Fusion fun: Natalie Keng shares her family's tales and tips to help you add Asian elements to your cooking.

Author:Keng, Natalie

My family journeyed from China and Taiwan to the Deep South here in the states. Our experiences were marked by a constant juxtaposition of cultures and customs, from eggrolls and Big Maes to Taoism and Dow Jones. Many of our "buddha to bubba" family stories revolved around culture and community and also food.

In 1976, my family opened the first Chinese restaurant in a mall, "Eggrolls by Keng," and served handmade, specialty eggrolls and sweet iced tea. At that time, most of the eggrolls were mass-produced or shipped in from New York, frozen with stringy cabbage and colored meat bits. People hiked across the mall for our sweet tea and eggrolls!

My mother recalls cooking in Smyrna, Georgia: "In the '70s, they didn't sell tofu or soy sauce at the local grocery, so I had to be creative." She developed many fun, fusion dishes, or "Country Asian creations" as we call them: Hot Hunan Catfish, Five Spice Rutabaga, Fried Rice-a-Roni and Black-eyed Pea Soup With Bok Choy.

We hope that these tales of our homestyle Country Asian meals will encourage you to approach cooking in a fun way, and that the following tips will help you add not only a creative, fusion touch to your kitchen, but also help create a stronger, shared sense of community across differences and similarities.

The following are a few of our favorite cooking and eating tips. We left room for adaptability and creativity and would love to hear your ideas and experiences for blending cultures and spices in your life. Ni hao, y'all! May we all enjoy more cross-cultural friendships, potlucks and eggrolls n' sweet tea!



Kitchen (and Restaurant) Tips From a Chinese Southern Belle

Get Serious About Stir-Fry

* There are a few stir-fry essentials you'll always want to have on hand: fresh garlic, ginger, scallions and soy sauce

* Always stir-fry your garlic, ginger and white onion first in hot oil then add the other vegetables, being careful not to overtook. You'll want to stir-fry your meat separately.

* To store extra ginger, put it in a ziploek bag and freeze, then grate or slice to use.

* Wrap extra green onions in a brown paper bag or plain newsprint and refrigerate.

Use the Right Tools

* Cast-iron skillets and a cast-iron wok work great for...

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