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Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef’s Journey to Discover America’s New Melting-Pot Cuisine

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There is a new American culinary landscape developing around us, and it’s one that chef Edward Lee is proud to represent. In a nation of immigrants who bring their own culinary backgrounds to this country, what happens one or even two generations later? What does their cuisine become? It turns into a cuisine uniquely its own and one that Lee argues makes America the most interesting place to eat on earth. Lee illustrates this through his own life story of being a Korean immigrant and a New Yorker and now a Southerner. In Off the Menu, he shows how we each have a unique food memoir that is worthy of exploration. To Lee, recipes are narratives and a conduit to learn about a person, a place, or a point in time. He says that the best way to get to know someone is to eat the food they eat. Each chapter shares a personal tale of growth and self-discovery through the foods Lee eats and the foods of the people he interacts with—whether it’s the Korean budae jjigae of his father or the mustard beer cheese he learns to make from his wife’s German-American family. Each chapter is written in narrative form and punctuated with two recipes to highlight the story, including Green Tea Beignets, Cornbread Pancakes with Rhubarb Jam, and Butternut Squash Schnitzel. Each recipe tells a story, but when taken together, they form the arc of the narrative and contribute to the story we call the new American food.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published April 17, 2018

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About the author

Edward Lee

4 books53 followers
Restaurants include 610 Magnolia, MilkWood and Whiskey Dry in Louisville. Succotash National Harbor and Succotash Penn Quarter in Washington DC. Author of Smoke & Pickles and Buttermilk Graffiti, both published by Artisan Book.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 307 reviews
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,037 followers
March 13, 2018
"Immigrants: we get the job done." (That's a Hamilton reference, y'all.)

Edward Lee veers off in a slightly new direction in this travel memoir that also includes recipes (I really want people to stop calling this a cookbook, it isn't.) He visits places in America that have unique food cultures because of immigrants living there, from Moroccan (and smen, an intriguing fermented butter) in Hartford, Connecticut to a Lebanese community in Mississippi. He even travels through West Virginia with Ronni Lundy, a section I really enjoyed because I have and love her cookbook. He basically invites himself along!

Edward Lee is curious and respectful, and sometimes people don't open up to him right away. His willingness to wait, to keep trying, and keep eating, yields interesting stories (but does not always yield the recipe secrets.) At the end of each section, he includes a few recipes. Sometimes they are pretty close to the food he consumed in the place, and other times it is his spin on it. All of the recipes are in the spirit of what he ate and how it got there, with a little extra bourbon from time to time (once a Kentucky boy....)

I have to admit that I don't expect chefs to be the best writers, but the craft of writing in this book blew me away.
"Paula sits with us for just a few minutes. Her parents still come in to make the kibbeh, she says. No one else can make it right. I can feel the restlessness in her bones that only another chef can truly understand."
He moves between a narrative and reflective voice, and offers a focus and respect to food creators that has been long overdue.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me early access through NetGalley. The book doesn't come out until April 17, but I couldn't wait to read it.
Profile Image for Jenny.
269 reviews95 followers
July 8, 2018
I liked the fact that this book evoked the emotional connection people have with food. It’s not about the taste of something always but who you share it with or memories from the past.
I grew up going to visit relatives in West Virginia and eating those same pepperoni rolls. It’s not just the taste I remember but the trips in the car listening to my Dad singing country music on the way. This book is more than a cookbook, though there are great recipes, it’s about culture and memories.
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,204 reviews189 followers
March 9, 2019
My husband and I discovered after bingeing all available seasons of The Great British Bakeoff that we really enjoy food-related television, and our fascination led us to Netflix shows like Cooked, Ugly Delicious, and Salt Fat Acid Heat. Buttermilk Graffiti is like those shows, but in book form. Chef Edward Lee traveled around America, eating in local restaurants and worming his way into as many kitchens as he could, because he wanted to learn about the kinds of cooking being done in different regions by different cultures. It didn’t always go well—he often followed whims rather than plans, tried to infiltrate some very insular communities, and his main MO was to walk up to strangers and start asking questions. He at one point purchased a raw chicken sort of against his will and then didn’t have a way to refrigerate it, so he tried to give it to his server at a chicken restaurant—an impulse born of good intentions, but clearly not one bound to be received well. Despite these and other false starts, Lee does some meaningful reflecting on ideas like authenticity, cultural gatekeeping, and appropriation, and it’s fun to go along for the ride with him (especially since you’re not actually there suffering the awkwardness in person).
Profile Image for Graham Oliver.
721 reviews7 followers
June 21, 2018
The recipes and conceptualization of the food mechanics were fine (and I plan on trying to vegetarianize a few of the recipes), but the description/analysis/observations of the places/people/foodways were pretty simplistic/shallow/not interestingly written.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,699 reviews2,299 followers
May 10, 2022
• BUTTERMILK GRAFFITI: A Chef's Journey to Discover America's Melting-Pot Cuisine by Edward Lee, 2018.

"I suppose that's what I'm looking for - not a legend, not a signpost, just a place where people come to cook." (pg 130)

I wasn't that familiar with Edward Lee as a chef, but I love food-oriented memoirs and travelogues, and this one came recommended by Jenny @readingenvy a few years back. Saw it at the library recently and decided to finally get to it.

🍲 Lee is a Korean-American chef from Brooklyn, who now lives and runs restaurants in Kentucky. He reveres traditional food ways and especially those of recent immigrants to the US and the small shifts over generations.

In BUTTERMILK GRAFFITI, he traces his own journey alongside the travels and interviews of cooks, bakers, farmers, distillers, and fishermen in this ambitious book.

Quintessential foodie cities like New Orleans, Miami, & New York are on the list, but also the smaller towns, off the beaten path: observing Ramadan fast in Dearborn, Michigan; Morrocan cooking in Westport, Connecticut; hotdogs in Helvetia, West Virginia; Lebanese kibbeh in Clarksdale, Mississippi; Vietnamese shrimp trawlers in coastal Texas; hopping on a book tour with a Nigerian chef friend; Peruvian enclaves of Paterson, New Jersey; Little Scandinavia in Ballard neighborhood in Seattle; the best Jewish deli in Indianapolis, among several others locations.

Lee's approach is spontaneous, gonzo, and borderline rude/pushy, but usually lands okay(ish?) with his subjects. He just shows up in peoples' eateries and tries to engage in conversation, and maybe get a peek at the kitchen... (did you even plan ahead, Ed?) Come on, that's a lot to ask of someone you just met! And someone who may not speak the same language as you.

As Lee was describing his experiences in people's restaurant and home kitchens, I kept on wondering what the people on the other side were thinking of him & the way he was recording his time with them...

So, while his methods didn't always sit right with me, and he tended to over-romanticize or tie things up with a pretty bow, I did enjoy this one, moreso the willingness of his subjects.
Profile Image for Joe Jones.
563 reviews33 followers
January 4, 2018
This is not your typical cookbook. Not even close. There are recipes at the end of each chapter but they are just a fraction of what I got out of this book. Instead Chef Edward Lee gave me a glimpse of different cultures that came to this country and the foods that define them and how they have adapted them. Wait, even that is only part of the story. I may never get to taste Chef Lee's food but I am thankful I am able to read his writing! He brings alive the idea of food being a central part of so many culture's lives in a way that makes you want to immediately start cooking his recipes for family and friends and discuss what you just read.
Profile Image for Colleen.
375 reviews3 followers
May 14, 2018
A fun read from an interesting perspective with recipes at the end of every chapter; my only complaint is that I read it too quickly and still want more.
Profile Image for MargaretDH.
991 reviews17 followers
March 2, 2020
I think you either like reading about food, or you don't, and if you like reading about food, you should pick this up.

Lee is a Korean-American chef who loves to eat, and to think about how food and culture shape one another, whether it's the humble slaw dog of West Virginia or a complex and layered Uyghur lamb noodle soup. As Lee visits cities all over the US, he visits restaurants, mostly humble establishments run by immigrants or working class people. He talks to the cooks and servers about their food, how it fits into their community and what cooking means to them.

Lee was born in the US to Korean immigrants. He often finds himself an outsider since whites (and blacks) find his Asian looks foreign, while the Korean immigrants he encounters think his basic Korean and born in American status makes him different from them. He uses this outsider status as a charming way to strike up conversations, learn about foods from scratch and ask questions others might not.

This whole book was lovely, and Lee appreciates fine dining just as much as road side stands or soul food straight out of someone's kitchen. He's an evocative writer, and endlessly enthusiastic about the way different flavours can be combined. He reminds me a little bit of Anthony Bourdain in that they are both willing to try anything, food or drink, and get to know just about anyone. His recipes at the end of each chapter are also inventive and accessible, and as soon as watermelon is in season, I will be pickling some, Russian style.
Profile Image for Mitch Karunaratne.
366 reviews32 followers
December 30, 2018
After reading this I have a massive list of places I want to go and food I want to eat...including eating a Shapiros pastrami sandwich at the Brownstone speedway track in Jackson County. However, it’s Edward Lee himself that is the hidden star of the show! His writing is brilliant, he’s thoughtful, challenging, inquisitive, kind and brave / crazy! He’s my new new found hero!

Lee takes us to meet and hear the stories of people making real food, food connecting them to their personal stories, community and history.

“ Cooking is not about perfection but about the flawed process of how we aim for a desired flavour”.
Profile Image for Mallory Howitt.
5 reviews1 follower
March 10, 2020
Some good information about enclaves of immigrants across the US - really interesting stuff and the only reason this book gets stars. What's not interesting, however, is the nightmarish writing style. Lee's constant attempts to romanticize literally every situation he finds himself in are nauseating at best. We get it bro, you get a stiffy for the hands of (what your imagination tells you are) sad immigrant moms.
Profile Image for Deb.
1,219 reviews56 followers
June 14, 2019
For Cook the Books:

I was already a bit of an Edward Lee fan from his season of the PBS series, The Mind of a Chef and his stint on Season 9 of Top Chef, and his battle on Iron Chef, but I had not ever read any of his writing, something I was happy to rectify with this book. Buttermilk Graffiti: A Chef's Journey to Discover America's New Melting Pot Cuisine is Lee's second book, following Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories From a New Southern Kitchen and his unique perspectives and passion for food and the people who cook it made it a win for me. I like his appreciation for the people he meets in his cross-country explorations and how descriptive his writing and storytelling is--it isn't surprising to read that he graduated magna cum laude from NYU with a degree in English literature before turning his skills to cooking. I really enjoy his approach to food too--with his unique combinations of cuisines and ingredients. He made me want to hang out with him in the car and in the kitchen.

As usual, I struggled with my time management these past two months and had to return my library print copy of the book. I ended up using an Audible credit and listening to half of it before finishing up with print again when a library e-book came available. I liked both reading and listening to Lee's prose, although I would have enjoyed him narrating the book (even though the narrator David Shih did a nice job). I felt like I could pick up and put down the book and appreciate each chapter as I meandered through it. The recipes included are an added treat. Buttermilk Graffiti was an enjoyable road trip and I put a library hold on Smoke and Pickles because I want to hear more from Lee.

You can see my review and my recreation of two recipes from the book here: https://kahakaikitchen.blogspot.com/2...
Profile Image for Robin.
1,424 reviews36 followers
March 12, 2018
Fascinating look at various American communities and the food that has evolved from melding regions and international cuisine. Lots of recipes included but while they were fun to peruse, they didn't hold much interest since my digestive issues can't tolerate many of the ingredients. I do want to watch Lee's series Mind of a Chef and his documentary "Fermented."

Thanks to the publisher for the advance reading copy.
Profile Image for Linda.
24 reviews5 followers
July 19, 2018
I really enjoyed this one, maybe because Lee writes about places and foods familiar to me: Louisville, Houston & the Gulf, fufu, beignets. His adventure with a dead chicken in Paterson, NJ, was a delight. This made me want to be more adventurous with my eating, she said, then ate a plate of spaghetti.
Profile Image for Michelle.
126 reviews
October 25, 2019
This really just made me want to travel the country and eat food all day long. Written as a series of essays, Lee's focus is on the meaning of culture and how it relates to the food we eat. He explores different subcultures within towns and cities that you wouldn't otherwise think of, and eats at "mom-and-pop" shops that are often overlooked in the larger restaurant/reviewer scene. The book, for sure, made me appreciate all the different food cultures I get to experience living in NYC, and also made me realize that I shouldn't always pass by the place that looks a little rough around the edges.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
109 reviews6 followers
October 14, 2018
Book 2 of the Brother/Sister book club was a big hit with my brother who went and got Lee’s Smoke & Pickles as well! This is similar to Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene but in essay length dives into the history of cuisines brought to the US as opposed to Twitty’s deep dive into his own heritage and cuisine of slavery. Lee is an engaging and engaged foodie and brings out the best in the locations he visits- one of which is slaw dogs from WVA-salut
Profile Image for Bridget.
1,044 reviews33 followers
June 26, 2020
Reading is not easy for me right now, which is why this took me so long to finish. Even though it took me forever, I really enjoyed it. I love the way the author blends place, people, and food, while also discussing race, immigration, and what it means when cuisines become "Americanized." The recipes are super interesting and sound delicious, but I think most of them are more complex than I'd be comfortable attempting at home. Don't read this on an empty stomach.
Profile Image for Charles Smith.
3 reviews
June 6, 2018
Brilliant. There's a sentence at the end of chapter 10 that gut punched me.
Profile Image for JD Mitchell.
81 reviews5 followers
April 4, 2019
I was not expecting a whole lot from this but I live in the same city as Edward Lee and I love what he does for the community (feeding TSA workers, making donations to LGBTQ Youth Groups), so I figured I would check it out. And I loved it, almost immediately. In each chapter/essay, Lee profiles an immigrant/marginalized chef in a different city who deserves more attention. He writes about the culture and circumstances that birthed the food, the story behind the plate. At the same time, he weaves broader stories about authenticity and tradition and culture. He writes thoughtfully and provocatively:

Many of the immigrants I've met came to America because they were escaping war, famine, and persecution. In exchange for safety and work and a new chance at life, they rewarded us with myriad cuisines that we would otherwise never have been expose to. Nigerian food, Uyghir food, Burmese food... Do we need global tragedies to continue our exploration into world cuisines? Is that a sustainable system?

He includes 3ish recipes at the end of each chapter and I was so intrigued and moved by the end of each essay, that I wanted to cook at least one thing from most chapters (recent Google search: "where to buy beef tongue"). I made Pork Lab with Fried Egg on Popcorn Brad (it was ok, too salty for me) and Hoedduck, a Korean-style donut (loved it, will definitely make them again). I've dogeared several more recipes that I want to try, and I'm planning to explore an Asian grocery story this weekend for some ingredients.

Lee is very much a presence in the book. It's memoir-esque. He writes about growing up as a Korean-American and as a chef. He writes about his education in cooking and culture. He drinks and smokes and dances on tables. He's funny. I thought the entire book was so sincere and accessible and well done. It would be great to include a center insert of some of the people he met and places he visited. His book inspires me to try new recipes, meet new people, and challenge myself with new experiences.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
2,346 reviews51 followers
September 19, 2020
I loved this. In an age when foodie culture has progressed beyond "trendy" and into "bougie," and food/travel memoirs are still dominated by white people "broadening their horizons" or whatever in response to accusations of cultural appropriation, Edward Lee's lack of pretension and genuine curiosity about food, and perhaps more importantly, the humans and communities behind the food, was what I needed. As someone who would say that I am probably familiar with a decent amount of different foods and cuisines, I learned a lot, both about world cuisine, how that cuisine was transported and transmuted (or preserved) in the US, and the stories behind them.

P.S. Reading "melting pot" in the subtitle made me cringe when I picked up the book, but the probable reason, a quote from a chef about his country's food being a pot simmering for hundreds of years, is in the book.
Profile Image for Mahlon.
314 reviews124 followers
July 16, 2018
I like Edward Lee a lot, he's good on TV and a good storyteller. The book itself is surprisingly well-written but when he got deep into the origins of the names of various things like benights I just lost interest.
Profile Image for Stesha Brandon.
12 reviews4 followers
January 24, 2018
Lee raises interesting questions about authenticity, tradition, and appropriation as he explores how immigrant food cultures impact American cuisine.
Profile Image for Pete Wung.
141 reviews8 followers
May 4, 2019
I became aware of Edward Lee as a contestant for the Top Chef show on Bravo, the Austin Texas edition. I identified with him because we are both of Asian descent, and we don’t see too many Asian folks on shows like Top Chef. In addition to that connection, I noticed he is from Louisville, a city I travel to quite often, at least twice if not three times a year. So, I kept track, hoping that he would open up his own restaurant, I wanted to taste what I saw.

Over time, I had eaten at three of his Louisville restaurants: 610 Magnolia, Milkwood, and Whiskey Dry, I enjoyed all of them and it made me a big fan of his culinary skills. When his first book: Smoke and Pickles came out, I was a bit more cautious, I was not a regular reader of cook books and I wasn’t about to start. I have read other books from famous chefs, Anthony Bourdain being one, but his books were different, they had a point of view and they were not all about the recipes.

It was with this mindset that I happened upon this second book of his while I was visiting my favorite bookstore in Louisville, Carmichael Books. After flipping through the book, I realized that there was much more to the man’s writing than that of a chef discoursing on cooking, taste, food, and the food culture. He was in fact, much like Anthony Bourdain than I had realized. In addition, I figured that there is a certain amount of predestination involved since I was in a Louisville landmark thumbing through the book written by another Louisville landmark. So, I bought it.

This book is divided into sixteen chapters, each have a story or two to tell, some times they coalesce into a tidy narrative, mostly they don’t, and that is the beauty of Lee’s story telling: nothing is intentionally meant to be completely self-contained, everything is a bit messy, and that is its charm. He goes off and wanders these United States as someone who is not completely assimilated, someone who’s difference is written on his face. He goes into places where he is not completely welcomed, he is an outsider wherever he went. More to the point, he asks a lot of question, as a writer should, and he often invites suspicious scrutiny from those very people that he most wanted to have a conversation with. He does persevere, and he does have fascinating conversations, about the food of course, but also about his subjects lives here in America, about how they got here, what they think, how they feel about issues that are important to their daily lives. The chapters always end with his own interpretations of the recipes he speaks about in the body of the chapters, some are significantly different while others are tweaked, according to how he feels.

More important than the reportage of the stories is his own assessment of the stories, he speaks plainly and bluntly about what he experienced, there is always an elegiac feel to his prose. He conveys the sense of the immigrant experience both in terms of the fulfillment that comes from being satisfied with where they ended up yet also with a sense of sadness regarding the loss over the thing that defines the speaker’s past and culture. But, there always the description of the food, he is blunt and honest about the food he tastes, and he will call out a bad interpretation, but when he goes into the food, he is all at once evocative and descriptive. The only thing that he was not able to evoke is allow us to actually smell and taste the food, but he comes awfully close. He also does not insist on authenticity, because authenticity is not real to him, people will cook and eat differently as they evolve within this American stew, only the quality matters.
The stories are told as a main piece that brings us to social and cultural points, points that are made subtly but clearly. It gives us a sense of what the feelings are with the people telling Lee the stories but are not overpoweringly obtrusive.

I enjoyed the food writing, the travelogue, the stories, as well as the thoughtful reflections. It made me appreciate the breadth and depth of a meal, it could be just a satisfying meal, which is all that we ask, while it can also be a cross cultural exploration, if you converse, reflect, and question your experience.

Lee always went to the small, inconspicuous places in search of honest foods that reflects the cultures that are the most representative of the subject in each chapter, so it was with great excitement that I discovered that I had actually been to one of the places he focused on. Shapiro’s in Indianapolis is not small, nor is it inconspicuous, it is an icon in south Indianapolis. I happened to eat there while I was on my way home. It was a delicatessen in the finest sense of the word, and as I read Lee’s account of his visit, I could visualize the scene as I was there myself. I of course excitedly tweeted the picture of my meal at Shapiro’s to Lee, a reader lives for those little moments.

Finally, as he was winding down his book, he took us into his personal reflections about his life, his wife, his daughter, his Korean background and family. It is a very important point for me, it took a certain amount of courage to expose his thoughts, his fears, and his past history to the readers; and the humanity of what he had to say made the book that much more welcoming and honest. Going back to our shared Asian background, I felt his battles with the parental and cultural expectations. I was able to appreciate the frustrations and fears coming from the younger Edward Lee even though he rebelled against those expectations and took the road less traveled, while I took the well-trodden familiar path, only to be rebelling in my later years. The last few chapters, in speaking of those challenges in his life as well as speaking about his adopted hometown of Louisville, was a very nice ending, it made the book journey more meaningful and the stories already told that much more appreciated.
Profile Image for Amy.
651 reviews131 followers
December 27, 2022
This is similar to the type of book I would have liked to have written if I had the time to travel around the US (and the gumption to dig for stories from people who don't necessarily want to talk). The idea was to go around the US and talk to people with restaurants in immigrant communities to learn their stories and see how they've adapted their cuisines to US-available ingredients. I was honestly floored by how much this man can eat (and he's not large). He said that he eats a 3000-calorie diet. That seems like a lot, but I'd bet he ate more on his journalistic journeys. He ended up eating 5 or 6 meals a day, often storing the leftovers in his hot car for hours to take back to the hotel as leftovers. His personal food safety habits make me question ever eating in his Louisville, Kentucky, tasting-menu restaurant. Once, he carried around a freshly-slaughtered chicken all day until he lost it somewhere when it slipped out of the bag. This is definitely a man going hard after his food stories.

I don't watch a lot of food-based tv, so I wasn't familiar with Edward Lee. He was born in the US to Korean parents, grew up in NYC, and now lives in Louisville, Kentucky. With such a background, his cooking definitely runs toward fusion. He says that the term "fusion" is
not about combining or co-opting disparate cultures, not about spiking shitty mashed potatoes with artificial wasabi powder, but about finding ways to balance the formal structural cuisine of Europe with the home cooking of the immigrant cultures around him. That was the fusion.

Each chapter delves into a different cultural food tradition. And Lee creates a fusion recipe inspired by the food that he has sampled on that leg of his food journey. However, I didn't really find any of the recipes tempting, either because they seemed too involved or because the ingredients aren't easily available. That's okay. I didn't come to this book looking for recipes.

Lee says that the idea of classifying foods as being authentic " implies that tradition is static and that there can be no evolution. It implies that a culture can stand still." Yet, immigrants who brought their foods to the US tend to represent a slice of time in their homeland's culinary history. If they went back to their homeland, they may find familiar flavors, but many of the foods they encounter will have changed.

Food in the US is really a product of what immigrants have brought here. But, more and more, it's becoming assimilated into what we think of as ordinary food to the point that it's losing its original cultural identity. Food, like language, is fluid. It changes with trends and incorporations of what's available. Lee asks
Does the fact that German food has so deeply infiltrated our food identity mean that it succeeded in its goal to assimilate, or in that process, did it fail to carve out its own cultural and historical identity? I wonder if, in a hundred years, Americans will eat bibimbap without knowing where it came from. Isn’t that already happening to foods such as tacos and pizza? Or can we go back and recalibrate these beloved foods every time a new wave of immigrants comes to America?

Overall, I'd say that this is one of the best books I've read this year. It's the first time I've picked up a book from a food journalist in ages. It's as compelling of a read as a fiction book with Lee's storytelling abilities. This book was a GoodReads award nominee for the best food-related book in 2018, which led me to the discovery that this is no longer a GoodReads award category. Boo!
Profile Image for Eden.
1,716 reviews
August 8, 2019
2019 Bk 248. Edward Lee lives and is chef at a restaurant less than 15 miles from my home. I have never met him - I may have bumped into him at the mall, or at an event in Louisville, but I feel like I know him through the docmentary series "Mind of a Chef". I admire Edward Lee - he is one of the younger cooks who thinks about what he does and why he does what he does. He goes beyond the basics of feeding people to wanting to nourish their minds and their bodies with tastes and textures and scents and to broaden their knowledge of what is possible in the world around them. I enjoyed this, his second book (somehow I missed the first, must find it). It is a trip to a variety of different food venues around the country. I enjoyed them all, but the one that struck me most was the chapter about the demise or incorporation of German ethnic cookery to its most kitsch. His wife is German American as am I. We both do not think of our recipes and food as 'German', but his chapter made me think and realize that my tastes were formed by that of my 2nd and 3rd generation German American ancestors. An excellent read that can make the reader think about what and why they use to nourish their own bodies.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
416 reviews23 followers
October 6, 2019
Edward Lee's journey to "Discover America's New Melting-Pot Cuisine" is thoughtfully written — sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes provocative, but mostly uplifting.

Read it cover to cover. It's well worth the time.

The plate of food has never been the be-all and end-all for me. Quite the opposite: for me, good food is just the beginning of a trail that leads back to a person whose story is usually worth telling. [Chapter 2: The Pugilist and the Cook, p.32]
~ ~ ~
[A] strength rises out of the cracks in the sidewalks of these immigrant neighborhoods [...] [It] is vibrant, with the din of a hundred languages and aromas of myriad spices. [Chapter 12: Immortality of Paterson, p214]

There are only a handful of actual recipes in this really wonderful book. We have already tried a couple of them (being careful to put our own spin on them...) and have others bookmarked.

We might make his Chanterelle Hummus at the end of Chapter 4: The Accidental Fast. But, if we do, we will NOT call it "hummus"....

CHANTERELLE HUMMUS In the age of culinary appropriation, there is a raging debate among chefs and food writers about what you can and cant' call hummus. For the most part, I tend to side with the purists. Black bean hummus isn't hummus (it's just gross). But I do call this a hummus because the chanterelles remind me of chickpeas in flavor and color. [Chapter 4: The Accidental Fast, p.83]

Chanterelles but zero chickpeas? I'm with the purists. You cannot call this hummus. It might be delicious, but please, Edward Lee, call it what it is: Duxelles, or Chanterelle Pate, or Chanterelle Spread, or.... well... anything but "hummus".

Bookmarked recipes:
Chapter 2: The Pugilist and the Cook:
• Amok Trey (Thai fish curry wrapped in a banana leaf
• Popcorn Bread
Chapter 3: The Unfamiliar Noodle
• Coffee-Glazed Bacon
• Fried Peanuts
Chapter 4: The Accidental Fast
• Lamb Arayes with Tahini Dressing and Pickled Sweet Peppers
• Chanterelle Hummus
Chapter 5: Exile and Cigars
• Jalapeno-Mint Aioli
• Chicken "Vaca Frita"
• Mojo Sauce
Chapter 6: Slaw Dogs and Pepperoni Rolls
• Miso Creamed Corn
Chapter 7: A Kibbeh in Clarksdale
• Nasturtium Leaf Kimchi
Chapter 9: A Lesson in Smen
• Seered beef Rib-Eye with Prunes, Almonds, and Bourbon-washed Butter
Chapter 10: Death and Aquavit
• Salmon with Horseradish Cream on Savory Pancakes
Chapter 11: trawling for Shrimp
• Vietnamese Crepes with Shrimp, Pork, and Herbs
Chapter 12: The Immortality of Paterson
• Pollo a la Brasa
• Aji Sauce
Chapter 13: Nigerian Hustle
• Beef Skewers with Cashews, Curry, and Black Pepper
Chapter 16: A Tale of Two Cornbreads
• Lacy Cornbread with Rhubarb Jam
• Janice's cornbread (even though there is not really any recipe)
• Shirley Mae's cornbread (even though there is not really any recipe)

It is because of [Ronni Lundy] that I don't put sugar in my cornbread. [Chapter 6]
~ ~ ~
Janice takes a fork and pierces the meat. It is good, she tells me. She makes me a plate and tells me to sit down [...] She tells me I have to eat it with cornbread. She makes a quick batter and spoons it onto a skillet. She calls it cornbread, but it it more of a corn pancake. It is light and fluffy, but with a gritty texture that tells you this is homemade food. It comes out hot and steaming. She tops it with a little pat of butter, and it immediately melts into a pool of gold that seeps into the corn cake.
[Shirley Mae] makes her hot water cornbread to order, and it can take twenty minutes sometimes. She boils water in a small pot. In a bowl, she spoons out cornmeal with a little bit of sugar. She slowly drizzles the hot water into the cornmeal and works the wet meal with her hands until she gets a dough that feels right. Then she breaks it into small nuggets and fries each one in a cast-iron skillet with a deep pool of hot oil. [Chapter 16]
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[R]ecipes can be an incredibly personal expression. A simple conversation about the origin of a recipe can lead to an entire afternoon talking about one's childhood in Tennessee. There is nothing terribly difficult about making cornbread, either. I could give you Shirley Mae's recipe in one paragraph. But you'd be missing the point. In fact, I'm not giving you Shirley Mae's or Janice's recipes—partly because they don't translate easily into words. Each of them cooks from memory, and neither can stand following recipes. They would think it silly for me to even try to figure out the measurements. But don't despair. You should try to figure out your own recipe. You've come this far with me, and I hope by now you understand that the best cooking is not about perfection, but rather the flawed process of how we aim for a desired flavor.
      If you want to make cornbread, all you need is cornmeal, salt, a pinch of sugar, and some butter. You can use hot water, milk, or even a little oil if you want. Don't put eggs in it, though. And don't add too much refined flour. Mess around with the proportions, and you'll come up with a mixture you like. That's how I make cornbread at home. It comes out a little different each time, but that's the fun of it.
[Chapter 16: A Tale of Two Cornbreads, p.305-306]
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You will quickly notice that the recipes in this book are not accompanied by photos. This was done on purpose. I want you, the reader, to trust your instincts and cook the way I know you are capable of. Having a recipe published with an accompanying photo is a pretty modern invention. We have been following recipes without photos for centuries. When we don't know what the end result is supposed ot look like, the imagination is allowed to roam free and we come up with our own conclusions. Pictures are excellent guides, and can give you a goal to aspire to, but they can also have a negative effect. If you make a dish and it doesn't look exactly like the photo, you might feel a sense of failure. I don't want that. [Chapter 1: Introduction, 'A Note About the Recipes', p.8]

Profile Image for Jessica.
1,699 reviews20 followers
May 28, 2019
Edward Lee spent two years traveling the US exploring immigrant food. Immigrants are what makes up America, so how do immigrants incorporate their food into their new culture and how does American food change with the influence of all this immigrant food? These are some of the questions Lee explores in this book. Each chapter focuses on a specific ethnic food in a small town in America. Often it's surprising as Lee claims the best Jewish Deli is in Indianapolis, or there is a huge Middle Eastern population and food culture in Dearborn, Michigan. Lee says, "The plate of food has never been the be-all and end-all for me. Quite the opposite: for me, good food is just the beginning of a trail that leads back to a person whose story is usually worth telling." (p. 32) and that is exactly what he does in this book he highlights not just ethnic food all over the US, but the specific people who are cooking this food and their stories. Definitely an interesting look at just how diverse the food culture is here in the US.
Profile Image for Amanda Yates.
67 reviews2 followers
May 11, 2021
Read this for a book club challenge for the category of a book to help plan my next vacation, and since so much of my travel revolves around food, this seemed like a good pick. I expected to enjoy traveling vicariously through recipes and brief stories from cities across America, I didn’t expect the stories to be so poignant. I didn’t expect Lee to bring up so many questions: what it means to eat food (and to consume culture) in America, if authenticity and tradition are actually achievable or necessary, how it’s so easy to forget how much of the incredible immigrant food and culture in America is the direct result of displaced refugees, of a lack of other opportunities beyond the service industry. I enjoyed his meditations on how food can be frozen in time, a nostalgic representation of home, of family. As far as visiting the places represented? I definitely added some new cities to my road trip list, and will have to revisit some to hit up the restaurants that I’ve missed.
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