Taiwanese South African adds to our food dialogue

Taiwanese South African adds to our food dialogue

‘Just Add Rice’ by Ming-Cheau Lin is about Taiwanese cuisine, which seeks balance and harmony in taste and texture while highlighting the original flavours of ingredients and its nutritional value. But it’s also about home cooking, about familiarity and comfort and celebrating culture – recipes that connect the author to her parents when they lived in another city and in a distant country.

This book speaks of the cultural development of a Taiwanese immigrant who was raised in South Africa. She shares stories of her childhood, her beginnings of assimilation and her desire for unlearning – not wanting to lose herself in a society and industry that doesn’t often reflect her norms. She uncovers her road to understanding and embracing her third-culture identity.

Beyond the stories – learn about the ingredients in Ming-Cheau’s pantry and how to use them; her cultural norms of dining and food etiquette; traditional Taiwanese and Chinese dishes; her favourite street foods; budget-friendly recipes and creative hybrids that embrace being both Taiwanese and South African. ‘Just Add Rice’ offers a diverse variety of dishes – from meaty dumplings and a vegetarian meal spread, to deep-fried snacks and gluten-free norms.

Celebrate the rich culinary heritage of Taiwanese culture from a South African voice. It will inspire you to try Taiwanese, Chinese and unique South African versions of these recipes at home, using local produce and a wide variety of East Asian ingredients that are available here.

Ming-Cheau Lin was born in Tainan, Taiwan and came to South Africa when she was three years old in the early 1990s, growing up in Bloemfontein. Now based in Cape Town, she is a freelance copywriter and writes a food blog, butterfingers.co.za, as a platform to share insights into Taiwanese culture through recipes and stories. Her work has been featured in local food, lifestyle and opinion spaces, and won a Getaway Blog Award in 2012. She’s a social activist – offering talks on embracing empowerment as a woman of colour, being mindful in a multicultural environment, with a focus on the harms of cultural appropriation and stereotyping.

“It is important to normalise our culture, our traditions of food, to stop exoticising (thus othering) our norms so we can stop being seen as foreigners in South Africa,” says Ming-Cheau.

She also has an international City & Guilds diploma in patisserie and worked for the late master of preserving, Oded Schwartz, at Oded’s Kitchen (in the kitchen, at food markets, admin and marketing).

Ming-Cheau and I have a few things in common – we love food and we both own a Weimaraner and have had the pleasure of knowing Oded Schwartz, who was indeed a master of preserving.

I love this book and have picked it up again and again. I think you should too. Get yourself a copy, as its filled with delicious, nutritious food that can be prepared on a budget. It has a comprehensive list of need-to-have pantry items for cooking Taiwanese and Chinese food with suggested substitutions; essential information on traditional Chinese dining etiquette, customs and traditions; and simple recipes for home cooks.

East Asian South Africans can enjoy their first locally produced cookbook with stories that reflect relatable culture and culinary heritage. Anyone who is interested in Chinese home cooking, food and South African food heritage is sure to love this book.

Ming-Cheau says what makes her cookbook different from any other cookbook is that it’s the first of its kind in South Africa. It’s informative and teaches that East Asian cooking is more than just sweet and sour or sushi. It shows how the ramen concept, to us, is just a noodle soup; that you don’t need to be wealthy to enjoy the pleasures of Chinese cooking; and that there’s harmony in the way our dishes or snacks are created.

When asked what encapsulates the heart and soul of her culinary tradition, she answered, “‘Have you eaten yet?’ which is a greeting between Taiwanese people. It comes from a time when Taiwan was extremely poor as a country, when the majority of the population fled from China to the island to escape the government, including my ancestors. These words ‘Jiă ba buāi’ (eaten yet?) were uttered out of concern and support, as many didn’t have the luxury of eating their fill. This represents the generosity and kind nature of Taiwanese people.”

Inspirational words of concern to live by, I’d say. We could do with more of that in South Africa. Thank you for your contribution to our cultural dialogue, Ming-Cheau.