A Tiger In The Kitchen A Memoir Of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lein Tan

Cheryl Lu-Lein Tan grew up in Singapore with no interest in the family traditional cooking that surrounded her youth.  Cheryl’s dreams were bigger than that.  At the age of 18 she left home and family for America to become the fashion writer she had always hoped to.  Yet in her 30’s, Cheryl began to long for that taste of Singapore, the dishes that defined her childhood.  Was it too late to learn the secrets that surrounded her youth and now were embedded within the kitchens of her Grandmothers and Aunts?

A memoir of not only the beauty of tradition and food but also the strength found in unlocking the stories of the past.

First of all – do you see this cover?  What is not to love?   There is a story about how this book came to me.  Last weekend I was looking at the inner workings of my blog.  I noticed that I was bringing in a large number of readers from a site called Food News Journal and I could not figure out why.  When I went to their site, my review from last Saturday, The First Timer’s Cookbook was listed under Best Of The Blogs which was kind of cool – but what really caught my eye was in the upper left hard corner this book, A Tiger In The Kitchen was being featured.  When I read a little about it – I decided that it was a birthday gift to me…. from me.  AND since it was not released until February 8th, I actually preordered it on the 7th.  As you can see, it did not take me long to dig into.

In this mouth-watering sensation of a book – I learned about the history of Singapore flavors to the point that I felt as though I could almost smell the scents of fried crab, peppery pork rib broth, and Hainanese Chicken Rice…

During one trip back to Singapore when Cheryl has decided to actively pursue learning more about her Singapore heritage in cooking and offers to help make the traditional Pineapple tarts, I had to laugh when she walks into the kitchen to help to find not one or two pineapples for the tart making – but seventy. The plan was to make 3,000 tarts.


Written and told by Cheryl Lu-Lein Tan herself, I enjoyed the humorous style of writing and had to laugh because she sounds a little like me – biting off more than she can chew (pun intended) such as traveling back and forth to Singapore to capture the family traditions, and in the midst of it all taking on the Bread Bakers Apprentice Challenge which was an on-line challenge to bake your way through every recipe in this book…. which includes triumphant stories “Bagels that were perfection right out of the oven!”, as well as not so triumphant stories. “I knew the day would come when I would almost burn down my kitchen”.

Oh – and just wait until she calls her maternal grandmother a liar.  😀

Honestly I have not had so much fun reading a food memoir style read

Laksa (spicy noodle soup)

in a long time.  I tasked myself to look up the words I did not know and turned this whole culinary adventure into a learning experience as well.  As Cheryl makes her way through New York restaurants that feature Singapore favorites, and heads home to learn the “how to’s” of her heritage she grows in more ways than she could have imagined.

I thoroughly enjoyed every morsel of this book.  If you are looking for a real treat in culture, food, and everything in between, I would highly put my stamp of approval on this book.

Well this recipe would truly be an adventure in cooking, I do not think this review would be complete without Cheryl’s recipe of Tanglin Ah Ma’s Pineapple Tarts

* this

Yields about 100 tarts

Quantities aren’t exact. My aunts don’t use a recipe, and they laughed at me the first 10 times I asked them for this one. The first set of instructions they gave me for pineapple jam was, “Aiyah, you just juice the pineapple, add sugar and then boil, boil, boil!”

For the jam:

4 pineapples
at least ½ kilogram sugar (at least 2 ½ cups, depending on desired sweetness)
2 to 3 pandan leaves* knotted together
1 long cinnamon stick, broken in two

  • Peel the pineapples, dig out the eyes and chop into chunks. Run the chunks through a juicer. Place the pulp in a large wok or pot with a large surface area and heat on the stove. Add the juice until the mixture has the consistency of porridge or grits; add the knotted pandan leaves and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil and keep it there for a total of three hours, stirring often. Halfway through, taste the jam, and add sugar by the half cup until it is as sweet as you desire. (Note: The amount of sugar needed will vary greatly depending on how ripe the pineapples are.)
  • The jam is done when the pineapple mixture has changed color from bright yellow to brownish ochre and most of the liquid has evaporated, leaving a dense but moist jam.

*Pandan leaves, also called screwpine, can be found frozen in some Asian grocery stores. They are available fresh at http://grocerythai.com/pandan-leaf-p-769.html and http://www.templeofthai.com/food/fresh/pandanusleaf-1000000274.php

For the pastry:

375 grams salted butter (3 sticks plus 2 ½ Tablespoons) at room temperature
600 grams flour (about 4 ¾ cups)
4 egg yolks, plus 1 yolk for brushing onto pastry

  • With a mixer on low speed, combine the butter, flour and four egg yolks, mixing for 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Place dough in a cookie press fitted with a disc featuring a circle of diamonds. Press cookies out onto greased baking sheets. Form small balls of dough and press each one into the hollow of a cookie, forming the base of the tart.
  • Beat the remaining egg yolk with ½ teaspoon of water. Brush the rim of each tart generously. Take a scant teaspoon of pineapple jam (more or less, as desired) and form a ball, then press into the hollow of each tart. Pat the sides of the jam to create a small dome.
  • Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees, until golden brown. Remove cookies from sheets and cool on a rack.
Pineapple Tarts

Amazon Rating

The 2011 WHERE are you reading map has been updated to include A Tiger In The Kitchen

I purchased this book from Amazon

** Note:  During last weeks Weekend Cooking I found this recipe posted by Books and Quilts for shredded beef.  I made this for out supper tonight and it smells and tastes fantastic!  Perfect for February in Minnesota!

38 thoughts on “A Tiger In The Kitchen A Memoir Of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lein Tan

    1. The book is gorgeous Kathy – inside and out. 😀 There was a couple simpler recipes in the back but since I talked about the Pineapple tarts in the review I thought I would include how much work they are too…LOL 😀

  1. Oh wow, I do love books based around food and this one sounds fabulous as it’s on a culture I don’t read about often. I’ll have to check it out!

  2. Sheila, it’s a good thing it’s almost lunch time, because those pictures have me drooling….of course, I don’t have the ingredients to whip up one of these delectable taste treats…but maybe I’ll have to order the book, too.

    Thanks for sharing….

  3. Ooh a memoir and food together in one book! And the cover IS gorgeous! And that spicy noodle soup is making me drool! 🙂

    Great write-up on this book Sheila! Thanks for sharing it! And now I’m going to add another book for the TBR pile!

  4. This sounds like a wonderful book even if you never tried any of the recipes.

    I’m glad that you enjoyed the shredded beef. It is one of our favourites.

  5. This looks so good. My book club does a summer pot luck dinner and we’re starting to look for a selection that features recipes… will investigate this further. It sounds like a winner!

  6. I love food memoirs and most especially well written ones that make you want to do a bit of homework. Love that you posted some pics of the food she was making. This one sounds great!!!

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