This guest post comes to us from veteran food writer Linda Lau Anusasananan, a recipe editor for Sunset Magazine for 34 years and former president of the Association of Chinese Cooking Teachers and the San Francisco Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier. Here she describes her family history and the inspiration for writing The Hakka Cookbook. Visit the book’s website at thehakkacookbook.com and the book’s page at ucpress.edu to read an excerpt and recipes for Five-Spice Potatoes with Chinese Bacon and Stir-Fried Long Beans and Pork.
Why I Wrote The Hakka Cookbook
by Linda Lau Anusasananan
The idea for The Hakka Cookbook was planted in my mind when I was just a child. When I was about 7, my maternal grandmother came to live with us in the early 1950’s. We called her Popo, the Chinese word for grandmother.
Popo kept telling us, “You should be proud to be Hakka.” As the first and only Chinese in a small all-white town in Northern California, learning to be more Chinese was the farthest thought from our minds. We were the oddballs at school. All we wanted was to fit in.
Popo prevailed and everyday after American school, we went upstairs to Popo’s kitchen to learn how to write Chinese characters and read from Chinese picture books. After class, she sometimes would cook dinner for us. Stir-fried garden vegetables, chicken soup from scratch, and sometimes our favorite Chinese bacon and potato stew.
Decades later the Chinese lessons were forgotten, but the smells from her kitchen and her words haunted me. I had recently left Sunset Magazine where I had written food stories and developed recipes for more than three decades. Now I had the time to explore Popo’s words. I decided to do it through what I knew best, food.
Hakka means guest family. We were the nomads of China. A long history of migration, forced by having no land to call home, made us unique. In the forth century, we were forced from our homes in north central China by invaders and gradually moved south and eventually settled is scattered communities throughout the world. Since we arrived last in settled areas, all that was left were scraps of poor land. We were unwelcome and looked down upon. We worked hard and learned to survive in situations where most people failed.
My plan was to follow the footsteps of the Hakka diaspora, eating my way around the globe. My journey took me to my father’s home in the Hakka heartland of China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hawaii, Peru, and Canada. I also interviewed people from multiple migrations who came from Tahiti, Mauritius, Jamaica, Trinidad, and India.
As I listened to their stories of migration, I began to understand why Popo was proud of to be Hakka. With our shared history of hardship and migration, we developed a strong character that enabled us to cope with hardships and survive. Our hearty food, often robustly flavored, reflects our history and travels. It comforts the Hakka soul.