Tales of home cooking: An interview with Pat Tanumihardja

paperback_coverpaperback_coverFor some, cooking is a family affair: A way of adapting the wisdom of previous generations to today’s fast-paced, multicultural and complicated world. And there are innumerable families whose members left their birthplace to make it in faraway lands, carrying with them their ways of living and more importantly, a taste of home.  In her successful book The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook, author Pat Tanumihardja has assembled 130 tantalizing Asian dishes revealed to her by Asian grandmothers, the ultimate keepers of Asia’s cultural and culinary past.  Chinese tools is proud to present you Pat Tanumihardja, a unique food and travel writer, blogger and photographer, whose work has been revered by critics and food aficionados alike.


1.  What was the hardest thing about writing this book? How did you get hold of so many grandmothers?

The research involved in putting the book together was overwhelming! It was quite a tedious process and a little challenging because I wanted to make sure I had a comprehensive collection that was representative of the Asian communities that live in the U.S. I’m sure I missed out on a few!

Recipe testing was another challenge because I wanted to keep recipes true to the ones that were given them to me. Since these recipes were not mine, I didn’t want to change them too drastically, that just didn’t feel right.

A lot of it was word of mouth. I spread the word among my friends and acquaintances about my project and several of them volunteered their moms, aunts, sisters etc.

I was also writing for the Northwest Asian Weekly, an Asian American community newspaper, in Seattle, so I had many contacts within the community as did my editor.


2. You are a mother yourself by now. Has this changed the way you perceive your own book and in what way?

Definitely! It’s even more precious now! Having a child made me realize all the more how important food and culture are. It’s a link to your past and your identity and I want to pass my culture and heritage on to my children. I try to make family recipes at home and encourage my son to cook with me, even if he just makes a mess.


3. You have lived in 3 different continents and have travelled a lot. Your idea of belonging is definitely out of the ordinary. Is cooking a way to “return” or to “define” home?

Both. Every so often, I’ll cook a dish from my childhood just to feed that feeling of nostalgia. It brings back such wonderful memories—of my childhood home, the love and nourishment my mom gave us through her cooking, the joy of being a carefree little girl.

On the other hand, I make dishes that I’ve grown to love over the years, or adapted from my mom. These dishes have become my family’s favorites and define my cooking and how important food and cooking are in my home now.


4.  Are there any grandmothers you will never forget? What about your own family background and culinary habits?

My experience working with all the women (and men) in putting my cookbook together will remain with me always. I’ll never forget their generosity and kindness. In fact, I’m still in touch with some of the grandmothers I interviewed and cooked with. They’ll call me or email me just to see how I’m doing, give me parenting advice or just to say ‘hi.’

My family is from Indonesia and I grew up in Singapore and now I live in the U.S. Hence, I have a very eclectic and diverse culinary background. I believe it plays a huge role in my cooking style and what I enjoy eating (which is almost everything!).


5. What are your plans for the future? Will we be reading more of your work?

My agent is shopping around my second cookbook so hopefully it will find a publisher soon! I also have a few articles forthcoming in magazines and I’m working on some children’s books.


6. You are a self-taught cook. Please give some advice to all of us aspiring cooks!

Cooking is a learned skill so keep practicing! If you can, cook with an experienced relative or friend in the kitchen. That’s the best way to learn.

 To learn more about Pat and her work and get access to mouth-watering recipes, visit her blog.