The Leungs, a family who turned their love of Chinese cooking and celebration of their heritage into a hugely popular blog, The Woks of Life, have a new cookbook and they’ll be at the Berkeley Central Library on Saturday, February 11 to discuss their family cooking and sign books.
The Joys of Cooking as a Family
Book review by Kristina Sepetys
When our kids were small, we’d enlist their help preparing dishes for special occasions. Not just a how-about-you-toss-the-salad sort of thing, we’d assign them a dish or leave them to dream up something of their own creation. And they’ve turned out many tasty offerings over the years on their own and as part of a family effort.
In preschool, my son made the cranberry relish for Thanksgiving, his own tangy, freehand concoction of a fistful of red cranberries, walnuts, and a splash of orange juice whirred up in a mini food processor. They especially liked making (and eating) Lithuanian dishes that are part of my own heritage. They still like to bake traditional Lithuanian dark-crusted rye bread, juoda ruginė duona. Our shared cooking adventures gave the kids feelings of accomplishment and value as active participants in family meals, and it made for loads of good times and good memories.
The Leungs, a Chinese-American family, took that kind of cooking togetherness to a whole different level, turning their love of Chinese cooking and celebration of their heritage into a hugely popular blog, The Woks of Life. Parents Judy and Bill were both raised deeply immersed in their Chinese food heritage. Judy grew up in China in a household where money was tight and food was a special shared enjoyment that connected her family. Her husband, Bill, worked in his family’s Chinese restaurants in Upstate New York. When the two first started dating, they helped his parents run their restaurant.
Initially their blog was a way to stay in touch when their daughters, Sarah and Kaitlin, left home. But what started out as a family project has drawn attention from millions of fans worldwide. Since 2013, the Leungs have posted hundreds of recipes and ingredient details and built a reputation that has made them a go-to resource for Chinese cooking for home cooks and chefs.
Their brightly colored debut cookbook, The Woks of Life: Recipes to Know and Love from a Chinese American Family, includes 100 of their favorite home-cooked and restaurant-style Chinese recipes, along with resource lists, stories, and photos. The book has much of the same multigenerational team approach to eating and cooking that gives their blog so much charm and appeal. Each recipe headnote adds new insight into the cuisine and the family’s experience.
My family loved the Biang Biang Noodles, which features a chunky tomato beef sauce spiced with Sichuan peppercorns. We also loved the Napa Cabbage Salad made sour-spicy with rice vinegar and the Leung’s own spicy and aromatically intense red chile oil. The book includes standards like Egg Drop Soup, several different types of dumplings, and Classic Scallion Pancakes, along with specialty recipes like “Old Shanghai” Potato Salad. That salad, a dish that Judy enjoyed every Lunar New Year when she was young, is a surprising mash-up of various Western cooking influences, including a secret sauce that features a very unexpected ingredient, so be sure to look it up when you get your hands on a book!
Besides all the delicious recipes and cooking advice, The Woks of Life cookbook is a reminder of the wonderful ways food can bring families together to discover, celebrate, and preserve their family heritage.
Sarah and Kaitlin Leung will be at Berkeley’s Central Library in the Mystery Room on Saturday February 11 at 10:30am to discuss their family cooking and sign books. The event is free and open to the public. More information can be found at berkeleypubliclibrary.org.
To purchase the book, follow this link on indiebound.com, where you can purchase it through a local independent bookseller.
Click the links below to try out two recipes from the book: