Connecting Food, Family, and Culture

Lynne Christy Anderson




About Me

My Book



Reader Comments


Breaking Bread

Recipes and Stories from Immigrant Kitchens

California Studies in Food and Culture, 29

Buy It On Amazon!



Follow me on…





How did you come up with the idea of a book about food and immigration?

I grew up in a family that loved food:  my mother and grandmother were wonderful cooks and we all loved to eat and talk about recipes and our favorite meals.  I ended up cooking in restaurants for many years after college until I began teaching, first working with immigrant adults learning English.  I knew I needed to find a way to connect with my students—mothers and fathers from places like Guatemala, Cape Verde, China, and Haiti.  So many of them seemed almost fearful of school, of American culture, even of me, their teacher.  I eventually found that we shared a similar passion for food, something we talked about quite often.  And I began to see that the tortillas, the Cape Verdean cachupa, and the Haitian piclise that they loved and continued to cook in this country was really symbolic for them.  It represented both a link to the past and a bridge into the future.  It was this that got me thinking about a book like Breaking Bread.

Was it difficult to find people to interview for the book?

Absolutely not; people seemed to welcome the opportunity to talk about their favorite things to cook and eat and their memories related to those foods. 

Would you say the people you interviewed are different from the typical American home cook? 

People like Xiu Fen from China and Sehin from Ethiopia and Aminta from El Salvador approach cooking more intuitively than many Americans.  Without the use of cookbooks or measuring utensils, they prepare their favorite dishes by feel.  They know what quesadilla batter should feel like before it goes into the oven, or how spicy beriberi mixture should taste because of years spent in the kitchen with mothers, grandmothers, and aunts.  

What about mealtime?  Is it different from that in most American homes?

Most of these families eat together almost every day or, if work schedules don’t allow for this, consciously try to have a family meal once each week.  Very rarely do the families I interviewed purchase take-out for meals.  Everything is cooked at home; recipes are drawn from the culinary traditions of their childhoods.   

Were there any recurring themes you noticed as you interviewed more and more people?

A sense of deep appreciation for the opportunity to be here but also a profound sense of nostalgia for what they left behind and the way that food tempers this, allowing them to hold onto cherished memories while forging ahead.

And what exactly did they leave behind?

Nearly everyone I interviewed lamented the lack of time here, the constant rush in America to get all that needs to be done completed.  There was a common yearning for a more relaxed pace of life where dropping by the neighbor’s for a cup of coffee or spending a day in the kitchen with a mother or grandmother was part of everyday living.  The pace of life in the U.S. just doesn’t allow for this.   It didn’t matter if I was interviewing someone from Central America, Africa, or Southeast Asia;  everyone seemed to miss the kind of time needed to make meaningful connections.  It’s one of the things that I’ve come to see that we, as Americans, have lost. 

What are their hopes for the U.S.? 

That they can forge a new life here and find opportunities for themselves, their children, and grandchildren.  But they also want to hold onto certain aspects of the past, to remember what was always important to them.  They do this through food, by continuing to attend to the rituals relating to eating:  the foraging, shopping, cooking, and finally, gathering around a table.  

What do you hope readers take from Breaking Bread? 

A desire to cook and eat together, to break bread with family and friends over a relaxed meal more often.  After interviewing people for the book, I’ve thought more about trying to slow down, to spend more time with family and friends.  Fausta from Italy talks about this expression she grew up hearing:  “Aggiungi un posto a tavola,” or, add another place at the table.  She said that family and friends were always stopping by unannounced for a bite to eat, that in Italy it’s quite natural to drop in for dinner.  I think the stories in Breaking Bread encourage people to consider that.

I also hope the stories reveal something the reader may not have known about the immigrant experience.  I always sensed there was a lot of sadness when my own great-grandmother immigrated from Ireland.  I remember hearing my grandmother say, “When my mother left Ireland, she never saw her family again.  Not her mother, not her brothers and sisters.”  As a kid, I couldn’t fully imagine what that must have been like, and I think I assumed my great-grandmother’s life was marked by great sadness.  Now, I don’t think it was as simple as that.  Of course she lost a lot but she also gained many things, as all immigrants do when they come to America.  I understand that—the triumphs and joy but also the pain and loss—better now.  I think the stories reveal that quite beautifully.

ABOUT Breaking Bread







by Corby Kummer


SCOOPING THE MEMORIES:   Dmitra’s Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves, Hommus, Tabouleh, and Pita

IT’S LIKE A CONTINUUM Nezi’s Cape Verdean Cachupa

MAN IN THE KITCHEN:  Zady’s Rice and Lili’s Kedjenou and Aloko from Cote d’Ivoire










Lynne Christy Anderson 2010

Puddingstone Design