Hakka Cookbook for holiday gifts

The Hakka Cookbook (med)Looking for a gift for someone who loves to explore new cuisines and enjoys culinary history? Do they like to cook and eat Chinese food? If so, consider giving them The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World. My book contains more than recipes. It also holds history, art, and personal stories.

My book uncovers the “soul food” of the Chinese migrants known as the Hakka. It is the result of my exploration to find my own Hakka identity and culinary history. As I traveled and interviewed Hakka around the world, I realized that the keepers of the Hakka recipes were the older generation. I wrote the book to preserve the recipes and stories of these relatively unknown Chinese migrants who live in scattered communities all over the world. If you have Hakka friends, relatives, or grandchildren, this would be a meaningful book to help them understand their history and food.

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2012 recognized The Hakka Cookbook as the “Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World.”

Order the book from your local bookstore or explore online bookstores such as Amazon or Kinokuniya. Click here for more options on where to buy The Hakka Cookbook, by Linda Lau Anusasananan, published by University of California Press. Read the reviews and articles written about the book to help you decide.

The story behind the art

Alan Lau and his wife Kazuko Nakane in China.

Alan Lau and his wife Kazuko Nakane in China.

Some people voice disappointment over the lack of color photos illustrating every dish in The Hakka Cookbook. I love food photos, too. However, color photos cost a fortune to produce. I knew as a first time author, it would be hard to find a publisher willing to front a rather obscure book with a huge photo budget attached.

Steamed fish painting by Alan Lau

Steamed fish painting by Alan Lau

I had worked with food styling and photographing for decades and knew the time, cost, and frustration involved. I also knew like fashion, food photographs look dated quickly. So I envisioned the book with art instead of photos. I felt paintings would provide a more timeless elegance to the book. Also I have an artist in the family who could provide the art at a good price.

Painting by Alan Lau

Pomelo painting by Alan Lau

My brother Alan Lau, a Seattle artist, toured China with me on my scouting trip and constantly captured scenes and inspirations along the way. The large pockets sewn onto the front of his shirt were big enough to hold notebooks and pens for a quick sketch or to record words for a poem. He has several painting styles. Some of his paintings possess a free, playful quality that I love. Often he paints with abstract abandon. For the book, he painted with a bit more control since the book’s budget limited him to one tint color. His art weaves a lovely visual trail throughout the pages. Many of his original paintings and color versions did not make it into the book but you can view some here.

 

Red chile painting by Alan Lau

Red chile painting by Alan Lau

Alan studied sumi-e  (East-Asian brush painting) with Nirakushi Toriumi (Nanga School) in  Kyoto, Japan from 1972 to 1974 and later received a B.A. in Art from the University of California in Santa Cruz in 1976. In the book, you will find many samples of his art. You will find his pea and pumpkin painting in the header of this blog.  View this slide show to see how he creates his paintings in his tiny studio.

Thanks Alan for making The Hakka Cookbook look so beautiful!

The Hakka Cookbook, a year in review

With book artist and brother, Alan Lau, at Book Larder in Seattle

With book artist and brother, Alan Lau, at Book Larder in Seattle

 

Just one year ago on September 29, 2012, I officially launched The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. It was a bit like giving birth in public after a seemingly endless pregnancy, more than seven years. The long labor was worth it.

What a great year! The press has been good to the book, gaining attention even at some of the big names such as New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, and Martha Stewart Living.

Cooking with Mark Bittman, NY Times writer.

Cooking with Mark Bittman, NY Times writer.

The Hakka Cookbook was recognized as “Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook in the World” in Paris, I’ve talked about the book on the radio and cable television and many book signing events. Bloggers wrote very thoughtful and appreciate reviews. Best of all, I have connected and met with Hakkas from all over the world. Just shy of its first birthday, the book is in its second printing.

Here’s a quick summary of year one for The Hakka Cookbook. For details on this list, visit this page.

"Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook of the World"

“Best Chinese Cuisine Cookbook of the World”

  • 21 Printed articles and reviews
  • 24 Digital and blog articles
  • 5 Best or Favorite Cookbook Lists
  • 3 Radio interviews
  • 1 Television/youtube interview
  • 1 Cookbook Award
  • 26 Book signing events

Thanks for all your support. Hope to meet you at a  future event.

 

Dedicated to the Hakka around the world

I dedicated this book to Hakka all around the world. That’s why I was so touched to read a post on Maya in the Morning by Maya Leland, a fellow Hakka who received The Hakka Cookbook as a gift.

In Roots uncovered, she writes about our shared history and most importantly she relays her own family story of migration from China to British Guyana to Jamaica. Her daughter-in-law even cooked one of the more exotic dishes in the book, Spiced Goat Stew with Preserved Lime Sauce, a recipe from a Hakka Jamaican who now lives in Toronto.

Reading blogs and reviews like this fulfills one of my goals for writing The Hakka Cookbook. Hopefully the book makes Hakkas as well as the world to be more aware of who we are, our unique history of migration, our strong character, and our food.

Thanks Maya.

Save your culinary history

Natalie Com Liu cooks her Hakka dishes in her kitchen in Lima, Peru as I record her recipes.

Zester Daily invited me to write a piece for Soapbox.  I struggled over the subject and wrote several different drafts. Eventually I settled on “recording your culinary history.” I was inspired by a blog post written by Pat Tanumihardja for The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook a few months ago.

A few days after I filed the post, I learned about the unexpected death of one of my Hakka contacts in Toronto. That reminded me of another contributor, a young chef from Beijing who had also passed away a few years ago. Life passes quickly. I’m so glad I was able to record part of their history while they were still here.

If you always wanted to know how your grandmother, father, or great-aunt cooks their special dish, ask them now. With Chinese New Years coming up soon, it’s the perfect opportunity to capture some of those special dishes. Spend some time with them. Watch them cook, take notes, shoot photos or a video, and taste their food. Record their stories and history. They will be flattered and you will be able to pass on their culinary legacy. Pretty soon, you will be writing your own family cookbook.

 

Proud to be Hakka

Popo by Alan Lau

The idea for this book was planted when I was just a child. My grandmother (we called her Popo) kept telling us, “You should be proud to be Hakka.” My brother and I resisted, refusing to speak Hakka even though we could understand most of what was being said. We were the odd balls in an all white conservative community in northern California. In fact, we were the first and only Chinese in town. In spite of our protests, Popo taught us Chinese lessons after our American classes. We learned to write Chinese calligraphy and read from picture books, but it didn’t stick.

It wasn’t until we grew up and left home did we realize what we missed. I greatly regret not being able to speak Hakka, even though I know few people who do.  My career as a food writer and my family absorbed most of my time.  It wasn’t until I left Sunset Magazine and had more time to pursue other interests that Popo’s words echoed in my ear. What did she mean? Why should I be proud to be Hakka? Now I had the time to find out.

I had more than three decades experience writing about food and developing recipes. I would explore my culture through what I knew best, food. In the digital age, I could search the web and find basic information on the Hakka. I was surprised how easy it was. Occasionally, before computers and google I would try to find information about the Hakka and found very little. I knew the Hakka were wanderers or nomads but never realized how scattered they were. They were pockets literally all over the world. Since I grew up knowing very few Chinese, let alone Hakka, I had assumed the Hakka were a small minority. Yet once I started my research I saw world population figures ranging from thirty to one hundred twenty million. A recent figure estimates 75 million Hakka live throughout the world. Also Hakka are not a minority, but Han, part of the Chinese majority.

I found reference books that enlightened me about who the Hakka were. The Hakka share a unique history and identity. The ancestors of the Hakka were displaced from their northern home around the fourth century and led a life as homeless migrants for centuries. Between the tenth to the fourteenth century, they lived in an isolated mountainous area in Fujian province where they solidified their language, culture, and identity. As they moved south they were treated as unwelcome lowly newcomers left with poor pieces of land. This forced the Hakka to grow strong in their ability to survive in any situation through hard work, adaptation, frugality, and tenacity. They gained a reputation as being pioneers, able to establish settlements where no one else could such as in Sarawak and Sabah in the Federation of Malaysian. Even in James Michener’s  historical novel Hawaii, Dr. Whipple specifically requests Hakka laborers for his sugar plantations. When asked why, he replies “…Hakka can work…” Eventually these hardy pioneers settled throughout the world.

Hakkas are no longer just peasants. Many great political leaders were Hakka—China’s political reformer Deng Xiaoping, father of modern China Sun Yat-sen, Taiwan’s first elected president Lee Teng-hui, and Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kwan Yew. Author Han Suyin ( Many-Splendoured Thing) and artist Lin Fengmian claim Hakka heritage. Famed couture shoe designer Jimmy Choo is a Hakka born in Malaysia. Actor and action film star Chow Yun-Fat who starred in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a Hakka from Hong Kong. Successful Hakka restauranteur Alan Yau who created the original Michelin-starred Hakkasan in Britain was also born in Hong Kong.

Finding a book publisher

I first started thinking about The Hakka Cookbook in 2004.  I had contributed to many Sunset cookbooks but had never written one on my own. Although Sunset Magazine had sponsored my first trip to China which resulted in a story “From China’s Kitchen’s to Ours,” writing for the magazine of Western Living, limited some of my authentic ethnic pursuits. I wanted to write outside of the Sunset boundaries.

I knew Hakka cooking was not exactly mainstream.  Even many Chinese knew little about the cuisine. The subject of my cookbook, Hakka recipes, had good and bad arguments. It was a totally unique subject (a good thing) but lacked mainstream appeal (a bad attribute for publishers who want to sell a lot of books). Although I had experience writing recipes, I was not a celebrity. I learned a big name—in the sense people recognize you— scores high with publishers (a long name like mine doesn’t count). That means it’s easier to sell a lot of books. A well-known chef, a food network star, even an actor has a better chance selling a cookbook proposal than a professional recipe and food writer.

The first step was writing a book proposal. I needed to include the focus of the book, sample recipes and text, art samples, explain who would buy the book, and why I was qualified to write the book. I heard authors had better chances of selling a proposal with a book agent. I gathered recommendations from my author friends and sent my proposal to about half a dozen agents. Finally after six months, I received an offer from a New York agent who agreed to represent my book.

After about a year, she was still unable to sell my book. I felt she had exhausted her contacts (at least ones that would pay well enough for her to earn a decent commission) and decided to sell the book myself.  After a few inquiries to smaller publishing houses, I received two offers. The advances were minor, but they were willing to publish the manuscript. I signed with the publisher that agreed to follow my concept of the book and include my brother’s art. Within a few months after I signed the contract, the economy sank. Publishing was changing. Fewer books were being printed. E-books and self-publishing were gaining a foothold. In 2009, after I had submitted my first half of the manuscript, I started to get nervous. They postponed the publishing date.  My contacts on the staff were leaving. People throughout the country were losing their jobs. Finally I heard back from the publisher. Due to the downturn in the economy, they felt they could no longer afford to publish the book. They canceled my contract.

I was back where I started.  I decided to go back to potential publishers who I felt were a good fit but could not publish me when I asked years ago. Luckily, University of California Press accepted my proposal  in 2010. This is my first experience with a university press so I’m not sure if the process is the same for all. You need patience working with a university press. At almost every step, my proposal and manuscript were sent out to scholars and professionals to review. Based on their recommendations, they would decide whether to publish or not. The reviews were helpful, especially with my research. Scholars contributed good references and facts. Best of all, they recommended that my book be published. I might not make any money at all unless I sell a lot of books, but at least my years of research and recipe testing would be published. With the publisher’s slim budget, my brother’s art would no longer be in glorious color, but a least it would appear. I felt the book had finally found a good home.