By By Sarah Rafael García
Each year, I find ways to add new book genres and styles to LibroMobile's bookshelves. During the pandemic, I was messaged via email, text and DMs profusely by folks seeking recommendations for BIPOC cookbooks. Mainly because BIPOC books are one of our priorities. Cooking and cookbooks became a new pastime for many during those quarantined months, but not for me. I've always been a foodie enthusiast. Just ask my family and friends. My partner can vouch for the overwhelming cookbook collection in my own house, and you can read my Eater piece about mis abuelitas y tortillas de harina too.
Since 2020, I have continued to add foodie titles at the bookstore. I wish everyone who loves food could curate such titles for the public. Holding space for our BIPOC cookbooks section — which now also includes memoirs, short stories, anthologies and women of all backgrounds — forced me to cook and research with purpose rather than as a trend. I now tell people I have the largest cookbook collection that rarely turns into meals on my table. I find myself more interested in the storytelling, the chefs and their challenges and triumphs, and the experimental forms sizzling on the page rather than the frying pan. Here are my current Top 5 Favorites!
Order up, I'm sure you'll find something savory. I promise you, no one has to cook a meal to enjoy the book, but it would make it more indulging!
For the Hip Hop Lover & Their Friends
"What if Questlove threw a dinner party and everyone came? Questlove is best known for his achievements in the music world, but his interest in food runs a close second. He has hosted a series of renowned food salons and conversations with some of America’s most prominent chefs.
Now he is turning his hand to creating a cookbook. In Mixtape Potluck Cookbook, Questlove imagines the ultimate potluck dinner party, inviting more than 50 chefs, entertainers, and musicians and asking them to bring along their favorite recipes. These recipes are usually enough to feed a dozen or more. He also pairs each cook with a song that he feels best captures their unique creative energy. The result is not only an accessible, entertaining cookbook, but also a collection of Questlove’s diverting musical commentaries and an illustration of the fascinating creative relationship between music and food. With Questlove’s unique style of hosting dinner parties and his love of music, food, and entertaining, this book will give readers unexpected insights into the relationship between culture and food."
For the Historians, y las mujeres afuera de la cocina también
"In 1951, Doña Natalia Barraza opened the Nayarit, a Mexican restaurant in Echo Park, Los Angeles. With A Place at the Nayarit, historian Natalia Molina traces the life’s work of her grandmother, remembered by all who knew her as Doña Natalia––a generous, reserved, and extraordinarily capable woman. Doña Natalia immigrated alone from Mexico to L.A., adopted two children, and ran a successful business. She also sponsored, housed, and employed dozens of other immigrants, encouraging them to lay claim to a city long characterized by anti-Latinx racism. Together, the employees and customers of the Nayarit maintained ties to their old homes while providing one another safety and support.
The Nayarit was much more than a popular eating spot: it was an urban anchor for a robust community, a gathering space where ethnic Mexican workers and customers connected with their patria chica (their “small country”). That meant connecting with distinctive tastes, with one another, and with the city they now called home. Through deep research and vivid storytelling, Molina follows restaurant workers from the kitchen and the front of the house across borders and through the decades. These people's stories illuminate the many facets of the immigrant experience: immigrants' complex networks of family and community and the small but essential pleasures of daily life, as well as cross-currents of gender and sexuality and pressures of racism and segregation."
For Those of Us Who Want to be Vegan, Not Broke
"A Southern Girl’s Guide to Plant-Based Eating: Recipes from The Vegan Soul That Won’t Make You Broke by Cametria Hill will help guide your transition to plant based eating and vegan living through dozens of Southern infused recipes to satisfy your soul. You’ll find cooking tips, the low down on food alternatives, a jumpstart week of meals for those new to plant-based eating, recipes for kitchen aces, tips for eating out, and much, much more.
Recipes include veganized versions of Southern-inspired dishes, such as Buttermilk Biscuits and Black Pepper Mushroom Gravy, Mickey D's Style Tempeh Sausage Biscuit Sandwich with Plum Jam, Breakfast Tostada with Smoky Mango Salsa, Palm Po’ Boy with Creamy Cocktail Sauce, Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Pie...and dozens more breakfasts, lunch, dinners, snacks, sides, and desserts! If you want to learn how to cook like grandma & ‘nem vegan style, then Cametria’s got your back!"
For the Romance Readers & Foodies Too!
"Lumi Santana is a chef with the gift of synesthesia—she can perceive a person’s emotions by tasting their cooking. Despite being raised by a single mother who taught her that dreams and true love were silly fairy tales, she takes a chance and puts her heart and savings into opening a fusion restaurant in Manhattan. The restaurant offers a mix of the Dominican cuisine she grew up with and other world cuisines that have been a source of culinary inspiration to her.
When Lumi’s venture fails, she is forced to take a position as a sous chef at a staid French restaurant in midtown owned by Julien Dax, a celebrated chef known for his acid tongue and brilliant smile. Lumi and Julien don’t get along in the kitchen and she secretly vows never to taste his cooking. Little does she know that her resolve doesn’t stand a chance against his culinary prowess. As Julien produces one delectable dish after another, Lumi can no longer resist his creations." You'll have sink your teeth into A Taste of Sage by Yaffa S. Santos to get the rest of the juicy details!
For the Dreamers Who Do More Than Lead
"After a year-long journey to America from Vietnam after the war, Cuong Pham found himself working for Steve Jobs at Apple in 1984. But, all the while, he missed the tastes of his childhood—what the grocery store had just wasn't it—and set out to find what he and his family remembered so acutely.
The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook: Beloved Recipes from the Family Behind the Purest Fish Sauce by Cuong Pham, Tien Nguyen, and Diep Tran is a collection of 100 recipes! Learn how to punch up flavor in Vietnamese classics like Bún Chà and Sugarcane Shrimp—but also in favorites like Chicken Wings and Pork Roast. With behind-the-scenes stories in every chapter spanning from breakfast, dinner, snacks, desserts, and holiday celebrations, this book encompasses a true American story and is the perfect guide to using this incredible pantry staple."
LibroMobile has over 50 BIPOC Cookbooks, I know you'll find the right one to learn from, and maybe even cook a meal or two!
Sarah Rafael García is an award-winning author and multimedia artist, community educator, curator, and performance ethnographer born in Brownsville, Tejas and raised in Santa Ana, California. She has over 15 years of experience as an Arts Leader and is founder of Barrio Writers, LibroMobile, and Crear Studio — all art programs initiated as a response to build cultural relevance and equity for BIPOC folks in Orange County.
To shop LibroMobile's BIPOC Cookbooks, check them out here!
Starting February 2023, #OffThePage is featuring Melanie Romero as our monthly columnist. Our Arts & Culture column was initially founded by local journalist Gabriel San Román in May 2020. Since then we have collaboratively featured over 25 stories and paid nearly 10 contributors from our community. Pitch Melanie a story or email us for more information!