Ni hao! Hello!
Do you ever dream about dumplings? I certainly do.
In fact, just hearing the word “dumpling” makes me happy. It’s the ultimate comfort food and my favorite term of endearment (feel free to call me ‘Dumpling’ any time). 🙂
Whenever you have a meat and vegetable filling wrapped with dough it’s a good thing. Plump, tender, savory, lip-smackingly delicious. Mmmmmm!
Since I’m a big fan of Chinese dumplings in particular, I was especially happy to see Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge by Carrie Clickard and Katy Wu (Simon & Schuster, 2017).
Written in rhyming couplets, this delectable new picture book is an absolute delight, a charming introduction to the Chinese-American chef, author, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and TV personality who popularized Northern Chinese and Shanghainese cuisine in America.
We first see Jia (Joyce) as a young girl in Beijing.
A quiet room.
One ink-stained girl
determined to perfect each curl.
Her writing brush
sweeps down the rows.
A scrumptious scent slips
past her nose.
Jia’s favorite treat.
Cook hands her one, still warm, to eat.
Cook offers to teach Jia how to make her own dumplings. But no matter how hard she tries, hers don’t look anything like his.
Undeterred, Jia “practices from spring to fall.” She makes not only dumplings, but noodles and sweet rice balls too. Come New Year’s, Jia proudly shows Cook what she can do and he is duly impressed. As she grows up, Jia retains her interest in cooking, garnering praise from her father for her zongzi. In school, teachers begin calling her “Joyce.”
Joyce marries and has two children, but life has become troubling and uncertain because of the Communist Revolution. They are forced to leave Shanghai for America, where they eventually settle in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
There, she invites Chinese students over for home-cooked meals. A new country feels less strange when sharing news from home and eating familiar foods.
with students learning.
Far from China,
filled with yearning.
Joyce invites them:
“Come and eat!”
Sharing news and
One day at a school bake sale, Joyce brings a platter of egg rolls along with her cookies. Everyone else has brought only Western treats, and at first she is embarrassed. But she’s relieved when they all praise her egg rolls and clamor for more. Soon, family and friends convince Joyce to open a restaurant.
She’s thrilled at her grand opening, but a little puzzled when customers resist trying her dumplings. After she renames them “Peking Ravioli” they sell like hotcakes. Joyce goes on to give cooking lessons, writes a cookbook and even has her own TV show, the first syndicated cooking series in America hosted by a woman of color.
Success has come for all to see:
an author, chef, and mom of three!
Days filled with what
Joyce loves to do.
Her dumpling dreams have
all come true.
Clickard’s upbeat, engaging text succinctly captures the key events in Chen’s life, showing how one woman’s passion for cooking led to a successful career and a coveted place in American culinary history. Mandarin Chinese words are sprinkled throughout the story, with traditional treats mentioned to mark special occasions: zongzi (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) for the Dragon Boat Festival, tangyuan (rice balls stuffed with red bean) for Joyce’s wedding, red eggs for the birth of her first child.
Katy Wu’s vibrant, emotive illustrations pull the reader right into the action. Defty drawn facial expressions capture moments of frustration, surprise, dismay, pride, worry and contentment. Wu uses the color red (a symbol of happiness and good fortune in Chinese culture) to great effect: Joyce wears red for most of the story, and there are striking red tablecloths, working surfaces, lanterns, and restaurant doors.
Of course I love all the food illustrations: platters of freshly steamed dumplings and long life noodles, moon cakes, egg rolls, and steamed fish. There are typically “American” foods too (hamburgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, ice cream, pizza, donuts, cookies). Food being prepared, served, eaten, and shared with ethnically diverse groups large and small — what could be better?
This book made me think back to when I first learned of Joyce Chen. I didn’t watch her cooking show on PBS, but as a young newlywed I certainly encountered her cookbook, famous flat bottom wok with a handle, high quality cooking utensils and bottled Chinese stir-fry sauces (she was the first to develop these for the U.S. market).
Joyce (who would have been 100 this year) was quite a trailblazer in her commitment to introducing authentic Chinese cuisine to Americans. She was a proponent of healthy (low fat, low sodium, low cholesterol) cooking, refused to use the standard Red Dye #2 or any other food coloring in her dishes, and was one of the first to use canola oil in her restaurants (she owned 4 restaurants over a 40-year period).
She was also an astute businesswoman. When commercial publishers initially refused to include color photographs of finished dishes in her cookbook, she self published it. In order to introduce people to a wider variety of Chinese foods (and to drum up business on slower mid-week nights), she introduced the restaurant buffet.
We have Joyce Chen to thank for food menu items being numbered (to simplify communication between Chinese and non-Chinese speaking restaurant employees), and for menus printed in both English and Chinese. And where would we be without mouthwatering favorites such as Peking Duck, Soup Dumplings, Moo Shi Pork, or Hot and Sour Soup? A far cry from the generic “chop suey” and fortune cookies that characterized Americanized Chinese food before Joyce came on the scene.
A scrumptious blend of biography, culture, food and fun, Dumpling Dreams is sure to have kids craving dumplings and eager to make their own. Clickard has included a biographical timeline, glossary, bibliography and dumpling recipe (with both veggie and meat fillings, and instructions for boiled, steamed, or pan-fried varieties). Get your hands on this book pronto and prepare to drool! 🙂
Just to whet your appetite a little more, a little sampler of foods mentioned in the story:
Hungry yet? 🙂
DUMPLING DREAMS: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge
written by Carrie Clickard
illustrated by Katy Wu
published by Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster, September 2017
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 48 pp.
*Includes timeline, glossary, bibliography and dumpling recipe
♥ Click here for a 1966 episode from Joyce Chen Cooks, where she makes her famous Peking Ravioli.
♥ Enjoy this video of Stephen Chen (Joyce’s younger son) making Joyce Chen 5-Minute Potstickers:
🌺 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY 🌺
The publisher has generously provided a copy of the book for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Tuesday, November 28, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with DUMPLING in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!
Carol at Carol’s Corner is back and hosting the Roundup today. Zoom over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend!
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best bibs and aprons and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.