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Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood

by: Ken Hom

New York NY: Alfred A Knopf 1997, $27.50, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-394-58578-8

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 1997 Issue: 4(4) page(s): 13

This cookbook, Hom's fourteenth, is a winner. Overall, I would give it five stars. The recipes are great and the prolific prose about childhood food memories scores high from sensuous and savoury perspectives. Reading about his experiences, one learns the personal evocations of the foods of Ken Hom’s youth.

Attention anthropologists, sociologists, and China-philes. If you want to look at Chinese-American values about food, this is it! Read the front matter and go from one italicized recipe introduction to the next for the best lesson about Chinese family values. It is not in the order of his growing up but, nonetheless, you can enjoy his memories of what was comforting and what was important.

Inhale the pervasive aromas and delightful tastes of this author's everyday life. You will absorb, as he did, the significance of both and the textures that sustained and taught him and Chinese-American immigrant children. You will also learn critical things that impacted his development and turned him into the internationally best-selling cookbook writer and the consummate food professional that he is.

Hom has honed taste buds and aromatic perceptions with keen eyes, nose, and ears and turned and tuned them, sharing so much in his latest book. His expertise comes from these and his background in medieval art history, his years as a photographer and a TV producer, and his food and restaurant consulting.

Jacques Pepin called the book: The food lovers version of the Joy Luck Club; and indeed it is. Charlie Trotter called Hom's childhood memories: "Utterly mouth-watering," and they are. Claudia Roden described his words as: "Endearing insight and sparkling evocation of the sources of his passion for food," how true. I will add to these: Delicious devotion to sharing self, family memories, and togetherness.

My recommendation is to soak up the fruits of his labor, cover to cover. Learn what it took to fashion his culinary genius. Read not only the front matter and background material, but also every one of the recipes. I read it three times, once cover to cover, once only the recipes and front matter, and once just recipe to recipe; doing so, I did enjoy it thrice.

Begin your tasting and eventual eating excursion made from this fine volume. Miy coy is spoiled only by a sickly cover and all too few photographs. He does a simple Iceberg Lettuse-Egg Drop Soup early on and reading through to the last, a Home-Style Almond Jelly with Fresh Fruit. Then grab your shopping list and hasten to stock up. With fry-pan or wok in hand, cook many of the recipes, if not all of them. For starters, try both Mrs. Wong's Savory Oxtail Soup and My Mother's Savory Oxtail Stew. Then tackle an easy Steamed Pork Loaf with Chinese Sausages, followed by the Classic Kung Pao Chicken, the Tsai Family Scallion Cakes, and the Silky Steeped Chicken. And, do not miss the Succulent Spare Ribs and the Delectable Black Bean Chicken Wings. Try them all, I plan to. Yes, I am an unabashed fan.

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