The Woks of Life by Bill, Judy, Sarah & Kaitlin Leung - review by Christopher Ross

Christopher Ross

Happy Family

The Woks of Life


Clarkson Potter 320pp £28

I spent my teenage years frequenting a large Chinese restaurant in Digbeth, Birmingham. It was our hang-out place between kung fu classes and the manager was, coincidentally, a master of Pak Mei (‘White Eyebrow’) Chinese boxing called Un Ho Bun, who went on to publish two martial arts manuals. My fellow kung fu students and I ate cheap, single-plate dishes consisting of rice or noodles with sliced meats – char sui (barbecued pork), siu yuk (crispy pork) or siu aap (roast duck). Sometimes we ate dim sum served in bamboo steaming baskets: dumplings, blocks of seasoned turnip cake, cheung fun (rice noodle roll) and even chicken feet. It was all authentic Cantonese fare. In the decades since, I have spent time in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. I have also been cooking Chinese food seriously for over forty years and have accumulated over 850 cookery books.

Reading about Bill Leung’s high school and early college years in New Jersey helping out in his parents’ Chinese takeaway triggered in me a nostalgic feeling. His father and stepfather were chefs with southern Chinese ancestry who served an Americanised version of Cantonese classics, including beef with broccoli and Happy Family lo mein noodles.

Leung’s wife, Judy, was born and grew up in Shanghai and Hubei during the Cultural Revolution. At the age of sixteen she moved with her family to New Jersey and three years later met Bill. They got married and had two daughters, Sarah and Kaitlin. They spent some

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter