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A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family [Paperback]

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Voice; Original edition (8 Feb 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401341284
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401341282
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 13.3 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 460,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Paperback. Pub Date: 2011 02 Pages: 304 Publisher: Harper 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 ChroniclesAfter 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...

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For a journalist, she's not a great writer 9 July 2011
By Viajera
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is fine, and mildly entertaining, but it's really more of a beach read - fluffy and insubstantial. It feels a little rambly and unprofessional, sort of like a long blog post. If you like travel and food, you'll make it to the end of the book, but don't expect anything very polished.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Culinary Treat! My mouth is still watering! 12 Feb 2011
By Sheila A. Dechantal - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Cheryl Lu-Lein Tan grew up in Singapore with no interest in the family traditional cooking that surrounded her youth. Cheryl's dreams were bigger than that. At the age of 18 she left home and family for America to become the fashion writer she had always hoped to. Yet in her 30's, Cheryl began to long for that taste of Singapore, the dishes that defined her childhood. Was it too late to learn the secrets that surrounded her youth and now were embedded within the kitchens of her Grandmothers and Aunts?

A memoir of not only the beauty of tradition and food but also the strength found in unlocking the stories of the past.

In this mouth-watering sensation of a book - I learned about the history of Singapore flavors to the point that I felt as though I could almost smell the scents of fried crab, peppery pork rib broth, and Hainanese Chicken Rice...

During one trip back to Singapore when Cheryl has decided to actively pursue learning more about her Singapore heritage in cooking and offers to help make the traditional Pineapple tarts, I had to laugh when she walks into the kitchen to help to find not one or two pineapples for the tart making - but seventy. The plan was to make 3,000 tarts.

Written and told by Cheryl Lu-Lein Tan herself, I enjoyed the humorous style of writing and had to laugh because she sounds a little like me - biting off more than she can chew (pun intended) such as traveling back and forth to Singapore to capture the family traditions, and in the midst of it all taking on the Bread Bakers Apprentice Challenge which was an on-line challenge to bake your way through every recipe in this book.... which includes triumphant stories "Bagels that were perfection right out of the oven!", as well as not so triumphant stories. "I knew the day would come when I would almost burn down my kitchen".

Oh - and just wait until she calls her maternal grandmother a liar. :D

Honestly I have not had so much fun reading a food memoir style read in a long time. I tasked myself to look up the words I did not know and turned this whole culinary adventure into a learning experience as well. As Cheryl makes her way through New York restaurants that feature Singapore favorites, and heads home to learn the "how to's" of her heritage she grows in more ways than she could have imagined.

I thoroughly enjoyed every morsel of this book. If you are looking for a real treat in culture, food, and everything in between, I would highly put my stamp of approval on this book. This book includes recipes in the back.

See more details on this review at my Book Blog: Book Journey
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There's more to Singapore than the ban on chewing gum 27 Feb 2011
By Baguio Boy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My one and only visit to Singapore was 30 years ago, and two distinct memories from that visit continued to be the sole basis of my overall impression about this intriguing country -- tall buildings and the ban on chewing gum. I knew little about its history, culture and food - until I read Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan's "A Tiger in the Kitchen."

When I started reading the book, I expected to see pages and pages of recipes - linear listings of ingredients and cooking directions. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to read about poignant accounts of family relationships, ethnic roots, and interesting facets of a culture that seamlessly intersects with those of its Malay and Asian counterparts - all told within the confines of kitchen chatter, and within the delightful context of, what else -- food. In addition, narrations of long-held traditions surrounding marriage proposals and holidays like the Lunar New provide some humorous moments in the book.

I learned most of my cooking from my late mother, just watching her in the kitchen. She had no recipe books or cheat sheets, just the skill and knowledge probably passed on from my grandmother and my grandmother's mother. So it was a personal relief for me to read in Tan's book that the best dishes are probably the ones that are passed on by word of mouth and practice, judged not by measuring cups or kitchen timers, but by intuition and the pouring of one's heart into the cooking. "Agak-agak," as the book suggests.

You will enjoy reading the book once for its memoirs, and you will want to keep it among your treasured kitchen library collection. You will keep going back for the memories . . . and the recipes imbedded in them!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written memoir about family and food 20 Feb 2011
By JLC - Published on Amazon.com
Cheryl Tan's new book focuses on her year long journey to her homeland Singapore where she learns how to cook her family recipes. Through this journey she learns not only the recipes of her grandmother, Tanglin Ah-Ma, but she is also told memories and secrets of her family.

The title refers to the year that Cheryl was born- the year of the tiger. In Chinese culture, being born in that year signifies stubbornness, ferociousness, ambition, and dedication. Cheryl purely embodies the essence of a tiger especially when it comes to cooking and baking. She shares her successes and failures throughout the book which is both hilarious and delightful to read. As much as Cheryl chronicles her cooking, the heart of the book is about her relationships with her family members. From her constant travel back to her homeland, she creates a bond, as well as recreates memories with her relatives through food.

Cheryl also talks about her bread baking adventures. As much as I found the stories to be wonderful, I felt that the stories were a bit random and wanted the whole book to be just about her experiences in Singapore. Nonetheless, this book is a great read. Cheryl does a fantastic job personalizing and connecting to her readers and also makes them extremely hungry. Lucky for us, she has included ten recipes from her adventures such as Pineapple Tarts, Bak Zhang, and many more.

reviewed by Jin Li at More Scrumptious Goodies (MSG) Food Blog
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey of food and family 26 Mar 2011
By Jaylia3 - Published on Amazon.com
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The importance of cultural anthropology 29 Mar 2011
By Danielle Tsi - Published on Amazon.com
Disclosure: I'm a 'blogger acquaintance' of the author - we're part of a monthly blogging group that posts recipes according to a theme. I'm also a Singaporean living in the US, and therefore more susceptible to the 'culinary homesickness' that this book evokes.

A Tiger In The Kitchen is honest, witty and poignant without the cliches of sentimentality that often wind its way into this genre. Spanning one Chinese New Year to the next, Tan's journey is filled with social pressures (as she fends off numerous questions about starting a family), memorable kitchen adventures (like the time she almost burned down her Brooklyn kitchen) and insights in the intricacies of family relationships and unspoken secrets. Food is the vehicle that brings a fractured family together, showing Tan other facets of her identity and sense of self.

It's also a platform to bring out other aspects of Singapore's culture, given the importance of the meal to social interactions. The Chinese wedding ritual where her cousin's groom and his groomsmen were tasked to consume less-than-appetizing "medicinal" tonics (seahorse and salted bug soup, anyone?) is a familiar story, as is her family's directive to "agak-agak" (a Malay phrase meaning "to guess") in response to the finer details of the cooking process: How much sugar to add to the pineapple jam? How long should one fry the chili paste? For any Singaporean looking to learn their family's recipes, "agak-agak" is a common, if frustrating, refrain.

These stories left me feeling like I was catching up with an old friend, given the context, the schools, the attitudes and turns of phrase, all intimately familiar even though I've only known the author for the past two years.

Given Singapore's obsession with economic growth, with winning every single award there is to be won and staying ahead of its region, Tan's book is an important piece of work. In a society engineered to always look ahead and stay competitive, the immaterial but essential qualities of its uniqueness are the first to be left behind. And the sad thing about it is that no one realizes the value of it until it's gone - whether by moving out of the familiar bubble of home, friends and family, or washed away by the tides of `progress'. This book speaks to the importance of cultural anthropology, of preserving a piece of our identities.

A word of caution though: you don't want to read this book on an empty stomach. The vivid descriptions of pork dumplings, pineapple tarts and chicken curry are a force to be reckoned with.
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