‘It was the doorway to understanding myself’: How a self-taught Redwood City home cook channeled her heritage through her Thai beginnings


There is a Chinese proverb that says: “It takes 10 years of practice for 10 minutes of performance.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: “It takes 10 years of practice for 10 minutes of performance.

For VC Tang, a Thai woman who grew up in San Francisco and now lives in Redwood City, the saying rings true as to how her first book, a memoir cookbook titled “Come Eat, Grandma! Recipes and Cooking Stories Thai house ‘gathered.

Writing the first draft of the book only took her about six weeks, she says, but the work of connecting and building an identity from her Thai roots is a process that has taken decades.

The book, which will be released in late October, weaves together recipes and stories with brightly colored illustrations that evoke the warmth and comfort of home cooking. The cooking and writing that went into developing the book manuscript helped Tang learn more about herself and her family during a time of isolation.

VC Tang chops a shallot while preparing a recipe called “My Mom’s Chilli Fresh Salmon” from his new cookbook “Come Eat, Grandma!” Recipes and Stories of Thai Home Cooking” in her kitchen in Redwood City on October 7. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)



For years, she has balanced her nonprofit work with her passion for comfort food at home. When the pandemic hit, she found herself cooking more and wanting to do something about the rising anti-Asian hatred she saw in the community. She was also inspired by the elders she had come to know as a tai chi practitioner and a member of her Thai temple community, many of whom were remarkably fit to carry on with their daily lives. So she turned to the kitchen.

“I don’t think I’m the only one saying a lot of people have taken refuge in their kitchens during the pandemic,” she says.

She had recently quit a job and was embarking on a creative sabbatical. Back then, she says, she would cook a new recipe and then sit down with her mother to eat it and tell stories.

“It would almost be like a musical jam session – the stories would just come out of the two of us,” she says. As they scooped up pieces of Dungeness crab with sauce at home, the two unearthed pieces of long-forgotten memories, she said.

VC Tang's recipe titled
VC Tang’s recipe titled “My Mom’s Fresh Chili Salmon” from his new cookbook “Come Eat, Grandma! Thai Home Cooking Recipes and Stories” in Redwood City on October 7. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)



Tang’s parents immigrated separately from Thailand to San Francisco. Over the years, she took up cooking partly out of a desire to help her mother access food from her homeland. Her mother, she says, was a “decent cook” – as a middle-nine-year-old, her household responsibilities growing up revolved more around cleaning than cooking. She had occasional cravings for certain foods, but as a busy seamstress and seamstress in San Francisco, she didn’t always feel like taking a trip across town to get them.

Accessing both ingredients and preparation techniques for Thai cuisine has not always been easy, but thanks to increased importation and the efforts of Californian farmers — especially Hmong farmers in the Central Valley, she says – it’s now a bit easier to track down ingredients like Holy Basil, Chinese Mustard Greens, and Fuzzy Melon. And the rise of YouTube has helped her learn more about the techniques used in Thai cooking, she adds.

As a child of immigrants, she says, it took her a long time to realize that her homeland and her home are different places.

What finally allowed her to come to terms with this tension were years of working to reconnect with her roots, she says. “The difference kind of faded away.”

VC Tang crushes ingredients together using a mortar and pestle while preparing a recipe titled
VC Tang mashes ingredients together using a mortar and pestle while preparing a recipe called “My Mom’s Fresh Chilli Salmon” from his new cookbook “Come Eat, Grandma! Recipes and Stories of Thai Home Cooking” in her kitchen in Redwood City on October 7. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)



She compares the process of learning about her heritage to climbing a mountain. Learning to cook Thai food was a mountain, while learning the Thai language was an even steeper mountain. She has also spent time traveling through Thailand independently and working with the Berkeley Thai Temple Youth Group as part of her self-directed cultural immersion.

Throughout her childhood, a constant for her was the Thai temple, where she attended a weekend and summer program from kindergarten. Her upbringing there, she says, was “like an apprenticeship degree in Thai culture.” Many of her peers’ families owned Thai restaurants, so there was always plenty of food, as well as lots of music and dancing, she recalls.

Families who sent their children to the temple “were just very proud of who they were,” she says. “I truly consider it one of the greatest blessings of my life, to have had this time capsule of a place educating myself alongside my American classroom education.”

And though she has come to embrace her Thai heritage, she also accepts and values ​​other parts of herself, she says. “It’s a big part of who I am, but it’s actually not all I am.”

VC Tang stir-fries ingredients while preparing a recipe titled
VC Tang sautéed ingredients while preparing a recipe titled “My Mom’s Fresh Chili Salmon” from his new cookbook “Come Eat, Grandma! Recipes and Stories of Thai Home Cooking” in his kitchen in Redwood City on October 7. (Photo by Magali Gauthier)



For example, she has come to appreciate what she calls “adjacent” cuisines – similar but not quite identical, like Cantonese cuisine. She writes in her book that growing up, her mother looked for a number of southern Chinese flavors, which made her think because they weren’t Thai. Later, she learned that she had a grandmother who was Chinese.

“I grew up in San Francisco telling the world I wasn’t Chinese. And then to be told that as an adult, wait, I am in many ways… it’s like my ancestors are playing this huge prank on me,” she says.

The book was put together by an all-Thai creative team, she says, including work by illustrator Emily Ramai Kim and editing and layout by Ja Arun Ravine. On one page, Kim’s illustration of a container of soup on a hospital bed tray accompanies a recipe for yen ta fo, seafood noodle soup in pink broth, which Tang recalls he it was the dish her grandmother wanted the most when she was in the hospital recovering. heart attack. In another part of the book, a bag of groceries spills onto a counter next to a simmering pot with beef noodle soup, “an easy, must-have meal for a working single mom,” Tang writes.

To launch her book, she is hosting a book signing and party at the Park James Hotel in Menlo Park on October 30, with a reception sponsored by Farmhouse Thai Cuisine. She’s especially excited to share the cookbook with her “aunts” — older women who have mentored her over the years — and expects them to critique and discuss specifics of certain recipes with her, says -she.

“We are so spoiled in the Bay Area – (food is) such a gateway to understanding each other and understanding communities,” she says. “It was also the door to understanding myself.”

To purchase tickets for the book signing and party or to pre-order the book, visit tinyurl.com/vctang. Learn more about the book at stirfrystories.com or follow Tang on Instagram at @stirfrystories.

The post “It was the doorway to understanding myself”: how a self-taught home cook from Redwood City channeled her heritage through her early Thai cookbook memoir appeared first on The Six Fifty.

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