Tag Archives: Chinese

Back to the Good Fortune Diner
Back to the Good Fortune Diner

It's always nice to hear good things about your book a year after it's been published. I love Sarah for talking about BTTGFD so much, and selling it to New York Times bestselling author and X-Men and Marvel universe writer Marjorie M. Liu, an author I've admired for a long time.

Marjorie and Sarah talk about some awesome stuff, including what it's like to be a woman of color writer. I fully agree with what she has to say. You can read the transcript here. You can also listen to the podcast here.

An excerpt:

Marjorie: You’re killing me. The description of it, like, the way you describe this book sounds amazing.

Sarah: I thought it was so great.

Marjorie: That is a total must-read.

ENDORSEMENT FROM MARJORIE M. LIU, YOU GUYS. And she hasn't even read it!

And further:

Sarah: ....The thing about Superromance is that often I think they, the writers are encouraged to pack as much as humanly possible into these little tiny books, and so sometimes there’s so many big issues that they can’t reconcile all of them, but the fact that they brought them up in the first place, I’m just like, this is great! Please feel free to rip my heart out and hand it to me –

Marjorie: See, I –

Sarah: - it’s totally fine!

Marjorie: I have to tell you, like, just your base description of this book sounds like it would be, like, if, if it was published outside Harlequin, like in some quote-unquote, like, highbrow, literary press –

Sarah: I know!

Marjorie: - people would be talking about it, like, across the nation.

Just in case...If there are any "highbrow literary presses" out there interested in a new adult fantasy set in the final days of the Wild West, you should contact my agent. 8 )


Chicken balls, sans sweet and sour sauce.

So, I made a little boo-boo.

I learned during the Smart Bitches Sizzling Book Club chat that chicken balls, featured in Back to the Good Fortune Diner as a uniquely North American-style Chinese food product, are NOT, in fact, available in the U.S.

According to Wikipedia, this is the dish I refer to as sweet and sour chicken balls:

Chicken balls (Chinese: ??; pinyinj? qiúCantonese Yale: gai1kau4) are a type of modern Chinese food served in Canada,[1][2][3] and the United Kingdom[4] as a staple of Chinesetake-out. The dish consists of small chunks of fried chicken breast meat covered in a crispy batter coating. They are often served with sweet and sour sauce or plum sauce. These are largely unheard of in China, depending on the recipe and referred name.[5]

They're so ubiquitous in Canada, I didn't even think for a minute they wouldn't have them in the States. This is why fact checking is important....

Okay, so how to explain away the Good Fortune Diner's specialty menu item? Well...

1) Only available at the Good Fortune Diner in Everville! Exotic Canadian Chicken Balls with Sweet and Sour Sauce! No need to drive across the border for delicious golden spheres of deep fried goodness!

2) Since the Cheungs are from Hong Kong, which was a part of the British Empire before the handover to the Chinese in 1997, maybe it was something Tony and Rose knew was popular with non-Chinese diners so had them sourced and imported...

3) There is a secret black market in Manhattan where the Cheungs get their illicit supply of Canadian chicken balls. Studies suggest the underground economy for chicken ball smuggling is worth over $10 billion....

4) Magic.


Back to the Good Fortune Diner, coming January 2013!

It’s the official release day for Back to the Good Fortune Diner! I’m super excited to bring this story featuring a Chinese American heroine moving back to her small hometown after being laid off from her job in Manhattan.

One of my favorite things about this story was that I got to share my cultural heritage. My parents came to Canada from Hong Kong and Malaysia, and I was born in Canada. I've lived all of my life in Toronto’s downtown Chinatown, and many of my cultural traditions were preserved because of the large Chinese community I was exposed to. My heroine, Tiffany Cheung, didn’t have the same upbringing. Most of her childhood was in Everville, a small (fictional) town in upstate New York.

One of the things that’s always struck me as interesting is that in every small town I’ve ever visited, there’s always a Chinese restaurant run by a Chinese family. No matter how far flung you are, Chinese food is usually the one ethnic meal you can get. In Back to the Good Fortune Diner, Tiffany’s family runs the eponymous Good Fortune Diner, an old greasy spoon they converted into a chop suey house when they first moved to the town.

I thought a lot about how the place would be decorated and outfitted. Tiffany’s family is fairly traditional, so in my mind, I had to ensure there was authenticity to the place. They wouldn’t have been able to get many of the traditional items you’d see in a more metropolitan Chinese business, but I think they would have driven to the city to get these decorations.

I hope that by writing about it here, I’ll be welcoming some good luck of my own for book sales!

Lucky cat statue: You’ll see this “beckoning cat” statue frequently in many Asian restaurants. It was actually adopted from the Japanese tradition.  A maneki-neko is thought to beckon wealth, health and prosperity through the door. You can read more about it here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maneki-neko


Wind chimes hung indoors: Hanging wind chimes indoors is related to feng shui practices to bring protection. Read more about it here: http://fengshui.about.com/od/topfengshuiproducts/f/feng-shui-wind-chimes.htm


Guan Yu statue: This Chinese general, also known as Guan Gong with various spellings, was a military figure whose deeds were legendary. He’s sometimes referred to as the god of war and represents brotherhood, honor on the battlefield and righteousness. He is worshipped by Confucians, Taoists and Buddhists, but is also more generally revered in the southern parts of China, as well as Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and other Chinese-influenced nations. The statue is easily recognized by the long beard and red face, and he’s usually carrying a halberd. He is frequently displayed in small shrines in many Chinese restaurants and businesses. Read more about him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuan_Kung

Fu--it's upside down.

Fu—the Chinese symbol for luck: This is frequently displayed year round, and is one of the only Chinese characters that is intentionally displayed upside down, like a horseshoe. I have them pasted up on my front door and inside my house. Because, why not?



Ever see anything in a Chinese restaurant that you've always wondered about? Does something on the menu make you scratch your head? Ask me about it in the comments!

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
by Amy Chua

I've been struggling with this review because it's impossible for me to judge the book without inserting my own life experiences. And, frankly, some of them are very angsty.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is the brutally honest memoir of a Chinese-American mother raising her two daughters the "Chinese" way. Chua is careful to point out that not all Chinese or Asians do this, just as not all white people raise their children the "Western" way. The book got a lot of press and criticism after an excerpt was posted in the Wall Street Journal. After reading the whole book, the descriptions of the harsh treatment Chua imposed upon her daughter while practicing piano were probably taken a little out of context. Because there's no way I could have read this book without an enormous grain of salt.

Tiger Mother is not a parenting book. In fact, I'd go as far to say it is the antithesis of a parenting book. While the author time and again tries to show us how well-balanced and successful her daughters turned out, and how her personal sacrifices of time and sanity paid off, I personally cannot, with good conscience, recommend her impossibly demanding strictures be applied to anyone being raised in a Western society.

And so, I read this book with half a mind reminding me that this book could only be part satire, with Chua playing the role of moaning martyr mother. She talks very little about the details of her own upbringing except to say "this is how I was raised, and look at how great I am!" It makes me wonder exactly she left out. Still, it's an engaging read, but definitely not for the easily enraged who think that children are precious and must be shielded from life at all costs.

I should probably mention that tigers are known to eat their young. This is not one of the facts Chua includes in her book.

From My Point of View--Being Raised the "Chinese" Way

In my experience, Chua's outlook is not an uncommon one among traditional Chinese parents. Harsh discipline, withholding praise, comparing children, and verbal reprimands that border on abuse, all in the name of making stronger, more successful children is something I grew up with, and something many my friends grew up with. The efficacy of these methods remains in question largely because the idea of success is entirely subjective. If we don't become concert pianists, doctors, lawyers, bankers or productive mothers, if we don't earn tons of cash at the expense of our happiness, then what, exactly, are tiger mothers striving for when they force their kids to practice piano three hours a day and deny them playdates?

While there's lots to be said about not giving today's kids enough rigid structure or discipline and letting them run wild and become spoiled ingrates, there's just as much to be said about dictating every minute of your kids' lives, all while telling them they're worthless, garbage, that they'll never amount to anything, that their siblings are better than them, that you'll abandon them at the orphanage if they don't do exactly what you tell them to do, etc.

I was raised between the two parenting styles. My parents owned their own business, working eight-hours a day, seven days a week, 364 days a year. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who went to work with my father once my sisters and I were in full-time school.

My impression of the time was that we didn't have a lot of money, but were more than adequately provided for. We had a Nintendo system and a piano. My mom did try to get us to take up piano and violin. She wanted her daughters to grow up cultured, knowing classical music and reading books. But with her long working hours, Mom didn't have all the energy and enthusiasm Chua had. She certainly didn't stand over us and make us play until we cried or chewed on the piano keys.

Piano and violin lessons petered out after a couple of months. The truth was, none of us had the patience or the passion, and I think Mom realized we wouldn't work at anything we didn't love. We were bright, energetic, and impatient to learn more and move on: not ideal candidates for the strict Suzuki methods our teacher ascribed to.

The "Chinese" method of parenting came mostly in our academic studies. I would get 99% on my tests and still Mom and Dad would demand, "Where's the other 1%?" Part of me was always hurt by that question, but another part of me knew they were kidding. Mostly. Still, I strove for that perfect 100% and was always disappointed when I made that one error. Frustrated though I was, I never fought the system, never told them how irritating it was to be asked why I wasn't perfect. Maybe that's why being a writer suits me—because I'm used to criticism. 8 P

Reading Chua's account opened my eyes only a little. Living in a Western society where every after-school special hammers home the idea that your parents love you unconditionally has allowed me to believe that is, in fact, the case. I know my parents love me because they haven't abandoned me at an orphanage. And though they never told me they were proud of me, though we do not hug or phone each other just to talk every week, I know they love me, and I love them.

Chua loves her daughters, and they love and respect her and what she did for them. That much is clear in the book. But I'm not sure the same can be said for all Chinese-raised kids and their parents.




In my ongoing quest to rediscover my health...wherever it's hiding...I've decided to go back to my family's traditional Chinese remedies: soup.

I grew up in a first-generation Chinese Canadian household, one in which G.I. Joe and art school competed against Hong Kong chapter dramas and Cantonese language classes. The one thing I never questioned, however, was the food.

Actually, all my fondest memories and associations with my culture are related to food. To me, traditions, special occasions and holidays are all about what's being served at the dinner table.

Before my sisters and I were old enough to prepare dinner ourselves, my mother was the primary cook. We usually had traditional Chinese meals with white rice and a variety of dishes served with it. Mom almost always made soup, too, served up before rice was dished out. Since my Cantonese language skills were less than stellar, these special broth concoctions brewed with what I thought were exotic and magical ingredients each earned a special made-up name: some were more helpful in description than others, like "watercress soup". Others were utterly baffling, like my favorite: "orange stuff soup."

Mom always touted the benefits of the soups, especially the ones we weren't as keen on. I learned to love them all, despite my skepticism of their actual health benefits. But as my husband likes to say, five thousand years of Chinese history can't be wrong. And I'm sure my doctor can't argue with that...

This weekend, we went to T & T, an Asian grocery store owned by Loblaws, to pick up a few basics. It was in the dried goods aisle that I decided to try my hand at some of my mother's recipes...even though most of those recipes could be summed up thusly:

"Boil some water. Add stuff. Boil it a lot. It's soup."

This is almost exactly how the process is described to me. For years, I asked my mother for more clear instructions, about the ingredients, what they were called, where to buy them, what measurements to use. She wasn't forthcoming. Most of her knowledge isn't written down anywhere. She doesn't have cookbook she follows. And she doesn't know the English names of most of the ingredients because it's only been in the last few years that companies specializing in Asian groceries have been making an attempt beyond the usual "preserved vegetable" or "dried nut" to accurately translate or describe their products.

Standing in the aisle at T & T, I could only rely on my memory of how stuff in soups generally looked. I had an idea that certain things were meant for one soup but not others. They also sold soup kits: packages of dried herbs and ingredients for various soups. However, therein lay my translation problem: the names of the soup were in phonetic Chinese. Which of these premade kits were for "orange stuff soup"?

I decided to stock up on anything I recognized and work from there. After a perusal of the vegetables, I decided to make "carrot and green thing with dried vegetable and nummy pork" soup.

According to my receipt, the "green thing" turns out to be green radish, which looks like a green carrot. Actually, for most of my life, I'd believed that's what it was. The dried vegetable, according to the package, is dehydrated cole, which expands to about five times its size when boiled, I realized a little too late. As for the rest, I added dried almond seeds and preserved dates. The base was made of pork neck bones.

I went home and laid out all my ingredients. Dried things needed soaking, so I randomly threw a handful of almond seeds and four dates into hot water. I used about 1/3 of the package of dehydrated cole. I started with boiling about 6 cups of water and adding four pork neck bones, then peeling and chopping 2 big carrots and one green radish.

I added the rest of everything else in and let it boil, simmer and soak, occasionally adding more water as it boiled off and the cole expanded. I added salt. The end result, after about 2 hours of simmer on medium low heat, was, indeed soup.

After a little research, it turns out I crossed a couple of recipes: dehydrated cole soup has elements in common with carrot and green radish soup. I ended up putting them together for some kind of super soup, apparently. It tasted good, though, and I haven't died yet, so I can assume I'm doing something right.

Guess Mom was right about the basics. Boil stuff and it's soup.