“A TIGER IN THE KITCHEN,” by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (Voice. 296 pp. Paperback, $14.99)
Early in this savory memoir, New York writer Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan gives a sense of the caution that pervades Singapore, the city of her birth. When she called to tell her parents about her new boyfriend and mentioned his surname, Nakamura, her father pointed out that her two aunts had been killed by the Japanese. “I would have to tell him several times,” she writes, “that the boyfriend was a third-generation American and could not possibly have been responsible for the Japanese occupation of Singapore during World War II.”
It also took some persuading before Tan’s parents came to terms with her decisions to attend college in the United States and then to settle here. On a visit home, she realized that her grandmother, at least, had reconciled herself to the uprooting when Ah-ma agreed to teach her how to make popiah, a roll “filled with a melange of ingredients like minced shrimp and jicama.” “She had never wanted me to be away from her,” Tan writes. “But now that I was, and now that I might have a family of my own there someday soon, she wanted me to listen up and learn.” At the end of the book, having deepened her relationships with several other relatives, Tan gets her mother to tell her how to make one of Asia’s most labor-intensive delicacies: bird’s-nest soup.