Tracing Family Heritage Through Food

How to "travel" to ancestral lands from the safety of your own kitchen.

Cheryl Tan

Organized heritage tours are an increasing reason for travel to countries like Ireland, Germany and Italy. Especially for somewhat rootless Americans, tracing family trees seems almost as important as experiencing the culture of one's grandparents or ancestors even further back in the bloodline. A need to reconnect with family inspired writer Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan to revisit her birthplace, Singapore, and spend a year there learning to cook the food of her childhood, which she writes about in her memoir.

She tells us about her experience below:

The seed for A Tiger in the Kitchen was planted in Singapore one Chinese New Year when I found myself learning how to make the pineapple tarts that my paternal grandmother had been famous for celebrating that holiday. These buttery cookies topped with sweet pineapple jam were my favorite dessert as a child in Singapore. I always thought I would learn how to make them with my grandmother’s guidance, but she died when I was eleven.

Living in the United States as an adult, I missed my family’s cooking and my grandmother’s tarts more with each passing year. When I decided to go home to learn how to make the tarts and other Singaporean dishes, I realized I was also learning about my family and myself. I came to regard this book as a form of culinary anthropology.

In my aunties' kitchens, many of the dishes I learned were ones they made without thinking to write down the recipes to pass down to future generations. If I hadn’t asked them to teach me, these family recipes may have been lost.


Like the armchair traveler, a kitchen traveler can "visit" ancestral cultures through its cuisine. Here, The Daily Meal editors share the foods they love that help them go back to their roots.

Colman Andrews

Culture: French-Canadian

If I were cooking, I'd make a nice tourtière. The store-brought product would be maple syrup.


Jess Kapadia

Culture: India

Extra long-grain Basmati rice and split yellow lentil dal with homemade yogurt and pickled chilis.


Molly Aronica

Culture: Jewish and Italian

My grandmother's matzoh ball soup or meatballs.


Maryse Chevriere

Culture: French

 French onion soup and salad with warm goat cheese. And if I could make foie gras, that too.


Yasmin Fahr

Culture: Persian

Saffron or Basmati rice to make Tah-deeg (the crispy part of the rice that forms on the bottom of the pan — it's sooo good soaked in stews).


Valaer Murray

Culture: Scottish

When I went to Scotland and visited the Murray clan region, I ate a lot of Scotch pies from little bakeries in Perthshire.


Allison Beck

Culture: German

My mom's family's yeasted German peach cake.


Arthur Bovino

Culture: Italian

Grandma's homemade tomato sauce with meatballs.



This post was originally published on Februrary 16, 2011