Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal
San Mateo resident Linda Lau Anusasananan recently wrote a cookbook that has earned high marks and international accolades. The book explores Hakka cuisine and culture.
Linda Lau Anusasananan worked for about 30 years educating Sunset Magazine readers how to cook at home by testing thousands of recipes herself before writing about them for the West’s premier lifestyle publication.
What did she learn during her time there?
Food is the heart of every culture.
After leaving the magazine in 2005, however, Anusasananan decided to learn more about her own culture — the Hakka people of China, known for being nomadic as they traveled south for centuries from Central China down into Malaysia and Singapore and finally the rest of the world.
Her grandmother had always told her she should appreciate her Hakka heritage but being the only Chinese family in Paradise, Calif. many decades ago, Anusasananan did not think much about being Hakka. Being Chinese was enough to stand out in the rural Northern California town as her father was the first to open a Chinese restaurant in Paradise back in 1950.
After leaving Sunset, she set out on an adventure to travel to China to learn about the Hakka people and the food they eat for a cookbook she had in mind to write.
She had neither a publisher nor an agent, however, so she also had no deadline to meet. She had never written a book before and ended up traveling to China, Malaysia, Singapore, Peru and Canada to learn about her culture and how its food adapted over time.
She was surprised to learn how scattered the Hakka had become over the centuries and how populous the group actually is — about 75 million living all across the globe.
She spent six years working on the book, mostly from her home in San Mateo, and it ended up containing a lot more than just recipes — it became part history book and memoir, she told the Daily Journal.
Published near the end of 2012, “The Hakka Cookbook, Chinese Soul Food from around the World” has already been named the best Chinese cuisine cookbook in the world by Gourmand International for its annual World Cookbook Awards.
The book is also selling faster than expected as it is already in its second printing.
“I thought it would take two years for that to happen,” she told the Daily Journal.
Since the book was published, Hakka people from all over have contacted her to thank her for writing it.
“I learned that they weren’t always welcome. They were hard-working migrants who had to be adaptable,” she said.
They were often inland people with little access to seafood who lived in isolated areas where the food had to last. Cured meats and preserved vegetables with strong flavors created a hearty, satisfying cuisine, she said.
Some Hakka classics include stuffed tofu, salt-baked chicken and steamed pork belly with preserved mustard greens. Pounded tea is also a Hakka classic and, depending on what country you are in, can be a sweet drink or a dish served over rice. Hakka food in India also evolved to satisfy the tastes of locals as it combines Indian spices with Chinese ingredients.
“They created dishes for the locals. It is how they adapted and survived,” she said.
While some Hakka dishes adapted to the local culture, many have remained true to its origins, she said.
Very few Hakka recipes, however, are actually written in English, she said. There are also very few restaurants in the Bay Area that specialize in Hakka cuisine. Some Hakka-type dishes might be show up on a Cantonese restaurant’s menu, she said.
Anusasananan has garnered international attention in the press for her work but her neighbors in San Mateo probably do not know that even though she has lived in the Beresford-Hillsdale neighborhood for 30 years.
“It will be nice to get a little local attention,” she said.
To learn more go to http://thehakkacookbook.com.
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