having discovered that her aunt was getting ready to make pineapple tarts for Ever since I first learnt to cook—a little before my teens, watching my mother in the kitchen—I’ve become familiar with a crucial meaning of the Hindustani word andaaz when used in culinary terms. Roughly, approximately, wing it. Use your judgement. Or, as the Singaporeans say, agak-agak. In her thirties, Cheryl Lu Lien Tan, long settled in New York City, went to her native Singapore for the Chinese New Year. On a whim, having discovered that her aunt was getting ready to make pineapple tarts for the festival, she decided she wanted to learn how, too. That was the start of not just a quest to learn more about her family’s culinary traditions, but about her family itself. As she made repeated trips, shuttling between America and Singapore, learning everything from moon cakes to popiah along the way, and plunging into a bread-making challenge, Cheryl Tan unearthed stories and secrets about her family, their origins, even the very village in China her father’s family belonged to. And she learnt about agak-agak. For someone who had done only rudimentary cooking before, and who was desperate to get every measurement, every step and every timing just right, to be confronted with the vague instruction of agak-agak was frustrating and bewildering. How, over the course of the year, she learnt to circumnavigate that, to make her peace with the concept—is also a part of this book. So is Singapore, and its people. Their love for food (Tan quotes Calvin Trillin in New Yorker: “Culinarily, they are among the most homesick people I have ever met”). Their traditions, even the everyday ones, the superstitions and beliefs. I really enjoyed A Tiger in the Kitchen. For someone who loves East Asian food, this was a treasure trove of memories: I could almost taste, once again, all those favourite foods—the carrot cake, the otak-otak, the Hainanese chicken rice—I’ve had at places like Singapore’s famous hawker centre, Newton’s. I laughed over the description of a funeral, with zombie-prevention methods well in place. I thanked my lucky stars I would never be a Singaporean bridegroom, destined to eat his way through sour, bitter, spicy and sweet foods in order to get to his bride. I nodded in solidarity as I read about failed experiments at bread-making. And I loved the rest of it: Tan’s poignant as well as funny reminiscences of life, her interactions (so familiar, even to an Indian: perhaps Asians are pretty similar irrespective of country?) with her relatives. The joy, the bonding, the bridges built by food. An immensely readable book, and one I’d recommend not just because of the food, but because it offers such a warm, wise insight into family life too. The importance of acceptance, of forgiveness, of learning to share.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    I spent many happy hours reading this fascinating, funny, heart-warming book. Tiger in the Kitchen is a great choice for anyone interested in Singapore, travel, culture, families or food. Like Amy Chua who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, author Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan was born in the Year of the Tiger which is supposed to make her dynamic and aggressive. It is certainly true in Tan's case. As a child in Singapore she was always ambitious and never interested in girl pursuits like cooking, but I spent many happy hours reading this fascinating, funny, heart-warming book. Tiger in the Kitchen is a great choice for anyone interested in Singapore, travel, culture, families or food. Like Amy Chua who wrote Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, author Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan was born in the Year of the Tiger which is supposed to make her dynamic and aggressive. It is certainly true in Tan's case. As a child in Singapore she was always ambitious and never interested in girl pursuits like cooking, but her fondest memories of growing up all involve eating. When Tan was eighteen she defied her family's wishes by traveling far from home to study journalism at an American college, but once there she found she missed the foods of Singapore. Their multilayered flavors were hard to duplicate in America. The British had established a busy trading port at Singapore early in the nineteenth century so its food are unique with influences coming from all over, including China, Malaysia, India and Europe. After college Tan stayed in America and in the fall 2008 when the financial crisis in full swing she was working at the Wall Street Journal. Because she covered fashion and retail, her days were spent on devastating stories of closures and bankruptcies. Many of her New York friends were losing their jobs. By early 2009 Tan had migraines so intense her doctor thought she might be having a stoke and she knew she needed a change. With Chinese New Year approaching, Tan's aunts in Singapore would be baking up a storm so Tan decided to take a break, fly to Singapore, and learn how to make the pineapple tarts she had loved as a child. Cooking with her aunties just whet her appetite for more. She fantasized about returning to Singapore for more extended sessions of cooking instructions, weeks or even months long, but with the financial crisis still wrecking havoc it was completely impractical to think of taking that much time away from work. Fortunately, she was laid off. For the next year, Chinese New Year to Chinese New Year, Tan traveled back and forth from New York City to Singapore so she could spend time with her extended family and master the art of cooking the foods she remembered from childhood. Tan started out approaching this project like the true tiger woman that she is, trying to simultaneously participate in, photograph and write down the often overwhelmingly elaborate recipe steps her aunts carried effortlessly in their heads. She spent the early days frantically begging those aunts for exact measurements of everything, which made them laugh because it wasn't how they cook. Tan had to learn not to be squeamish when ingredients included whole ducks, heads and all, or pig belly with some bristly skin still attached. The subtitle, A Memoir of Food and Family, is apt because her story is as much about getting to know her extended family better as it is about their food. Tan culminated her year of cooking classes from her grandmother and aunts by preparing a family meal for them all during the Chinese New Year celebration. While not every dish turned out as perfectly as she had envisioned, family members who had previously been estranged were now sitting around the table together laughing, talking, and enjoying food. Recipes for several of the foods Tan learns to cook, including the pineapple tarts from her first lesson, are in the back of the book. The March 23, 2011 edition of the Washington Post has one more, her grandmother's recipe for "Gambling Rice". During Tan's year of family and food she learned to her great surprise that both of her sweet but shrewd grandmothers had run illicit gambling dens in their homes to earn needed money for their families. Gambling Rice was a convenient meal that could be eaten right at the card table so the gamblers didn't have to stop playing when they got hungry.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family made me hungry. Really hungry. I love Asian food of all sorts, and listening to author Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan describe these family favorites in such loving detail made me want to try to make them myself, because I just knew takeout was going to be a disappointment. Dumplings, soups and special desserts, often tied to holiday celebrations and memories of family dinners, are all on the menu in her book, subtitled A Memoir of Food and Family. Her A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family made me hungry. Really hungry. I love Asian food of all sorts, and listening to author Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan describe these family favorites in such loving detail made me want to try to make them myself, because I just knew takeout was going to be a disappointment. Dumplings, soups and special desserts, often tied to holiday celebrations and memories of family dinners, are all on the menu in her book, subtitled “A Memoir of Food and Family.” Her attempts to reconnect with her family and childhood through not just recipes but the act of preparing them, will be achingly familiar to many readers. Tan had a comfortable childhood in Singapore. It seems her parents were expecting a boy, but instead, they got a feisty, independent daughter who left for America at 18. In her home, cooking was a task left to the maids, but she has vivid memories of the cooking that went on in the homes of her grandmothers and aunties. As a professional journalist, living in New York, she begins baking as a sort of therapy: In this cloud of cinnamon-scented zen, the pressures of New York would melt away. Outside the kitchen, life was complicated and meandered in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways. But with my mixer in hand and two sticks of softened butter before me, the possibilities were thrilling and endless and the outcome was entirely governed by me. She shares some incredible stories about her family history, many of them stories that she never heard until she began spending time with her aunties. Cooking is a great distraction; you have something to do with your hands, something to concentrate on, so you speak more freely, less self-consciously, so I’m not surprised that it led to some great conversations. Besides, you have to do something while you’re waiting for dough to rise or rice to cook. Gossip and story-telling are a great way to kill time. One auntie tells the story of her brief stint as an opium courier. There are the stories about what Singaporean fiances have to do to win their wives (mainly: bring money and eat disgusting things). Talk about the festivals in Singapore, what one feeds a Hungry Ghost, and why cats have to be shooed away from funerals. It’s a small whirlwind of Singaporean culture, with a side of chicken rice. It’s the descriptions of the food that really got me. My stomach rumbled just reading them: One of the dishes I desperately wanted to know how to make was tau yew bak, a stew of pork belly braised in dark soy sauce, sweet and thick, and a melange of spices…When done well, the meat is so tender you feel almost as if you are biting into pillows. The gravy is salty, sweet, and gently flecked with traces of ginger, star anise, and cinnamon — just perfect drizzled over rice. In some ways, Tan comes off as a little selfish and spoiled, with all the talk of ignoring her aunties’ hard work and leaving the cooking to the maids, but these are stories of her childhood. Being laid off from her job at the Wall Street Journal gave her the time and freedom to spend time in Singapore with her family, learning to cook the old family recipes, but my poor practical heart screams, “what about job hunting? those flights are expensive! what about your husband, stuck at home?” If you can manage it, that’s great and I am desperately jealous, but it’s hard for me to imagine.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Sadly, this is one of the few less-than-three-star reviews I have written, and so I feel I need to do a little explaining on why -- especially since so many readers evidently did enjoy A Tiger in the Kitchen. I read a short review of the book, and then "won" an uncorrected proof copy to read and review. I certainly could identify with the general premise of the book: 30-something woman starts to feel too unconnected to her roots, and worries that the history and traditions of her family might be Sadly, this is one of the few less-than-three-star reviews I have written, and so I feel I need to do a little explaining on why -- especially since so many readers evidently did enjoy A Tiger in the Kitchen. I read a short review of the book, and then "won" an uncorrected proof copy to read and review. I certainly could identify with the general premise of the book: 30-something woman starts to feel too unconnected to her roots, and worries that the history and traditions of her family might be slipping away from her. Of course, food plays a major part in the memories we have of our loved ones, and so the author takes a (somewhat) self-imposed sabbatical to travel back to her home country of Singapore and cook with her mother, aunts, and grandmother. Super, right? When I read an ARC, I have to try to silence the editor's voice in my head (is that you, Aunt Andy?). It is still an UNCORRECTED proof, so I have to let go of a lot of things. Unfortunately, there were SCADS of weird and irritating things in the book. First of all, it was pretty disjointed. The author goes back and forth in time, without always alerting the reader. Since it seemed like a pilgrimage of sorts, over the course of a year, it would have helped to tell the story in a more linear fashion. She is also forever saying, in one breath, oh I couldn't keep up with all the ingredients and measurements, and then in the next sentence, she goes on about how easy it is to make this dish. Huh? Here is another example (from the text; she is talking about a specific dish):"The result was okay -- not as delicious as professionally cooked chicken rice. But it truly was a amazing. Biting into the chicken and chasing it with garlicky, greasy rice, this group of loudmouths was reduced to a long stretch of silence." So, was it just okay, or so amazing it induced a bunch of people to be at a loss for words? Contradictions like this abound, and I can't stand them! The writing seemed juvenile, like she was following a instructions from a writing class: Start with a little joke or intriguing sentence, like "There are numerous things to love about my Auntie Alice." Then build, and describe those things. Then get into the things that are irritating and weird and uncomfortable and strange. And then finish with a conclusion statement. Ugh! Are you from Singapore, or do you have a Chinese background? Do you live in New York City or some other large cultural hub where you have easy access to an authentic China Town area? You might like this book. It might trigger memories for you, and you might understand some of the foreign language sprinkled in the text. If I had spent money on this book, I probably would have given it one star and been angry to be out the cash. I probably won't look at this book ever again, except to use it as an example of a bad, bad book. Harsh, yes. Unfortunate, totally.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    Oh, I wanted to like this. (And then I wanted to show it to my mom, who is visiting this next week, because it sounds like something right her alley.) But no. Alas. First and foremost, this book needs a big ol' editor. I can see how Tan conceived of this project - I'll learn to cook traditional dishes and learn about my culture and family, and grow as a person! - but what we get instead is a mish-mash of her confused thoughts (plus lots of bonus tangents and diversions). She is your typical Oh, I wanted to like this. (And then I wanted to show it to my mom, who is visiting this next week, because it sounds like something right her alley.) But no. Alas. First and foremost, this book needs a big ol' editor. I can see how Tan conceived of this project - I'll learn to cook traditional dishes and learn about my culture and family, and grow as a person! - but what we get instead is a mish-mash of her confused thoughts (plus lots of bonus tangents and diversions). She is your typical overly-self-absorbed neurotic New Yorker, and her unpleasant personality upstaged the food (which was really what I wanted to hear more about). And.... she didn't really *want* to actually cook it. She wanted her mother's maid to cook it, so that she could watch. Yup, that equals "learning about your culture". And the random bread-baking challenges (which are, have you noticed? not Singaporean) are just weird and don't fit - occasionally she managed to relate that stuff to her family's cooking, but that was the exception rather than the rule. It was just a mess. So, plus one star for the food descriptions (there are recipes in the back, but each one includes ingredients that I would just not be able to find in my small town - another bummer (but not really Tan's fault)), but otherwise, give this one a miss.

  18. 5 out of 5

    SheilaRaeO

    I enjoyed this book more for the insight into the Singaporean culture than the descriptions of the food, even though those descriptions were richly detailed. Food has such a strong emotional pull in families of any culture and can bring out so many memories, good and bad. The stories of Tan's family and their lives in Singapore were what bound the work like the 5 spice blend present in many of the recipes. It was heartwarming to see how Tan's quest to learn how to make the foods that filled her I enjoyed this book more for the insight into the Singaporean culture than the descriptions of the food, even though those descriptions were richly detailed. Food has such a strong emotional pull in families of any culture and can bring out so many memories, good and bad. The stories of Tan's family and their lives in Singapore were what bound the work like the 5 spice blend present in many of the recipes. It was heartwarming to see how Tan's quest to learn how to make the foods that filled her memories of childhood and her culture brought together her entire family even though there were some difficult estrangements. The author included many of the recipes in the back of the book for those brave souls who feel up to the challenge, I am not among that group as I have far too many books to read to have time for cooking- It's much less mess to read about cooking than to actually do it. ;) My hat is off to Ms. Tan for her great efforts and accomplishment in learning the complex skills required for these deceptively simple dishes and executing them in her tiny New York kitchen.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I've seen some criticism of this because of poor editing. The author does have a very informal style which one could dissect for style and grammar---but the book was so much fun! I didn't have the heart to try to analyze its grammar. I was too involved in the author's memories of food during her childhood in Singapore, and her quest to learn how to cook her family's recipes. And she included recipes! This was a great book, I loved the author's sense of humor, and how I wish I could do something I've seen some criticism of this because of poor editing. The author does have a very informal style which one could dissect for style and grammar---but the book was so much fun! I didn't have the heart to try to analyze its grammar. I was too involved in the author's memories of food during her childhood in Singapore, and her quest to learn how to cook her family's recipes. And she included recipes! This was a great book, I loved the author's sense of humor, and how I wish I could do something similar, move home and spend all my time learning to cook my family's recipes. I can already do many of them, my problem right now being that I'm from Midwestern farm folk and my diet can't take my ancestral food. LOL But I love this thought of learning about yourself, your childhood, your family, your ancestry--through food. Very entertaining book. I'm just glad if I ever do undertake a similar journey, I'll never have to eat jellied sea worms. :-)

  20. 5 out of 5

    TS Tan

    As a fellow Singaporean, I really enjoyed this account of back-to-mother's/auntie's/grandma's cooking adventure. I suspected the readers that derived the greatest joy are the Singaporeans who are around the same age group as the author, with grandmas, aunties and mothers who had whipped wondrous dishes that are the consequences of the magical melange of Singapore culture, and then had to embark on their careers, paying scant attention to the kitchen. While I did enjoy the author's account of her As a fellow Singaporean, I really enjoyed this account of back-to-mother's/auntie's/grandma's cooking adventure. I suspected the readers that derived the greatest joy are the Singaporeans who are around the same age group as the author, with grandmas, aunties and mothers who had whipped wondrous dishes that are the consequences of the magical melange of Singapore culture, and then had to embark on their careers, paying scant attention to the kitchen. While I did enjoy the author's account of her adventure, the emotional pangs I experienced arose from my own memories of the bak zhangs, popiahs and curries that my grandmas made. I am however, not as lucky as the author who still had surviving relatives to learn from, and am definitely envious of her. I just wished that she had included the recipe for the ngor hiang to those at the end of the book, although it sounded quite easily doable just from her account.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    Ive read a lot of memoirs that relate to cooking and the connection between food and family (my favorite being Trail of Crumbs), however, this book just seemed flat, and dare I say, missing some key ingredients? For me the book was a bit disorganized and inconsistent. While learning to cook during one of her visits to Singapore, Cheryl complains how nearly impossible it is to keep pace with the plethora of mixing, measurements and ingredients, but in the very next sentence, she talks about what a I’ve read a lot of memoirs that relate to cooking and the connection between food and family (my favorite being Trail of Crumbs), however, this book just seemed flat, and dare I say, missing some key ingredients? For me the book was a bit disorganized and inconsistent. While learning to cook during one of her visits to Singapore, Cheryl complains how nearly impossible it is to keep pace with the plethora of mixing, measurements and ingredients, but in the very next sentence, she talks about what a fun and EASY dish it was to make….. I found the most interesting part of the story is when the author traveled back to Singapore; she did a good job describing the city, sights and smells and I certainly learned much about the Singaporean culture. I always knew there’s more to Singapore than the ban on chewing gum and public caning!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Ard

    Reading A Tiger in the Kitchen feels like sitting down to tea with an old friend and listening to her stories of life, food, culture and family. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan has an easy, humble way of telling her story. Growing up in Singapore, she was destined for great things. Yet after years as a successful journalist in the United States, she feels a longing. Following her instincts she returns periodically over the next year to learn the dishes of her childhood from various women in her family. Along Reading A Tiger in the Kitchen feels like sitting down to tea with an old friend and listening to her stories of life, food, culture and family. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan has an easy, humble way of telling her story. Growing up in Singapore, she was destined for great things. Yet after years as a successful journalist in the United States, she feels a longing. Following her instincts she returns periodically over the next year to learn the dishes of her childhood from various women in her family. Along the way we hear the stories of her childhood, her family, her people and their food. This is a warm story with wonderful themes. The author shows us that cooking, like life, is full of ups and downs. Whether one loses a job, or burns the bread, one can always try again. And sometimes the knocks in life show us what's truly important.

  23. 5 out of 5

    cat

    2011 Book 86/100 A memoir of food and family - well told and beautifully evocative of the Sinagporean dishes that the author has returned to her home country to learn to make (from her amazingly talented aunties, now that her grandmother has died). I was very glad that we had reservations at the Red Pearl Kitchen for dinner after reading this book -- where we feasted on similiar dishes and I could pretend they were being prepared with half as much love and care as the dishes detailed in this 2011 Book 86/100 A memoir of food and family - well told and beautifully evocative of the Sinagporean dishes that the author has returned to her home country to learn to make (from her amazingly talented aunties, now that her grandmother has died). I was very glad that we had reservations at the Red Pearl Kitchen for dinner after reading this book -- where we feasted on similiar dishes and I could pretend they were being prepared with half as much love and care as the dishes detailed in this lovely book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    I enjoyed the book because I can relate to it, sort of. It made me wish I had asked my mother to teach me more about cooking. The only part that made me want to scream is when she talks about the cheong sam being a dress worn by Chinese Singaporeans. It's worn by all chinese women, not just the ones who live in Singapore. She does share the recipes she got from her relatives, so that is a bonus.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jane Long

    I want to try all the recipes after reading this book about the author finding her cooking heritage. I feel inspired to find out more about my grandmothers recipes. I did really enjoy reading this! I want to try all the recipes after reading this book about the author finding her cooking heritage. I feel inspired to find out more about my grandmother’s recipes. I did really enjoy reading this!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    A friend recommended this to me and I'm glad she did: a really fun read

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mria Quijada

    'We' often refers to her aunt's maid or some other hired help doing the actual cooking.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rowan

    Great to read about Singaporean food, but the book was disjointed and Tan wasn't meant to be a food writer - she lost me when she started talking about how she didn't want to ruin her manicure while cooking.

  29. 4 out of 5

    David

    I very rarely rate books this low, and try to just as rarely write a negative review. My main reason for the latter is understanding how human nature works. If someone dislikes a book or something else, and sees your glowing review, they'll shrug their shoulders or maybe roll their eyes, and move on. Criticize something that they love, and you trigger defensive mechanisms. However, I also understand another thing about human nature, and that is the fact that a significant portion of any opinion I very rarely rate books this low, and try to just as rarely write a negative review. My main reason for the latter is understanding how human nature works. If someone dislikes a book or something else, and sees your glowing review, they'll shrug their shoulders or maybe roll their eyes, and move on. Criticize something that they love, and you trigger defensive mechanisms. However, I also understand another thing about human nature, and that is the fact that a significant portion of any opinion reveals truths about the person reviewing, not just the product, and such is the case here. For someone who is either from a Southeast Asian family, a fan of learning to cook dishes from two different cultures, and very quiet and undramatic life stories, this may be the book for you. For me, a food memoir in general is probably about the least exciting thing I could read that anyone will bother to publish. Somehow Barbara Kingsolver managed to entertain me with hers, which makes her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to be truly a miracle. A not-too-distant second would be a memoir from anyone I don't know. There is nothing offensive or upsetting about this book at all. It just happens to now hold the distinction of being the singular most boring book I've ever bothered to finish. So why did I read this? Blame Bookriot's 2016 Read Harder challenge, which just had to include two categories this book might fit: a food memoir and a Southeast Asian author. Well, I sure as hell am not going to attempt two food memoirs in one year, so this is a check on that category. I will, however, be sampling an acclaimed work of fiction from a regional author. Again, for the right person, this probably isn't a bad book. For me, I'm just glad that I could read fast and move onto something else.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Craftnut

    A non-fiction memoir of a Chinese woman, raised in Singapore but coming of age in America.  After losing her job, she is interested in learning more about her heritage, and the cooking of her grandmother and aunts and in the process learn about her own family. She makes several trips back to Singapore getting to know her aunties, learning to cook the dishes of her childhood.  It is a well written book, full of humor and discovery. Recipes in the back are given in case you want to try some of the A non-fiction memoir of a Chinese woman, raised in Singapore but coming of age in America.  After losing her job, she is interested in learning more about her heritage, and the cooking of her grandmother and aunts and in the process learn about her own family. She makes several trips back to Singapore getting to know her aunties, learning to cook the dishes of her childhood.  It is a well written book, full of humor and discovery. Recipes in the back are given in case you want to try some of the dishes. It is an enjoyable read, not high art, but interesting enough.

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