Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Serious Reads: 'Breaking Bread,' by Lynne Christy Anderson

"Anderson's book provides a warm, insightful look to a household's most meaningful room—the kitchen."

The stories of immigrants are often captured through political histories, memoirs, or news headlines, but the preservation of food culture also plays a crucial role in our understanding of immigration. Chef and professor Lynne Christy Anderson enters the kitchens of members of her Boston community who have left their homes in search of a new life in America. Their touching stories and delicious recipes are wonderfully captured in Anderson's Breaking Bread: Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens.

Anderson was a professional chef for some years before turning to academia. Her book is a compilation of brief character studies, focusing on the main cook of 25 different immigrant households.

20110408-breaking-bread.jpgEach chapter contains a page or two of Anderson's narrative, describing how the food is being prepared with some background on the families. Then an equal amount of space is dedicated to the interviewee's first-person account of their experiences in the U.S., their food culture, and how food preparation plays a role in their daily lives.

The cuisines explored in this book are highly varied. We get a glimpse at preparing a long-simmering Ethiopian wot, observe a mother and son's delicate preparation of Vietnamese goi cuon, and learn how to make a different sort of quesadilla, Salvadoran-style. Not all the dishes are completely foreign—one Italian family highlights grandma's fettuccine and an Irish man shows off his best mashed potatoes. But all the dishes require certain techniques, special ingredients, and have a whole lot of history.

It is impossible to generalize the experience of these immigrants in the U.S. Some assimilated easily, learning English through traditional schooling and maintaining only loose ties to their cultural heritage. Others are highly nostalgic for their true home and reluctant or unable to let go of their traditions. All the stories, however, convey a strong belief that food can surpass language, religion, or education as the most powerful connection to one's culture and history.

Anderson's subjects had remarkably similar commentary on life and society in America. The primary lament was the lack of a community among neighbors. Many recounted the casual drop-ins and large gatherings of their friends and family back home—few experienced the same sense of generous welcome in the States. But a wonderful theme was many narrator's reflections on carrying out their mother's food tradition. Home cooking can be translated in any language or culture, and most often it is Mom's hot plate of food that'a best remembered and replicated.

Anderson's book provides a warm, insightful look to a household's most meaningful room—the kitchen. Each chapter contains recipes from these families' culinary heritage, making Breaking Bread not only a great read, but a rich and inspiring cookbook. It reflects on all that America offers, but also all the rich culture and dishes that immigrant families bring.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly magazine.

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