cover image Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods

Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods

Grace Lin. Little, Brown, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-48600-2

Via appetizing full-color gouache and pencil illustrations alongside lush, mouthwatering prose, Newbery and Caldecott Honoree Lin chronicles the origins of the most ubiquitous dishes in American Chinese restaurants. A table of contents, structured like a Chinese takeout menu, breaks down topics—such as soups, side orders, and chef’s specials—into bite-size sections that describe the meals’ sometimes mythical origins. By tracing the etymology of wonton soup, for example, the creator outlines how, when examining the dish name’s Northern Chinese roots, “wonton” can refer to “primordial chaos or the Daoist creation story of the world.” Lin allows common foods their time to shine, noting how the dumpling was created by a doctor more than 1,800 years ago to help villagers combat frostbite, and the fortune cookie has Japanese American beginnings. Other entries include dragon-filled tales of various teas, and the backstory and etiquette surrounding chopsticks. Each selection, often prefaced with a personal anecdote and historical or folkloric context, whisks readers back in time; some entries highlight ancient tales about magic fruits, while others address troubling periods of strife and discrimination. These foods—and their stories—find common ground in their deep-rooted connection to Chinese American culture, which is further anchored by an author’s note that details the book’s inspiration. A family recipe and endnotes conclude. Ages 8–12. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Sept.)