Jan Wong takes readers on a cultural adventure with Apron Strings (Book Review)

(Photo courtesy of Goose Lane Editions)

A multi-talented journalist with an astonishing work history and a current professor of journalism at St. Thomas University, Jan Wong’s writing never disappoints – and Apron Strings was no exception to the norm. By cultivating the humor, sass and charm that make up her unique voice, Wong brings autobiography and cookbooks together for a delicious non-fiction treat that will make readers laugh, cry, and lick their lips for more.

First things first, let’s get one thing straight; you DO NOT have to be a cook, baker, professional chef, or at all involved with the food industry to appreciate Apron Strings. It’s not just about the food that Wong sampled and learned to make on her travels through France, Italy & China, but about the people whom she meets along the way.

The narrative follows Wong on her sabbatical trip that she took with her son, Sam, to learn about “how politics and globalization [affected] what [people] ate”, whether or not sit-down family dinners were still being practiced, and what counted as “home cooking” in various places around the world. This is not a book that deals with Michelin Star recipes and chefs, but real home cooks and the meals that they prepare for and with their families.

By far, the most vivid aspects of Apron Strings are Wong’s descriptions of the families that she and her son stayed with and all of their various encounters. She describes each and every person in a way which makes the reader feel like they are getting to know them on a personal level; you sympathize with their struggles, laugh at their jokes, and learn a great deal about French, Italian, and Chinese culture through the interactions described.

The reader is truly accompanying Wong on her cultural adventure across these countries, as we get snippets of both their culinary traditions and their community’s heritage. The chapters which describe her time in Allex, France, and its surrounding areas were some of the most fascinating, as they provide interesting insight into the impact that WWII and globalization had on France’s industrialist endeavors, as well as random little factoids such as that we owe our thanks to France for essentially inventing canned goods. Each chapter provides the reader with a chance to learn something new, just as the trip provided Wong with the same opportunity.

But, of course, even if the book is about more than just food, it is still very much about food. Readers beware: this is NOT a good book to read on an empty stomach. The dishes described by Wong are all absolutely succulent and will leave you with a rumbling stomach, a watering mouth, and a strong desire to get up and try your chances at replicating them. Fear not! Wong appears to have had the foresight that her book would make readers hungry, for she provides detailed (but still simple) step-by-step recipes for how to replicate most of the book’s dishes.

Above all else, though, Apron Strings is a book about family. Wong is reflecting upon how her children are growing up – and how this may be her last chance to experience a trip like this with her youngest son – and beneath the layers of humor and cuisine, the story is bittersweet. It’s a narrative about how time is fleeting, and it leaves readers with a strong desire to spend time with their family (be it a mother, a father, a grandparent or a child) while the chance to do so is still there.

Clever, inspirational, and absolutely decadent, Apron Strings is another tremendous success for Wong to add to her impressive list of works. This reader gives it a strong 5-star rating and would encourage every foody, book lover, or Jan Wong enthusiast to get a copy right away.

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