Many of us may have tried Taiwanese cuisine, but probably didn’t know that was what it was — after all, who hasn’t heard of bubble tea, popcorn chicken, beef noodle soup, gua bao, or even Din Tai Fung?
Unfortunately, as The New York Times points out, for a while, Taiwanese food was seen as Chinese food, and became part of the landscape which included more popular Chinese-American dishes like General Tso’s chicken, egg rolls, kung pao chicken, and roast duck. But times are changing, and as “The Food of Taiwan” author Cathy Erway tells The New York Times, younger Taiwanese are pushing back on their parents’ and grandparents’ stand that assimilation was the best way forward, and they are “reclaiming their Taiwanese identity” through food.
Enter Frankie Gaw, the latest Taiwanese American to tell his story through his cookbook, “First Generation,” which he describes on his Little Fat Boy food blog as a collection of “recipes and stories that explore what it means to be Asian American.” Taste says Gaw’s parents moved to the United States from Taiwan in 1985, a time when Taiwan Insight says migration from the island located off the coast of southeast China hit its peak. Gaw, who was raised in Ohio, grew up on a diet made up of his grandmother’s cooking as well as fast food, and it wasn’t until his 20s when he began learning those traditional recipes, per Taste.
Gaw’s cookbook, “First Generation,” brings together 80 of those traditional and tradition-inspired recipes, along with vibrant images that the former designer himself took. “I shot it all in my attic. I’ve always loved photography, and I studied industrial design, so I knew I wanted to be the book’s creative director,” Gaw says (per Taste). “I think there was just something about being able to represent that food and shoot the food that I grew up with, to have that control over the creative direction and the styling that was important to me.”
While Gaw presents classics and how to’s for recipes like dumplings and scallion pancakes, he also offers his take on Taiwanese cooking with a twist from his American home region — and that includes “a midwestern Taiwanese snack inspired by Costco Corn Dogs and Night Markets,” per his Instagram.
Gaw is clear about what his book isn’t as well. “The book isn’t a canonical encyclopedia of Taiwanese food, and I’m not a Taiwanese food expert,” he told Taste. “I know what I know from personal experiences and what I’ve gone through with my family. I’m a work in progress, and the food is very much a representation of that perspective.”
“First Generation” comes out on October 25, per Gaw’s Instagram.