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A Tiger in the Kitchen

by: Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

New York NY: Hyperion 2011, $14.99, Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-4013-4128-2

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2012 Issue: 19(1) page(s): 22

This book is not a cookbook though it does have ten recipes. It is a personal story of family, history, and culture from a gal born in Singapore who leaves for college in the United States at age eighteen. Born in the Year of the Tiger, this Singaporean writes eighteen chapters and an Epilogue about food and family when she is a jobless reporter seeking her culinary roots.

She now has a very successful blog all about food and with many recipes to share. All this after she marries an American, knows not how or what to cook for him, has her string of failures, and a few successes in her kitchen. Actually, with nothing to do, she returns to visit family and friends, and learns to cook after many such visits home to Singapore. But she really learns to cook after she stops asking relatives for exact amounts, and can measure this and that. Then, she begins to learn as she allows her heart to determine these minor matters.

The recipes are Nonya, that is Singaporean-Chinese. Some amounts are not exact unless you consider "one-half to one cup sugar depending upon how sweet you like it," an exact measure. They are from family members who laugh when she asks for amounts. She uses Singaporean products such as Prima Flour, pandan water, pandan leaves, crumbled belacan, and banana leaves. She names her recipes with local names such as Tanglin Ah-Ma's Otak and Mandoo. And she acknowledges her relatives by name as she reconnects with her childhood and infuses her New York City life with her past.

The book is well-written using the language of her family's various kitchens, their fascinating history, and their lovely local cultural ways. They do cure her homesickness, will delight you, and will make you want to visit the country of her birth.

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