Review: “Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader” Edited By Robert Ji-Song Ku, Martin F. Manalansan IV & Anita Mannur

This book was received from NYU Press, via NetGalley, for the purposes of reading and providing a review. The book is scheduled for publication on September 3, 2013, so note this review is on an advance copy of the book, not the final product.

Before I begin the review proper, let me run through a checklist identifying why I was looking forward to this read:

  1. I love Asian food: Check
  2. I love history: Check
  3. The book was provided at no cost: Check

With that in mind, I certainly dug into, pun intended, this offering. Many facets of cuisine in America and how it has been influenced by different Asian cultures were covered in this book. Everything from food trucks in Los Angeles and Austin to Cambodian Donut Shops In Los Angeles to Mess Halls in World War II Japanese Internment Camps to the Transnational Queer Kitchen as well as many other topics

My favorite likely was the mess halls of World War II Japanese Internment camps and how they affected core family life of the Japanese families, who were accustomed to eating meals around a single table as a single family. Mess halls certainly changed that, and the article certainly addresses how this change in dining habits affected the families, and youths in particular, not only during but after the war.

Another favorite was how the Kogi BBQ Truck altered the landscape and perception of food trucks in Los Angeles. The article not only discusses how the cuisine offered by the trucks are a mirror image of the mixed cultures of the Los Angeles area, it also addresses the history of where the truck has appeared and, possibly as telling, where it hasn’t.

Overall, I found the book very fascinating. I did find it a bit heavy on Japanese and Chinese cuisine, but seeing as how they are certainly the two most common Asian cuisines in America, that’s not surprising. However, it also had several articles on Filipino cuisine, which is not as common as those that were not covered as heavily, such as Thai and Vietnamese. That said, it was a great collection of scholarly articles, well-documented with footnotes and a bibliography.  I will probably spend more time hunting down referenced books and articles than what I actually spent on this book itself.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Favorite Brand Name Recipe Cookbook” By The Editors Of Consumer Guide (1981)

Sometimes it’s fun just to pull a random book off the shelves or out of a box, dig into it and enjoy it for what it is. This was just such an adventure. I had actually found this book in an abandoned storage building several years ago. Being one who believes no book should be an orphan, I grabbed it, along with some others, and squirreled them away to read in a few days.

Well, a few days ended up being a few years. I was digging through a box of books and ran across this again and decided to give it a look-through.

First, this is the original 1981 version of the book. It’s not high-quality paper, and it’s definitely shown the wear and tear of its presumed years in storage: torn and bent pages, plenty of spine and cover wear and tear, and even a spattering of roach droppings inside the front cover. So maybe that storage building wasn’t completely abandoned after all…….

Whoever picked up this book obviously didn’t invest a lot in it. But at least we know where they picked it up:


Alright, enough humor and such for now. This cookbook is essentially a collection of recipes gathered from various manufacturer-approved sources: product boxes, recipe books, inserts in products, what have you. As each recipe promotes a particular product, I’m sure the manufacturers didn’t mind the inclusion of the recipe in this cookbook as it would essentially be free advertising.

While there are plenty of recipes from major players and products in the food market (Nabisco, Jell-O, Keebler, Liptop, Pillsbury, Smucker’s, Hunt’s, etc.), I was also pleased to see other surprising products included. Perhaps the most surprising? Johnny Walker Red. Yeah, like any of that actually ended up in the recipe.

There are also plenty of local or smaller products I wasn’t familiar with, either due to them being regional or international, or simply something I didn’t encounter growing up in Arkansas.

They even have several plates of photos of finished products in the center of the book, although this is certainly a very small sampling of the recipes included:




Overall, I really enjoyed this. There are, as with any cookbook of this size, countless recipes I want to check out. I’m sure some will be popping up on the menu in the near future.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Mastering The Art Of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir Of Food And Longing” By Anya Von Bremzen

I received this book from Crown Publishing via NetGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing the title. The publication date shown on NetGalley as September 17, 2013, so note this review is on an advanced copy, not the final published work.

First, note this is a memoir, not a cookbook. I was hoping for the latter, but ended up being no less disappointed. The primary reason for that is Bremzen takes us on a tour through her family and Soviet history for the last hundred years or so. The common thread throughout this history is, not surprisingly, food. Lack of food. Excess food. Strange food. Common food. You name it.

Being a history buff, I found the entire book quite fascinating. I’ve never really read much of Soviet history as told by an expatriate, so I thoroughly enjoyed this offering. The book tells of two generations preceding the author up through modern-day times. Covered are her families struggles before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution, World War II, the Cold War, and even the breakup of the USSR. Bremzen also discussed her and her mother’s struggles after their emigration from Russia, as each struggled in different ways to adapt to American culture. Americans who view our country as the top of the heap will be very interested in the author’s take on supermarkets and other such American cultural icons, as when she first arrives in America, the Land Of Plenty seems entirely too, well, foreign to her.

Bremzen also discusses the end of the Cold War and her family’s ability to travel to and from Russia following the advent of glasnost and perestroĭka. It’s very interesting to see how her views of Russia both alter and remain the same as she is further and further removed from her 1974 immigration to America.

And finally, the last chapter of the book includes one recipe for each decade covered in the book. Bremzen and her mother chose the recipe they believed was most representative of that decade, for inclusion in the book. I was pleased to find the recipes I was most interested in included, so I was definitely a happy camper.

Overall, this is a wonderful telling of life in and out of Russia over the last hundred-plus years. Fans of memoirs, American immigrants and Soviet history in the 20th century will all find this engaging.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)