Kimlai Yingling

Culinary Producer. Recipe Maker. Food Writer.

I’m an ethnically ambiguous 1/2 Vietnamese 1/2 Caucasian American and the creator of Having a mother who was born and raised in Vietnam has fueled my curiosity for Everything Asian. Being bi-racial definitely has its perks. I don’t feel weird taking 15 empty plastic bags from the Target check out and shoving them into my one bag because hey, that’s what Asians do. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of uses for plastic bags. Regarding fashion, I can wear one purple sock and one green sock with my orange shorts and a pair of white pumps and it’s expected. Another perk is that people automatically assume I’m super smart which can be good or bad! Then of course there are disadvantages to being biracial. Am I catholic or am I Buddhist or do I follow the cultural traditions? Is it okay that I don’t know how to play the violin? Why wasn’t I good at math? Why am I the only Asian on the streets of LA who truly is a good driver? And most importantly why do I feel like I need to own a nail salon even though I don’t do nails?

My mom and I have been cooking and bickering in the kitchen together for years. I’ve always been interested in the cuisine and culture of Vietnam but it became a full-fledged obsession when my mom started teaching me to cook. Being self sufficient was a lesson I learned early on by both parents and if I didn't learn to cook I would never eat Vietnamese food again, except for rice paper, which doesn't require any cooking. It was super important to learn about Vietnamese ingredients and my moms recipes. Cooking your own food and combining ingredients is an art, it's therapeutic and again it's about being self sufficient. Besides, everyone knows no ones cooking is better than mom’s home cooking, no matter what nationality you are so I figured I better to get work.

I feel that my true understanding of Vietnamese ingredients came with I traveled to Vietnam with my mom which allowed me to experience Vietnamese cuisine firsthand. The variety of fresh ingredients at the street markets and on the water-boats was amazing. One thing to always remember when visiting a third world county…EVERYTHING IS FREE GAME. I brought a chicken home to be my pet for the duration of my stay and the next day I couldn't find my chicken. Then dinner time came and we all sat on the floor around this big pot of chicken soup and my friendly chickens head popped up.

None of our meals were Americanized, which I was extremely happy about. In my opinion, adjusting an authentic recipe not only takes away the flavor but it doesn’t allow you to truly appreciate or experience the true ingredients indicative to a particular area. The more knowledgeable I become with ingredients and cooking styles the higher my expectations are when I go out to eat at other restaurants and when I’m cooking for family and friends. My palate has definitely become more sophisticated.

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