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Apron Strings: Navigating Food and Family in France, Italy and China

In her most recent book, Apron Strings, a travel memoir that explores food and family, STU professor Jan Wong takes readers on a unique cultural journey through France, Italy and China. She takes readers to local markets and her hosts’ kitchens—and even cooks with them. Apron Strings, however, is not only a culinary experience, it is also an examination of a mother-and-son bond and relationship; through their shared experiences, Wong watches and comes to terms with the growth of her 22-year-old son, Sam.

As they travel through all three countries, Wong and her son find themselves being fully immersed in the routines and traditions of the families they stay with, quickly fitting in with their hosts’ relatives, sheltered immigrants, maids and neighbors—who all gladly teach them how to make a dish or two.

The book’s lessons, however, go beyond how to make sauces, pasta and firecracker chicken. No wonder, at the end of it all, Sam admits to learning more on the trip than in a school year. The book gives insight into the history, politics, social and economic development of all three major settings. More importantly, it gives readers comfort that their families are not the only crazy ones, as may sometimes seem to be the case.

Without a doubt, the people, homes and foods in this book are what make it worth one’s time; all these aspects, however, would not exist if it were not for the fantastic presentation. The author is, without question, a master in the art of storytelling. On every ride, every flight and in every home, something funny and interesting happens. Because of Wong’s humorous recounting of events, paired with her descriptive writing, one immediately gains a familiarity and attachment to the people, the setting—and even the recipes.

In addition to her humour and skillful style, Wong manages to appeal to our emotions every time she mentions Sam. She wears her heart on her sleeve, letting us experience the changing relationship and growing bond the two have. Something about their bond makes her appear vulnerable and highly relatable. Finally, the book is a success because throughout, the author accomplishes what she had set out to do on her sabbatical: “to know how the politics and economics of globalization had affected what we ate.”

Apron strings may be for foodies, but Jan Wong’s Apron Strings is for everyone. After all, most of our lives are transformed by our families, the food we eat, the people we share it with and the places we go.

 

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