“Egg Rolls and Sweet Tea”: How meals can provide as a catalyst for variety

The title of Natalie Keng’s new cookbook, “Egg Rolls and Sweet Tea: Asia Encouraged, Southern Design and style” is a nod to how her parents’ immigration from Taiwan to Ga set the stage for her culinary upbringing. “Not only are they two of my preferred meals,” she said. “In many ways, they replicate who I am.” 

Keng loved a distinctly southern childhood — invested “suckling nectar out of honeysuckles, likely to country fairs and fishing off the dock of Lake Altoona” — that was flavored with dishes from her parents’ property country, sparking a lifelong curiosity in global delicacies. As a kid, she worked in various of her parents’ retail merchants at the neighborhood shopping mall, including one that marketed (you guessed it) egg rolls and sweet tea. 

“This oddball pairing went ‘viral’ and people lined up for what at initially experienced seemed extra like cultural confusion than culinary fusion,” Keng claimed. 

“If you quit and consider about the meals we enjoy as People, it truly is straightforward to see the kaleidoscope of intersections and overlaps that makes us the envy of the planet,” she ongoing. “Right in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, I can love dishes that span the world even though embracing my appreciate of the great American South.” 

Natalie Keng (Photo by Chris Lawery)

However, illuminating exceptional details of intersection in singular means isn’t just a narrative thread by way of Keng’s reserve (even though seem to her her “Signature Purple ‘Snushi’ Rolls,” which incorporate pork rinds, Cheetos and avocado, as a primary instance of that). It was a key component of her do the job in the corporate globe wherever she utilized foodstuff as a way to inspire authentic conversations about corporate culture— a little something that can perhaps serve as a template for many others who want to have more genuine conversations close to the two the boardroom and eating desk. 

Just before beginning her personal company and turning into an creator, Keng was a strategic multicultural marketing and advertising government and range-inclusion advisor at a Fortune 100 enterprise. She states that she learned “the electrical power of meals and society” whilst functioning in the fiscal providers sector of this corporation, wherever she was charged with “advertising and marketing gender equity in a male-dominated marketplace.” 

“At first, I located it really hard to get any individual to have interaction in these sorts of conversations in the boardroom,” she mentioned. “But as before long as I started off inviting colleagues to potlucks, insights about how diversifying a product sales staff should really be just as important as diversifying an investment decision portfolio flowed ideal out into the social conversation.” 

This led to an notion: What if alternatively of relying on the same stale corporate bonding routines to inspire new conversations, food turned the talking place? Keng received folks out of the workplace and started internet hosting dumpling-creating activities, tours of farmers marketplaces and cafe visits. This available attendees a likelihood to obtain unanticipated points of commonality. 

Egg Rolls & Sweet Tea coverEgg Rolls & Sweet Tea cover (Image by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn/Gibbs Smith)

That is 1 of the factors why, in the introduction to “Egg Rolls and Sweet Tea,” Keng poses the query: “Can meals be the catalyst for accepting range?” In Keng’s thoughts, the remedy is an unequivocal yes, specified that she thinks of it as “arguably the world’s finest icebreaker.”


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From time to time, all it usually takes is a single ingredient to come across common floor. For instance, rice. 

“Rice has played such a historically sizeable agricultural and financial job across the globe, specially in Asia and in the American South,” Keng explained. “[It] can be basic and incredibly elaborate across the rice varieties, vitamins, rising and cooking approaches.” 

Dad's Sweet TeaDad’s Sweet Tea (Image by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn/Gibbs Smith)

From her e book, she factors to the  Rainbow Black Rice Salad — which she calls “a potluck preferred for its amazing colours and texture variety” — as properly as the Foundation Camp White Rice with Quinoa (with a pat of butter and a fried egg), which is “comforting, basic and gratifying.” 

“This cookbook is an amalgamation of my childhood developing up in the Deep South and my ordeals as I came to learn my passion for checking out the parallels and intersections of race, course and gender as a result of the prism of Asian and Southern family and foods traditions,” she ongoing. As Keng places it, she arrives from “a lineage of ceiling breakers.”

And even though the e book is deeply particular to Keng’s lived practical experience — and is packed with household images and pleasant anecdotes about equally her do the job and individual lifetime — it consists of a universal message. 

 “Each dish tells a tale, whether or not it’s barbecue or banh mi. When we discover to really like the food stuff, we are a lot more open up to the individuals,” she reported. “When we are extra open to individuals, we have a probability to discover widespread pursuits — no matter whether similar age kids or even if it’s a debate about the definition of a Dumpling or the very best fashion BBQ — it opens choices — for friendship, relationship and believe in, curiosity at some degree. When we have relationship, all the things flows from there.” 

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