“I’m culturally Asian, but I distinctively grew up in America. What does that food look like?” This topic came up over and over with six American chefs of Asian descent. Each mentioned having a personal style of cooking unique to their experiences, training, and upbringing.
“You’re seeing more people, especially Asian American chefs, feeling much freer and a responsibility to represent their heritage the way that they understand it,” says Francis Lam, an award-winning food writer. “It’s from their own point of view, and not as an expert just because they grew up in it.”
With an alarming increase in anti-Asian violence, understanding cultural nuances is even more important. There are many ways to support the Asian community, and food is one great place to start. Chefs across the country have created initiatives like #doughsomething and Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate to raise funds for organizations fighting against anti-Asian harassment and discrimination.
We asked six American chefs with ties to India, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea to share a recipe that reflects their heritage, but is uniquely their own. This diverse group includes restaurant owners, Michelin star and James Beard Award winners, food show hosts, and a Top Chef champion.
Plus, if your international travel plans are still on hold, you can take a trip through your kitchen with one of these these delicious recipes.
Niki Nakayama, Chef and Owner of N/Naka and N/Soto in Los Angeles
Recipe: Grilled Wagyu With Roasted Fig Miso
Japanese American chef Niki Nakayama was raised in Los Angeles and got her love for cooking from her grandmother. “I saw how she used food as a way of expressing care and love for us,” she says. “It was the way she communicated how she felt — by cooking food we loved and really enjoyed. Growing up, I felt food was a wonderful way to bring people together.” Nakayama applies those same ideas to her two restaurants: Michelin-starred N/Naka, which specializes in modern Japanese kaiseki cuisine, and N/Soto. “The idea for N/Soto came during COVID. When putting together the bentos, it felt like a care package for what everyone was going through at the time.”
This busy chef has also taught a MasterClass, was featured on Chef’s Table, and acted as a culinary consultant on the film “Always Be My Maybe.”
Nakayama picked this grilled wagyu recipe because, according to her, “It’s the perfect representation of what a cross-cultural dish feels like. The wagyu from Japan, paired with miso, is common in Japanese cooking. And the figs are a California ingredient. We felt it was a wonderful representation of product-driven, California ideas and a very traditional Japanese pairing of meat and miso.”
1 8-oz. wagyu ribeye cut
1 cup red miso
1⁄4 cup sake
1⁄4 cup mirin
1⁄2 cup of minced leeks
6 Black Mission figs
2 tbsps. balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place figs on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly caramelized and soft.
In a sauce pot, start to sweat the leeks in a bit of olive oil. When the leeks are soft, add the sake and mirin, making sure to cook the alcohol out. Once the alcohol has been cooked off, add the miso and stew on low heat for eight minutes. Using a fork, break the cooked figs apart and mix into the miso sauce. Finish with balsamic vinegar.
Season wagyu with salt and pepper. Grill to preference. Rest for five minutes. Heat miso sauce on low heat. Slice beef and serve with fig miso dipping sauce.
Maneet Chauhan, Executive Chef and Owner of Chauhan Ale & Masala House in Nashville
Recipe: Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Pudding With Saffron and Pistachios)
“For Indians, I’m Americanized. For Americans, I’m Indian. I don’t know if I Americanized my food, but I definitely have made the cuisine my own,” says Indian American chef and television personality Maneet Chauhan. Chauhan grew up in a predominantly Punjabi household, but had neighbors from all over India. As a child, she’d visit her “aunties” to learn about spices and techniques that weren’t used in her own home. She attributes those early cooking lessons to her openness in creating unique dishes like cinna “naan” rolls and tandoori chicken poutine, which are on the menu at her Nashville restaurant, Chauhan Ale & Masala House. “I cook food that is authentic to me, where I’m from — India, my foundation — and where I’ve come. I’m an American right now.”
She adds, “If anyone wants to cook Indian food, take it out of your mind that it’s very complicated. It isn’t. Start with something simple and get used to the flavors from there.” This wintertime dessert is a Punjabi favorite. It’s often served during Indian temple festivals and Diwali, the festival of lights.
5 cups whole milk
2 pounds carrots, peeled and grated
4 green cardamom pods
A few saffron threads
2 tbsps. sugar
4 tbsps. ghee, store-bought or homemade
1/2 cup paneer
1 (14-oz.) can condensed milk
2 tbsps. toasted cashews, coarsely chopped
2 tbsps. toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
2 tbsps. golden raisins
In a large saucepan, heat the whole milk over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until warmed through, about four minutes. Do not let the milk come to a boil in order to prevent scorching.
Add the carrots, cardamom, saffron, and sugar and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until most of the milk has evaporated, the carrots are tender, and the pudding is beginning to thicken. Stir occasionally to prevent the carrots from burning and the milk from boiling over. This should take about 15 minutes.
Add the ghee and paneer and cook for another 10 minutes until the ghee is melted and paneer is fully dissolved and incorporated, stirring occasionally. Add the condensed milk and reduce the heat to low. Cook until you can insert a spoon into the middle of the pudding and it’s thick enough to stand up straight, another 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and gently stir in the cashews, pistachios, and raisins. Serve while the pudding is still hot, as it’s at its most comforting at this stage.
If you have leftovers, it will keep in the refrigerator in a covered container for a day or two. If saving the pudding for another day, reheat it in a saucepan over medium heat with a tablespoon or two of milk to help it regain its creamy consistency.
Deuki Hong, Chef and Owner of Sunday Family Hospitality Group in San Francisco
Recipe: Chashu Sandwich
Deuki Hong, a first-generation Korean American, grew up in New Jersey watching PBS cooking shows with Jacques Pepin. He says his mom wasn’t the best cook, but she made sure he was familiar with the foods of his heritage. Hong started cooking professionally at 15 and is currently the executive chef and owner of Sunday Family, a restaurant group that focuses on serving the community and their workers. This past March, they held a fundraiser for Hate Is a Virus and are considering other ways to give back to the neighborhoods where their restaurants are located.
He cowrote “Koreatown: A Cookbook,” which documents the businesses, stories, and recipes of Koreatowns around the U.S. He chose the chashu sandwich, which you can get at Sundays. “It’s modeled after a Jersey sub — lettuce, cold cuts, banana peppers, and mayo. Instead of an Italian roll, we use shokupan, a Japanese milk bread,” he says. “This is what a Jersey sub looks like when you only have access to an Asian pantry. We also have a bacon, egg, and cheese musubi. I always try to cook what I enjoy eating.”
1⁄2 cup soy sauce
1⁄4 cup water
1⁄4 cup sake
1⁄4 cup mirin
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 inch knob ginger
6 shiitake, dried
2-inch square konbu
4 tbsps. Kewpie
4 tbsps. braising liquid
2 slices sandwich bread
2 tbsps. chashu mayo
1⁄4 cup lettuce
8 thin slices of pork belly
Place pork belly and braising liquid in a medium pot.
Braise on medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes until the pork belly is tender.
Remove the pork belly and refrigerate for easy slicing.
Reduce braising liquid by half.
Make the chashu mayo.
Gather all components for the sandwich and assemble. Slice into thirds.
Mei Lin, Chef and Owner of Daybird in Los Angeles
Recipe: Congee and Accoutrements
“It’s important to show people different types of flavors. That’s what America is all about. It’s a giant melting pot,” says Mei Lin, a Chinese American chef who grew up cooking alongside her parents in their family restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan. She remembers being the only Asian person in her school and often felt a stigma to fit in, but grew to embrace her Chinese heritage. “There’s no room for just one cuisine. Everybody can shine,” she adds.
After winning Top Chef and then working as Oprah’s personal chef, Lin moved to Los Angeles to open her own restaurants, 2019 James Beard finalist Nightshade and the recently opened Daybird, which serves Szechuan hot chicken.
Lin picked congee because it brings back fond memories of her childhood. “Congee is one of the first things I cooked with my grandpa,” she recalls. “It’s a dish that makes you feel warm and at home. It’s the perfect meal in a bowl and a blank canvas you can make into anything. I like adding different toppings, which are always available around the house.”
1/2 cup jasmine rice
1/2 cup short grain rice (sushi)
1/2 cup small yellow onion, diced
2 tbsps. ginger, minced
10 cups water
1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
Soft-boiled egg (Instructions: Boil water, add egg in boiling water, and set timer for six minutes and 30 seconds. After the timer goes off, peel and hold in cold water.)
Maitake mushrooms, seasoned with salt and pepper, seared until tender
Umamei XO sauce
Heat a four-quart pot to medium-high heat, add oil, and sweat the onions and ginger until aromatic. Add both types of rice and slightly toast. Pour in half of the liquid and add gradually throughout the cooking process until it resembles a porridge consistency.
Jordan Andino, Chef and Owner of Flip Sigi in New York City
Recipe: Chicken Adobo With Jasmine Rice
Whenever Jordan Andino tastes a dish, he automatically thinks, “How do I incorporate Filipino ingredients into this?” Growing up in Manhattan Beach, California, he didn’t have many Filipino influences, but was inspired by his grandmother’s cooking and working at his father’s restaurant. By the time he opened his first restaurant at age 26, he had been cooking in commercial kitchens for 12 years, got a business degree from Cornell University, staged at Jean-Georges, worked at Spago and The French Laundry, and hosted cooking shows like Late Nite Eats on the Cooking Channel.
In 2020, he spent time exploring his identity and using his platform for good. “Sometimes, you have to speak up, be loud, and break the silence in order for any meaningful change to happen. My friendships and organizations like Gold House have taught me this and given me the courage to do so. I want to talk about something that’s meaningful,” he says. This thinking inspired him to start a podcast about Asian American identity and donate part of the profits at Flip Sigi to organizations like Stop AAPI Hate.
Andino’s been told his food is not Filipino enough. His response? “I’m French-trained and my heritage is Filipino, but I’m not a Filipino chef. I will never call myself authentic because I’m not. I’m a representation and not the only representative.” Andino says chicken adobo is “delicious, so easy to make, and the national dish of the Philippines. Also, I cooked it with Selena Gomez.”
2 tbsps. vegetable oil, for searing
4 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup oyster sauce
3/4 cup dark mushroom soy sauce, such as Pearl River Bridge
1 1/2 cups sugar cane vinegar
2 fresh bay leaves (dried if fresh is unavailable)
Jasmine rice, recipe to follow
2 cups rice, rinsed and drained
Approximately 3 1/2 cups water
In a large heavy-bottom saucepan with a lid, heat oil over high heat for about two minutes. Add garlic and cook for 10 seconds until fragrant. Using tongs, carefully add chicken thighs to pot and cook until caramelized on all sides, turning once. Season chicken liberally with pepper.
Add in oyster sauce and dark mushroom soy sauce, tossing to coat the chicken thoroughly. Cook for two to three minutes until fragrant and sauces start to caramelize on the bottom of the pan. Drizzle in sugar cane vinegar, along with bay leaves. Stir to release the caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan. Cover with the lid and bring to a rolling boil for about five minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for about 30 to 40 minutes until chicken is tender and begins to fall off the bone.
Remove from heat, rest for a few minutes, and serve over a heaping serving of jasmine rice, garnishing with a ladleful of the braising liquid.
Place rinsed rice in a saucepot, spread out to an even layer, and cover with enough water until it reaches the first knuckle of your index finger. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until fluffed, about 20 minutes.
Kevin Tien, Executive Chef of Moon Rabbit in Washington, D.C.
Recipe: Grilled Lemongrass Pork (Thit Heo Nuong Xa)
“I want to make Vietnamese food that’s very individualized, where you can see what it’s like to be a Vietnamese American through my lens and cooking,” says Kevin Tien, a Vietnamese American chef in Washington, D.C. His childhood was spent in Louisiana, with stints in California, Hawaii, Seattle, and Texas. In his former restaurant, Himitsu, he cooked dishes that were “Vietnamese tasting using Japanese techniques and were a riff off of a Southern meal.” In March 2021, he started Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate with fellow D.C. chef Tim Ma. They offer unique dining and takeout experiences in D.C., New York City, Detroit, and San Francisco to raise awareness and funds for organizations working to combat anti-Asian racism. “If anything’s going to change, we need everyone to stand together to make the change. Our chef lineups are very diverse, with people from different backgrounds. Ninety percent are from a marginalized community, and we’re here to support each other,” says Tien.
He chose this BBQ dish because of the many fond memories he’s had grilling in the different places he’s lived. “I love BBQ — from grilling kalbi on the beaches of Hawaii to tailgating during college,” he says. “Also, whenever we ate at Vietnamese restaurants growing up, even if they were known for pho, I’d always order the rice plate with the grilled pork and fried egg. If I had a last meal, this would be it.”
9 oz. lemongrass, chopped
1 tbsp. ground white pepper
4.5 oz. shallot, roughly chopped
3 oz. minced garlic
1 cup fish sauce (Three Crabs Brand preferred)
4 oz. neutral oil (grapeseed or canola)
38 g. rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)
36 g. fish sauce (Three Crabs Brand preferred)
27 g. garlic cloves (germ removed)
6 g. red Thai chili
60 g. sugar
38 g. water (filtered)
45 g. lime juice
2 lbs. pork shoulder or pork butt steak
Nuoc cham (recipe above)
Steamed rice or rice noodles
Lettuce and cilantro, for garnish
Fried shallots or crushed peanuts
Blend all marinade ingredients in a food processor for three minutes until it becomes a rough paste.
Cut the pork shoulder into steak pieces about an inch thick and set aside in a bowl.
Add the marinade to the pork and coat well. Cover and set aside at room temperature to marinade for one hour, or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Before grilling, let the meat sit out at room temperature for about 45 minutes to remove some of the chill.
Preheat the grill to medium-high. Grill for six to eight minutes, turning frequently, until cooked through. Remove from heat and let rest for eight to 10 minutes before slicing.
Serve with rice or noodles and lettuce, herbs, fried shallots, or crushed peanuts. Dress with nuoc cham.
Wendy Hu is a journalist, photographer, and storyteller. She loves eating her way around the world and dreams of living in the French countryside. You can find her on Instagram @nomadicfare and on her website at wendyhu.com