—Creator of food blog My Kitsune Cafe
Adrian Chang is the creator of My Kitsune Café, a food blog that shares Asian recipes from a queer third-gen Asian-American. Adrian calls his style “Asian-American Country Cooking.” It honors his ancestors through slow-living, slow-food, sourcing locally & DIY-ing as much as possible. As reflections of Adrian’s life, we excitedly share these innovative recipes with you!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is it that you do? Or share with us one of your greatest achievements.
As a California-born, 3rd-generation Chinese-American, food and cooking have been at the heart of my life since I was born. My mom has this joke that I've been making chow fan (fried rice) ever since I learned to stand, and she isn't completely wrong! The first dish I ever made was chow fan and I had to use a stool to reach the stove...supervised of course! I was about...4 or 5.
For me, cooking - and more recently food writing - has been a personal journey of exploration, from both a heritable and an ancestral lens, and exploring and observing how that intersects with my own experiences being queer, Californian, and living in a forested rural - and very white - part of the state.
On my food blog and IG account, @mykitsunecafe, I share Asian & Asian-inspired dishes shaped by my ancestry, American upbringing, and personal anecdotes living in Asia for over a decade. For ten years, I lived and worked in Japan, so much of my cooking has a heavy Japanese influence. Additionally, I share the intuitive roots of my family’s regional cooking, mostly Southern Chinese. When I’m not creating for my own channels, I am developing recipes for a local family-run farm called Radical Family Farms. Based in Sonoma County, they are the only QTAPI, heritage Asian vegetable farm that operates family-run and holds no-spray practices in Northern California.
For me, cooking and writing are really about reclamation! I got into food writing when I started noticing what was being made popular in the West for the "healthy" food movements -- slow-food, organic produce, farm-to-table, locally sourced produce, etc. -- are what my ancestors have been doing before the wheel was invented, and with their eyes closed! And all along, Asian food, particularly Chinese food, was getting a bad rap for being unhealthy, MSG riddled, cheap and low quality. And if it's not, it's being "discovered" by some white Chef-bro who charges $30 for a bowl of ramen! Swiping through enough blonde-haired, blue-eyed influencers making kombucha and kimchi in mason jars on Instagram, I decided I’d put my cooking to good use and show people (at least in my county) that the food trends now being coveted are actually thousand-year-old legacies, of the wisdom of my ancestors, and of the people who look like me!
From there, I started delving into some of our oldest food traditions. Through this I have surrounded myself with a tight-knit community of like-minded folks - IRL and virtual - with whom, I like to think, we are changing the narrative of what Asian and Asian-American heritage food is, what it means, and reclaiming the mic, so to speak.
What was your first encounter with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or the medicinal foods of your culture?
Ever since I was a kid I was introduced and exposed to Chinese medicinal foods, but I’m sorry to say I’m not well versed in the details of these traditions. It’s a bit shameful of a topic for me actually...my Grandfather was a very knowledgeable Chinese herbalist and since the ’60s, owned a successful Chinatown apothecary in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the business closed last year just before he passed away.
I was born in San Francisco and for my first few years of life, I could be found on my Gung Gung’s (grandfather in Cantonese) knee at the herb shop on Washington St. I still have vivid memories of floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall wooden apothecary drawers being pulled by their brass handles to find things like cicada shells, dried berries, twigs, nuts, even dried sea horses. I can still hear the sound of his abacus clicking away, which now hangs in my mother’s kitchen.
At the end of each day, the shop manager would be occupied in the shop’s back kitchen, cooking dinner for the entire family, including the staff. We‘d gather at the classic round table with a “lazy-susan,” shoveling rice into our mouths and sipping soup brewed with contents from the apothecary drawers. I wasn’t raised speaking Cantonese, Toisan or Teochew - the lively dialects of my family - so I was never able to understand the conversations and the internal ongoings. Because of that, my memories are vividly sensorial and somewhat psychedelic in my head, and extremely emotional! I’m getting sentimental just thinking about it.
When I got older, we moved away from Chinatown and the Chinese community almost entirely, and thus my curiosity in his work and for the traditions moved along as well. Now, as an adult, it’s one of my greatest regrets. When I think about my first encounters with Chinese medicine, a strange sensation arises because it’s something that I know so little about, but something I can feel pulsing through my veins. Another reason I began my food writing journey was to revitalize these memories. I am particularly grateful Five Seasons TCM reached out to me; I’ve also been admiring your work for some time!
What are your must-haves in your kitchen (tools, ingredients, books, etc.)?
A good cleaver is a must in any Chinese kitchen, hands down! The best one I’ve ever used is my Mom’s. She’s had it ever since she was probably in college. It’s solid, almost combat-like with a thick wooden handle but light as a feather. I think it’s the best one I’ve used because it possesses all her experience and her stories. It’s just something thing you feel.
My Aunty owns a shop in Chinatown called “The Wok Shop” and when I moved back to the States, her shop was first on the list to help us stock up the new kitchen. That day, my partner and I each walked out with our own cleavers. My priority was a daily cleaver; it’s similar to my Mom’s but still needs more “charging” time. It’s light and sturdy like my Mom’s, which is best for chopping vegetables, crushing garlic, scooping up prepped ingredients off the cutting board, and a myriad of other uses. Chris’ is heavy and thick, like something out of a HK martial arts flick. It crushes through bones like they’re made of air! We’re mostly vegetarian so it doesn’t get much bone-crunching action, but it’s still badass.
Good drying baskets are also a must! We’re avid picklers and fermenters, so the most important step for us is to dry and dehydrate the ingredients. I find woven bamboo drying baskets - made to dry rice, tea, or whatever - are rarely used in the Western cooking culture. You also can’t go wrong with a solid, seasoned wok as well as cooking chopsticks. I find wooden cooking chopsticks (the super long ones) one of the most versatile cooking utensils. Not only are these tools aesthetically pleasing to look at and functional in use, but in using these traditional tools I’m brought back to my heritage and into my “Asianness.”
What's your opinion of the adage "food is medicine?" What is a food-based item that you take/consume for wellness?
How could anyone argue with it? Since the beginning of time, that which grows from the earth and we consume has been our fuel and our medicine. Where would we be without this notion? We’d be human shells pumped full of chemicals. Plus, “folk food” and cooking are nourishment for the soul and reconnects us to a time when our ancestors were more in-tune with nature and our bodies. They are so intrinsically linked - how could we see it as anything other than “medicine” or healing? So, the food we eat can be physical, emotional, and spiritual medicine for sure.
At home, we consume seaweed regularly and take moderate, but consistent, amounts of fermented foods. The fermented foods for the live cultures are so good for your gut health! You’ve got to keep your gut “Garden of Eden” healthy and alive with good enzymes and bacteria. For us, that means making things like kimchi, furu (fermented tofu), and natto at home. Seaweed is highly nutritious and an excellent source of a variety of antioxidants.
Chris & I both lived in Japan for years and one amazing takeaway was the use of seaweed in so much of the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine. Most of what we eat is broth-based and even if we are making dashi broth from katsuobushi (cured mackerel shavings), there is always a piece of kombu infusing in the liquid. Even our dogs love it, especially kombu!
Seaweed is a particularly good match for us as we also naturally gravitate towards something similar to that of a Ryukyu Islands (Okinawan) - style diet. It is primarily a vegetable-based diet but also focuses on seaweed, seafood, grains, soy, herbs, and moderate amounts of pork. It’s far more versatile than I make it sound. In fact, we love cooking and eating all kinds of things, but this is the foundation of our diets. As far as eating for wellness, I feel it’s not up to one ingredient. I’m sure you guys would agree with me, it’s about creating internal balance and a healthy dietary lifestyle rather than looking for a single ingredient to “fix” you.
Could you share one to two health-conscious recipes with us, in which you used ingredients inspired by traditional medicine or nature?
I like to pour freshly made dashi broth over a couple spoons of this multi-grain genmai in a chawan tea bowl with a sprinkling of the chopped kombu from the dashi, some katsuobushi, and a tiny dollop of miso. It’s a very nourishing and refreshing way to start the day!
Multi-grain Genmai Rice with Broth
Which body constitution do you have and how will your daily ritual change after finding out?
I grew up consumed by seasonal allergies, particularly hay fever, so I already assumed I had an Allergy-type constitution. While I have not found myself to be severely allergic to the consumption of any particular foods, I do know that my body has been sensitive at times to things like alcohol, caffeine, shellfish & dairy. I sometimes get hives, mucus, suddenly sleepy, but it depends on a few factors: the time of year, the seasons, how active I’ve been, and my stress levels. When the environment is optimal - no stress, mild weather, not hay fever season (haha), I’m active and eat a lot of vegetables - I am at my bodily best. So, my perpetual goal has always been to maintain a stress-free environment for myself while maintaining a regular exercise regimen and a healthy and intentional diet based on home-made, unprocessed foods that I know are good for me and make me happy. If I do that, I can keep the sneezing at bay! For me, above all else, is that cooking and food make me endlessly happy and that in and of itself is a huge source of wellness and healing.
Find out your body constitution here!