Food has the power to open doors and transcend barriers – it invites communion and acts as a focal point to many social and familial gatherings. It also often mirrors wider societal beliefs, misconceptions and trends.
While many of us may be familiar with Asian cuisine in North America from our countless trips to our favourite local eateries, we may not be aware of the many stories and traditions this culinary legacy holds; Asian cuisine is itself an umbrella term tasked with conveying the incredibly rich and diverse culinary traditions that span an entire continent and the Pacific Islands, and it, of course, has evolved into an entirely new way in North America over the years.
Journalist Lisa Ling is diving into that legacy and reconnecting to her Chinese roots with her latest docuseries, Take Out, premiering this month on HBO Max. In the six-part series, Ling focuses on unique and untold stories of restaurateurs spanning the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora.
“I’ve always believed that food can play the most incredible diplomatic role, and really allow entry into things that you might not have thought you’d be interested in,” she told NBC News. She added, “Despite the fact that Asian history isn’t told, there are so many Asian restaurants all over this country,” she said. “Somehow, the food has been the one thing that’s been able to transcend ignorance in some ways. So we thought this [show] could be the perfect opportunity to tell these buried histories through something that most Americans have come to really love and cherish, which is Asian food.”
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We’ve heard of the bamboo ceiling – the invisible barrier that can hold many individuals of Asian descent back as they work to progress in their careers. Ling’s own family history is entrenched in overt discrimination — and connected to food. As Ling shared with NBC News, racism directly impacted her grandparents. Her grandfather – who held a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from NYU and the University of Colorado – struggled to find a job in finance because he was Chinese. While the family lived in a converted chicken coop in Sacramento, Ling’s grandmother, who held a degree in music from Cambridge (in England), taught piano. Through these challenges, the two managed to save enough money to open a Chinese restaurant in Folsom, California — called Hop Sing Eat Shop.
She shines a light on these and other long overdue stories in Take Out, which debuts on HBO Max on January 27.