25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Culinary Treat! My mouth is still watering!
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...
Published on February 12, 2011 by Sheila A. Dechantal
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting. Intriguing.
Interesting./ Intriguing. I bought it for a book club I am in.
It is not a book I would usually pick or stay interested in.
However, it makes you think in a different way. It was very interesting to read.
It does not keep your attention completely though so you have to stay motivated at times.
It jumps around a little. However, it is a very interesting...
Published on April 26, 2012 by Cali
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Culinary Treat! My mouth is still watering!,
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,
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,
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
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A journey of food and family,
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,
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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A terrific memoir that's about more than just food,
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan was born in the year of the Tiger --- not a particularly auspicious beginning for a baby girl in traditional Singapore. Tigers are passionate, determined and headstrong. Rather than following the traditional route and learning to cook as most girls do, Tan was all about education and ambition. Encouraged by her father, she followed her heart and chose a path that took her from the small island where she was born to the vast shores of America where she settled on the East Coast.
Years passed, and her desire for the addictive dishes of her homeland overwhelmed her. The images and memories of culinary delights, lovingly prepared by the sisters of her mother and father, such as Teochew Braised Duck, Popiah, Bak-Zhang, Pandan-Skin Mooncakes and Pineapple Tarts wafted across the miles and lured her back to the kitchens of her native land.
After a life-changing event, Tan found herself with time on her hands and so began the year-long commute from New York City to Singapore. As a tentative cook, the intricacies of Singaporean cooking seemed overwhelming at first. As the year passed, however, Tan found herself becoming increasingly comfortable preparing dishes that nourished her body and her soul. Armed with an ink pen and notebook, she recorded not only the steps to recreate the recipes she so strongly desired, but also many of the memories, stories and family history that accompanied her cooking lessons with the women she loved and admired. A TIGER IN THE KITCHEN was born.
Here, Tan shares with us the journey that reconnected her with her Singaporean roots in a new and different way than ever before. The love and acceptance she finds in these kitchens are a far cry from the competitive business world of New York City, and she blossoms and grows during her numerous trips back home. She also elaborates not only on her adventures in native cooking, but on her love of baking bread as well. Tales of successes and failures with bagels, light wheat bread, ciabatta and focaccia shed additional light on the development of Tan's skills in the kitchen.
A TIGER IN THE KITCHEN is a mouth-watering true tale of one woman's reconnection with her roots and the cuisine of her formative years. Weighed down with the stress of a career in one of the most competitive cities in the world, Tan embraces the unexpected 12-month sabbatical that takes her home again and allows her to view her family members and herself in a new light. While the book focuses on something humans have been doing since the beginning of their existence --- gathering, preparing and eating food --- Tan connects it to our hearts, emotions and general well-being in a special way. As you read it, you'll find yourself considering the food of your younger days, no matter what your heritage, and remembering with love those who prepared it for you.
--- Reviewed by Amie Taylor
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great memoir!,
I loved Cheryl Tan's memoir about cooking and family -- and about how the two inevitably intersect. This beautifully-structured book alternates between her life in Manhattan and her family in Singapore; it's insightful and often laugh-out-loud funny (you'll never look at cinnamon rolls in quite the same way, and I also loved the moment when she had to risk e.coli to make her grandmother happy by sampling uncooked meat - nobody ever said family recipes had to be FDA-approved). The only thing that would make this book better would be an interactive edition where you could click on a dish and have it delivered to your door. Until that happy day, Tan's wonderfully evocative writing will be the next best thing.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Visiting memory lane and waking up the inner cook in me....,
It all started I was on my way to work and my husband was listening to NPR. I usually tune it out but the topic of the interview was about food. It really caught my attention when the interviewee said, "It's pretty much a national motto that people live to eat and they don't eat to live. All Singaporeans do is talk about food and the one thing they miss is the food. ". I thought this was so true for most Asians...I feel like I bonded with an Indian co-worker who grew up in Hong Kong over a conversation about food. My friends and I also made trips across state lines just to check out a restaurant or to reminisce college food hang out's. I thought I needed to check out this girl's book.
A couple of weeks later I got the book from Amazon, I bought a few books but couldn't wait to read this one. As I was reading the book, I felt a connection to Cheryl... I am half Indonesian and half Iowan....I grew up in Asia and didn't really learn to cook from my mom, although I did learn to make brownies from her. I went to school in Iowa and settled in Chicago. Cheryl grew up in Singapore, came to school in Chicago and married a man that grew up in Iowa. My friends just laughed at me because I was just randomly connecting my life to Cheryl's. But I truly felt a connection with her and the way she shared cooking with her aunties made me feel like I was there with them..... especially when she starts a line with Aiyoh... I could hear it in my head. And the whole cooking without measurements...I truly agree with her Aunties, people ask me for recipes of my cooking and I feel like I can't give them anything because I randomly throw things to my cooking and voila!!.....Reading the book made me want to open my Indonesian cookbooks and try out new dishes but the worst thing it did was, it made me miss all of the street vendors. Growing up, I was never allowed to eat from them but I had an Aunt that would go behind my parents back and take me and those were the best food I've ever tasted..... We've even hid behind the guy's cart as my dad drove by.
I started to look Cheryl up on the internet and contacted her through facebook and twitter, she are so responsive.... I truly appreciate you and all that you do. Every time I'm about to go somewhere, I check your site to see if you have any recommendations of places to eat. I even do it for the auditors that I work with, they're going to Hong Kong next month and will be checking out the food stalls that you wrote about.
Thank you for making me re-visit my past Cheryl, and making me pull out my cookbooks, by the way my husband thanks you too... Can't wait to meet you when you come to Chicago next month.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delicious Read!,
A truly delicious read! I couldn't put it down and devoured it within 2 days. Cheryl effortlessly transports you to Singapore with her as she embarks on her culinary journey to reconnect with her family. Her family recipes at the end are a lovely surprise bonus! As a fellow Singaporean who lives overseas, I can relate to her homesickness, desire to get better acquainted with her relatives (and their recipes!), and her obsession with pineapple tarts. But regardless of who you are and where you are from, you're sure to love this tale of food and family. And you'll come away wanting to get to know Cheryl better and cook with her!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all foodies...,
Love for food and family wittily worded in this memoir by Cheryl Tan.
It provides food for thought as to how complicated family relationships can be... Just like some of the generational recipes she provides.
But with the right ingredients and a touch of love and patience - all is so simple and yummy at the end.
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A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-lien Tan (Paperback - February 8, 2011)
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