Did you ever have the feeling that someone did or write something you always wanted to do or write? this happened when I was reading this interesting food memoir, by Cheryl Tan. Is hard for me to include A Tiger in the Kitchen into any specific literary style - not that I ever wished to be a literary critic.
It is about good writing for sure, but also about old memories and trying to define your history through smell and taste. Cheryl spent one sabbatical in the middle of his family learning how to cook the dishes of her childhood. She goes even far away from Singapore, in China, where the roots of her family are. Each recipe is a new door to the family intimacy, hidden stories and long trials, with successes and errors.
The book presents two parallel cooking projects: one is directly related to recomposing her Singaporean home through food, the other is more related to improving the cooking skills, but also with a flavor of search of definitions of home: baking different types of bread, answering a challenge launchded to bakers on social media.
A journalist, covering especially fashion event, Cheryl did not seem to dream too much about being a chef or a food writing at all. But as usual, you never know what it is in the box for you. All you need is to use the writing skills for putting on paper the story of your life.
As a memoir, this books succeeded to bring a lot of good challenges and interesting stories. Do not expect too much first personal stories. The reader will not find too many passions and drama: even when it may be some tension - as in the case of her father taking a second wife - the tensions are melting as the butter in the pan. You need time to be a good cook - or writer - and time heals all the wounds or disappointments.
A wandering soul myself, I can recognize myself in many episodes described in the book. My passion for cooking started out of nowhere once I decided to dedicate more time to my family. My daily cooking challenges are the result of following certain food restrictions and returning to the home that I had to leave at least once. I wish that I will be able soon to dedicate more time to learn to cook from chefs and improve my skills other than by making my own improvisations - not failures after all. Cooking may be a therapy as well, with the same effect as in Cheryl's case: 'In this cloud of cinnamon--scented zen, the pressures of New York would melt away'.
Last but not least, what I've learned at the end of this book are many details about the history of the Singaporean cuisine and society. Each cuisine tells a story about culture and history and this memoir brought be closer to understanding a place that I am curios to visit once.
It was a very pleasant reading that I regret having finished. The pages of the book brought me through my latest writer's block and helped me to see some literary light around. As I carried the book for at least three weeks, I often re-read some of the pages and felt the same pleasure of getting immersed into those sweet Singaporean stories.