Despite living apart in different cities (and even countries), the Leung family has stayed close through their undying love for Chinese food. Having lived in Beijing, this Chinese-American family from New Jersey created Woks of Life, a ‘Chinese’ food blog run by Bill, Judy, Sarah, and Kaitlin. But it would be wrong to assume the blog is limited to just Chinese food. Scrolling through the site, one will find recipes from all corners of the globe.
The Leungs started Woks of Life in June 2013 as a way to keep in touch with each other while the family was apart. Sarah, the eldest sister, had a lot of time on her hands and was the main initiator of the blog. This little family food project now enjoys 1.3 millions views a month, and was named the “special interest blog of the year” at the Saveur ‘15 Blog Awards. It’s the diversity and limitless approach to Asian cuisine that keeps readers coming back for more.
Each family member has their own expertise when it comes to cooking and sharing recipes.
With such an impressive index, we were surprised to find that Sarah is your average city girl working in Manhattan, who has a passion for all things food. We met up with her at a coffee shop in the Greenwich Village to discuss what Chinese food means to her, and to extract some Leung family secret ingredients.
According to your bio, the blog was a way to keep the family up-to-date. How does food affect your family dynamic?
Food is our family dynamic. From a young age, everything revolved around the kitchen. The kitchen is a gathering place for a lot of families.
How has food helped to maintain your Chinese heritage?
Food makes me feel most connected to my Chinese heritage. I didn’t speak Chinese when I was younger, but I remember cooking with my grandmother. She spoke broken English, but I always made dumplings with her and watched how she folded them.
What are your thoughts on ‘Americanized’ Chinese food?
I think Americanized Chinese food is fine. I think people talk about authenticity when it comes to food, but really the definition of ‘authenticity’ is a really personal thing. If you grew up going to Chinese take-out restaurants, that’s an authentic experience for you. We’re totally open to those kinds of dishes, and we do a lot of them.
Your blog is very relatable, especially to first generation Asian Americans. What do you credit the success of your blog to?
A lot of hard work and perseverance. [We didn’t] expect it to be as successful as it is. In the first few months, we were barely getting any traction. We just did it as a database; I actually use my own blog [to find recipes]. So it started out as a resource for us to use, but I think what made it successful was the fact that we kept posting consistently and sharing it with more people.
What’s the trickiest thing about cooking Chinese food?
I think Chinese food is pretty easy actually. I guess having everything prepared before you cook [is important], because the cooking is very quick, usually around five minutes per dish. Especially with a stir-fry, you have to have everything ready to go.
What’s the biggest misconception about Chinese food?
In the States, their [concept of] Chinese food used to be limited to what’s on a take-out menu, [but this] is changing. People are getting exposed to more regional Chinese cuisines, which is good. I think Yunnan [food] should be brought to America. Every dish I had at a Yunnan restaurant was so interesting. That style of food has yet to make it outside of China.
What’s your favorite Chinese dish and why?
Best single bite of food: Shanghai soup dumpling. They’ve always been my favorite and my weakness.