CHINESE MENU: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods with Grace Lin
In Episode 77 of the Kitchen Confidante Podcast, Liren talks to award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Grace Lin about her latest book, Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods.
The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Chinese and Chinese-American Foods — with award-winning children’s book author Grace Lin
I recently spoke on the podcast with New York Times Bestselling Author and Illustrator Grace Lin. Grace won the Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the Geisel Honor for Ling and Ting. Her novel When the Sea Turned to Silver was a National Book Award Finalist, and her picture book A Big Mooncake for Little Star was awarded the Caldecott Honor. Grace is also a contributor and presenter on New England Public Radio, The New York Times, PBS News Hour, and TedTalk.
She recently released her latest book, Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods, where she shares the tales of the iconic foods we’ve all grown to love.
In this episode, we chat about her experience growing up in Upstate New York, how she uses storytelling to create respect for Asian American culture, the legend behind Wonton Soup, and more. Listen to the full episode here, or keep reading for some of my favorite moments with Grace.
How did you get started writing?
Most people know me as a children’s book author and illustrator, as I have been making children’s books for a long time now. My first book was published in 1999. Most of my books feature Asian American characters and culture.
I am a Chinese-American myself, so many people assume that I write prominently about Chinese culture because I have an innate understanding of it, but that is not true.
I grew up in Upstate New York, where my sister and I were the only Asian girls in our elementary school. This gave me a very strange sense of identity, and I spent most of my childhood rejecting my heritage because it was hard to be Asian-American and not see myself represented anywhere.
When I went to college, I began to realize what I’d lost by rejecting my heritage all those years. So, now I create books to learn about my heritage and reclaim it for myself. The books I make are the books I would have loved to read as a child.
Tell us more about your new book, Chinese Menu
My latest book tells the history, myths, and legends behind everyone’s favorite foods from American Chinese restaurants, such as dumplings, wonton soup, and kung pow chicken.
I conceptualized this book in 2004 when I did research for another one of my books, Fortune Cookie Fortunes. I researched fortune cookies and discovered they are actually a Chinese-American invention.
When I shared this discovery with my friends, they reacted with disdain because the cookies were “not really Chinese.” I found myself feeling defensive because people would say the same about me as a Chinese American.
I’d say, they may not be Chinese, but they are Asian-American, which is something to be proud of and not anything lesser.
So, Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods aims to give respect to these American foods with Chinese roots. I see it as a beautiful way to honor both sides of heritage and to help capture the immigrant experience.
Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods, by Grace Lin (Little, Brown Young Readers, 2023).