Thursday, July 23, 2009
From egg rolls to noodle soups, Hmong historically have passed recipes through word of mouth, not recipe cards. But as more time passes, there's fear things might get lost in translation.
So, Sheng Yang, who is Hmong and grew up in the United States, decided to write a cookbook and record the recipes. 'Cooking From the Heart' (University of Minnesota Press), co-written with family friend Sami Scripter, was released this year.
Ilean Her, executive director of the Council for Asian Pacific Minnesotans, agrees it's important to record Hmong culture. St. Paul has the largest Hmong population — 25,000 — of any city in the country.
'In Minnesota, Hmong culture has gone mainstream. You can easily get ingredients you need at stores and farmers' markets,' Her says. 'You can even find people to ask for cooking advice. It's one of the best places in the country for Hmong cuisine.'
Hmong food is influenced by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and southern China, countries where Hmong have lived. So, Yang thinks people who like those cuisines may enjoy Hmong dishes.
'People will be surprised to find they're already familiar with many of the ingredients,' Yang says. 'But some of the cooking techniques will be different.'
Q&A WITH COOKBOOK AUTHOR
Sheng Yang, a California mother of six, worried Hmong cooking traditions would die out. She set out to preserve the recipes and the traditions behind them in Cooking From the Heart," a collection of classic Hmong recipes. Here, Yang, 39, talks about what it took to get it all down.
Question: What made you decide to write this cookbook?
Answer: (Co-author) Sami Scripter and I used to live in Portland, Ore. I introduced her to Hmong food, and she loved it. Hmong culture doesn't write everything down, so there weren't recipes to pass on. We decided to record them for the next generation of Hmong as well as those who want to try cooking the cuisine for the first time.
Question: Without any previous recipes to build on, was it tough putting together this cookbook?
Answer: It was quite challenging. Hmong people don't measure things when cooking. We had to guess how many tablespoons or cups something was until we got the flavors right. Some of the dishes took a few tries.
Question: Hmong food isn't celebrated in the culinary world. Why not?
Answer: Hmong people haven't had tons of opportunities to introduce people to our cuisine. There aren't a lot of Hmong restaurants or recipes. Hopefully, that will start changing a little with this cookbook. Title: "Cooking From the Heart"
ABOUT THE COOKBOOK
By: Sheng Yang and Sami Scripter
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
Where to find: Widely available, including at Barnes & Noble bookstores or online at www.upress.umn.edu
For more information: hmongcooking.com