📖A Pho Love Story: 🍸little saigon

📖: Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story (2021)
🍸: little saigon

Why this book?

Two Vietnamese American teens. Two competing phở restaurants in Little Saigon, California. And lots of chả giò, bánh xèo, and cà phê sữa dá. The novel’s premise alone made my heart warm and stomach hungry.

Aside from all the delicious foods, I loved the inclusion of Vietnamese language in the dialogue. Sometimes a term of endearment was mixed in with English, and other times a full sentence! Through the characters, I could hear the voices of my own family members talk to me through the pages. Not all of the dialogue was fully translated, though. And as an #ownvoices reader, this made me feel like the book was written for me.

This is the young adult novel I wish I had growing up. Like Linh, I also wanted to pursue a creative path. Linh wants to become a painter, but in a family of Vietnamese immigrants, art is seen only as a hobby, not a living. Our parents survived and sacrificed for us so we can be free to choose our futures. So why does this feel so fraught? Can we honor both our parents and passions at the same time? The tenderness, empathy, and care that Loan Le lends to the exploration of this theme struck an emotional chord with me – especially when Linh’s father lovingly confronts her about this over a bowl of canh sườn bí.

Overall, there is so much more to this story than just romance. It is about love for our families, our culture, our community, and ourselves. It is about our inheritance as descendants of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants, discovering our place in our family’s stories. And it is about standing in solidarity with one another to heal and reconcile, in the face of trauma and loss.

Why this drink?

I’m pairing this novel with a phở-inspired drink, with lime and Thai basil – from soup bowl to cocktail glass!

This recipe is adapted from abitwholesomely.com’s Lychee, Thai Basil and Ginger Limeade.

little saigon

2 oz vodka
4 canned lychees
4 slices of ginger
8 Thai basil leaves
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz ginger-infused simple syrup
1/4 oz lychee syrup (from can)
2 oz club soda

lime, lychee, Thai basil

  1. Muddle the lychees, ginger, and basil leaves.
  2. Combine the muddled ingredients in a shaker with all other ingredients (except for club soda) and ice, and shake well.
  3. Strain over fresh ice.
  4. Top off with club soda.
  5. Garnish with lime, lychee, and Thai basil.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath (2016)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Joy Luck Club: 🍸good intentions

📖: Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989)
🍸: good intentions

Why this book?

Here’s the first of a line-up of pairings for book-to-film adaptations I love.

Amy Tan’s novel about four Chinese mothers and their Chinese American daughters feels so close to home. Although I am not an Own Voices reader, I am an American daughter of an Asian immigrant mother, so the hopes, fears, and challenges of these characters mirror how my mom and I felt growing up. One thing I especially loved about the novel is its exploration of who the mothers were before they became mothers, and the secrets and intentions they carried with them to America. It humanizes and complicates the way that I see my own mom.

I first came across Amy Tan’s book through a high school English class, and it was the first time I could see my own story reflected in literature. Shortly afterwards, I found a copy of the film at my local Blockbuster’s. (omg remember movie rentals?! 😂)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched this film when I was younger. I think that goes to say how much I craved seeing other Asian American families like mine represented on screen. Twenty-five years passed between the release of this film and the next all-Asian casted movie, Crazy Rich Asians. Recently, I’ve been excited to see new films made for us and by us gain widespread attention and recognition – like The Farewell, Minari, and No Crying at the Dinner Table – and am hopeful that we won’t need to wait years for the next one.

Why this drink?

This recipe calls for Chinese oolong tea, and with grapefruit, the tea and citrus complement each other beautifully, just like the mothers and daughters in this novel.

good intentions

1.5 oz oolong tea infused vodka
1.5 oz grapefruit juice
2 tsp honey syrup
1 tsp lemon juice

grapefruit slice

  1. Infuse vodka with oolong tea for 10 minutes.
  2. To make the honey syrup, heat 2 parts honey with 1 part water over a stovetop to make the syrup.
  3. Once the syrup cools, combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake well.
  4. Strain the drink over fresh crushed ice and garnish with grapefruit

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1976)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: 🍸dear ma

📖: Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019)
🍸: dear ma

Why this book?

This book is my favorite read of 2020. It lives up to its title – absolutely GORGEOUS. The language in this novel is poignant and poetic and reflective and masterful. I have so much admiration for ocean_vuong and his writing, and am so excited to see that this novel is being adapted for film by A24!

This is a piece of literature that I want to keep holding close to my heart. I am an only child of a single mother, so the narrator’s portrayal of the complications, expectations, and anxieties in his relationship with his mother struck a chord with me. Like the narrator, I also grew up in New England as a Vietnamese immigrant, in a family where memories of the War are not just historical events, but a part of who you are and who you grow up to be. So when the narrator expresses the melancholy of living in such a community and the desire to get out and create your own story — I totally felt that.

Beyond these themes, the novel is also about coming of age as a queer person, falling in love for the first time, navigating trauma and grief, and ultimately, survival through storytelling. Our time on earth is brief — how do we reconcile and reckon with our memories of the people we love and lose throughout our lives?

Why this drink?

“Dear Ma” are among the first words that open this novel, written as a letter from the narrator to his mother Hồng, whose name means “rose” in Vietnamese. I chose to pair this book with a rose-flavored drink in honor of his mother.

dear ma

1 oz vodka
1 oz lychee liqueur
0.5 oz Cocchi Americano
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 tsp ginger syrup
2-3 drops of rose water, to taste

dried rose buds/petals and lemon

  1. To make the ginger syrup, heat freshly grated ginger with 1 part sugar and 1 part water on the stove, just until it begins to boil. Remove immediately from stove and let cool in an airtight container. Strain out the ginger before combining with other cocktail ingredients.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled glass, with or without ice.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh (2001)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Check out these amazing podcast episodes to hear more from and about Ocean Vuong!

📖Leave the World Behind: 🍸clarity

📖: Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind (2020)
🍸: clarity

Why this book?

This is the kind of book where you know what’s going to happen (broadly), but you don’t really know what’s actually happening. 🤔

Two families — strangers to each other — are sequestered in an isolated AirBnb home in the woods of Long Island. They know that NYC has lost all power but don’t know what kind of danger they are in. There’s no access to information. So WHAT exactly is happening?

Could it be an act of war, environmental disaster, or pandemic? The author drops frequent commentary on the declining state of the world to lead us to speculate just as much as the characters do. The expanding sense of foreboding kept me engaged throughout the book, even when I didn’t find any satisfying answers.

By the end, I felt that the book is less interested in uncovering the source of the crisis, than it is in posing bigger questions about life and the world that we’ve created:

  • How do we live our life when the end may be near, but don’t know how or when it will come? 
  • How much of our humanity or inhumanity do we reveal in times of crisis? 
  • Can we truly prevent the end of the world? If the warning signs have been hidden in plain sight all along, how have we blinded ourselves from seeing this truth? 

I recommend this if you’re in the mood for a story with major pandemic vibes and ambiguous plot lines. Or if you want to read a book with lots of uncommonly used words to brush up on your vocab (great for GRE prep or NYT crosswords! 🤓). Overall, the story was effective in urging me to fully focus on the present — because what else can you do when everything as you know it is at stake?

Why this drink?

This novel’s pairing is a vodka martini because I suspect the family members are drinking some variation of this cocktail as they nervously wait for news. One of them had bought a bottle of Tito’s from the grocery store, which ends up being served with ice and lemon. A couple rounds of these will definitely help with leaving the world behind.


2 oz vodka
1 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

lemon peel

  1. combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir well
  2. strain and serve in a chilled glass
  3. express the lemon peel and garnish the drink with it

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Ling Ma’s Severance (2018)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Woman Warrior: 🍸silver bolt

📖: Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1976)
🍸: silver bolt

Why this book?

The Woman Warrior holds a special place in my reading life. I first read it in college for an Asian American literature class, which introduced me to a world of #ownvoices stories that helped me feel seen for the first time.

In her book, Kingston recounts her upbringing as a Chinese American girl in California. Rereading it gave me a newfound appreciation for Kingston’s craft. Defying the bounds of memoir-writing, Kingston seamlessly blends fact and fiction – incorporating myths and fantastical images – to the point where I wasn’t sure how much of her stories were grounded in memory or pure imagination. I love that the book challenges me to consider whether there’s really a difference between what we remember and what we imagine.

Why this drink?

In the chapter “White Tigers,” Kingston as a young girl imagines herself becoming the great swordswoman, Hua Mulan, as a way to process her experiences growing up female and Chinese in the context of her family and community. In her/Mulan’s warrior training, she describes her ability to make a sword appear out of the sky, like a “silver bolt in the sunlight,” signaling her coming of age as a warrior woman.

So for this pairing, I made a silvery-gold drink in a stemless flute to emulate the shape of a sword. I also incorporated grapefruit and lychee flavors because these fruits make an appearance in Kingston’s book.

And speaking of Mulan 🧐 I want to learn more about other adaptations of her story and understand how it has evolved over time, so I’m planning to check out Lan Dong’s book Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States.

For a quick reference to other versions of Mulan besides the new Disney film, check out this NYT article: “Mulan, a Most Adaptable Heroine: There’s a Version for Every Era.”

silver bolt

1 oz vodka
0.5 oz lychee liqueur
0.5 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1 tsp simple syrup
4 oz champagne

for garnish:
grapefruit twist

  1. combine all ingredients, except for the champagne, in a shaker and shake with ice
  2. strain into a stemless flute glass
  3. top off with chilled champagne
  4. garnish with a grapefruit twist

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Amy Tan’s The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life (2004)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

And check out these articles to learn more about the book and the writer:

📖The Lowland:🍸after the rain

📖: Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (2013)
🍸: after the rain

Why this book?

This is Jhumpa Lahiri’s second novel and fourth book. Like her previous works, this story focuses on the experience of Indian immigrants in America. At the same time, the novel is also about the idealism of youth, rebellion, trauma, and loss. I especially appreciated how The Lowland, unlike Lahiri’s other works, places the protagonists’ story within a broader context of geopolitics, inequality, and revolution, showing how these individuals’ experiences of migration and displacement are inextricably tied to global forces.

The Lowland is a story of two brothers who grow up near a marsh in a small Calcutta neighborhood. Subhash dreams of going to America to study to become a scientist, while Udayan, the more rash and rebellious brother, joins the Naxalite movement, which was known for its radical Maoist politics, violence against authorities, and popularity among college campuses during the 1960s. Then one day in the marshy lowland, the two brothers’ fates diverge.

I love reading Lahiri’s writing because of its deceptive simplicity. Her prose says so much in spite of its restraint and lack of embellishment. Many of the details in her story are just small, intimate, or mundane observations of daily life, like eating cream cheese in a parking lot, finding your wife’s birth control pills, or witnessing fall foliage for the first time in New England. Though seemingly neutral on the surface, these observations are propelled by an undertow of longing, regret, and grief. They accumulate over the course of her storytelling, and before you fully realize the change in tide, you’re washed over by a wave of emotion that has been gaining momentum the whole time.

Why this drink?

The marshy lowland situated between two ponds is both setting and symbol within the novel. The lowland floods in rainy season and then dries up during the hot months, making the two ponds “at times separate; at other times inseparable,” just like the two brothers who are often mistaken for twins. This drink was chosen for its vegetal taste, like grass and leaves becoming lush after the rain.

Note: This recipe has been adapted from The Up & Up‘s “Bring June Flowers.” Due to availability of ingredients during quarantine, I used green tea instead of jasmine tea leaves that the Bring June Flowers recipe calls for.

after the rain

1.5 oz vodka
0.5 oz Suze
0.75 oz green tea simple syrup*
0.75 oz lemon juice
3 muddled cucumber slices

for garnish:
cucumber ruffle or slices

  1. muddle cucumber in a shaker
  2. pour all remaining ingredients into shaker, and shake with ice
  3. pour into glass, straining out the muddled cucumber and ice
  4. serve with ice and cucumber garnish

*how to make green tea infused simple syrup: Steep green tea in hot water, boiled to a temperature of 180F degrees. Pour white granulated sugar and green tea into a pan (using a 1:1 sugar-to-tea ratio) and heat the mixture on the stove until it starts to bubble. Once tiny bubbles start to appear, immediately take the boiling syrup off the stove and pour it into the into a glass jar. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Khalend Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (2003)

📖Red Clocks:🍸Eivør’s ice

📖: Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks (2018)
🍸: Eivør’s ice

Why this book?

To wrap up Women’s History Month, we’d like to say THANK YOU to all of the women who have fought — and are still fighting — for gender equality and equity. Sadly, women’s reproductive rights are still in contention today, despite all the progress made in the last few decades.

This week’s book recommendation is Red Clocks, which imagines a not-so-far dystopian future where abortion and IVF are banned and single parents are no longer allowed to adopt. Much of the novel is confined to the inner thoughts of the five main female characters, who all wrestle with what it means to be an individual capable of creating new life. When Zumas focuses on the women’s narratives, her writing becomes punctuated with anxiously choppy and repetitive prose. Her clever use of repetition gives the work a mesmerizing, percussive quality — much like the relentless ticking of the “red clocks” that the women can hear and feel.

Why this drink?

Aside from the dystopian premise, the most compelling parts of Red Clocks include glimpses into the life of the 19th century polar explorer, Eivør Mínervudottír, whose story is told in parallel with the other four female main characters. This drink emulates the glaciers and other ice formations that Eivør studied during her arctic expeditions, where she discovered characteristics of polar ice.

Eivør’s ice

2 oz vodka
3 oz ginger beer
0.5 oz blue curaçao
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz ginger-infused simple syrup*
flat chunks of colored ice**

  1. combine vodka, blue curaçao, lime juice, and syrup into a shaker, and shake with ice
  2. pour into a rocks glass, straining out the ice
  3. top the mix with ginger beer, and stir
  4. serve with 1-2 large chunks of the colored ice

*how to make ginger-infused syrup: Pour white granulated sugar and water into a pan (using a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio) and heat the mixture on the stove until it starts to bubble. Once tiny bubbles start to appear, immediately take the boiling syrup off the stove and pour it into the into a glass jar with 1-2 tablespoons of grated ginger. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.

**how to make colored ice: Take sandwich-sized ziploc bags and fill them one-third of the way with filtered water. Add 1-2 tablespoons of butterfly pea flower tea or blue curaçao. Alternatively, you may use 5-8 drops of blue food coloring. Whatever you use for the blue coloring, make sure that the color is dispersed and dissolved in the water before you freeze them. Lay the ziploc bags flat in the freezer. Once frozen, strike the ice with a sturdy wooden spatula or rolling pin to break it up into chunks.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)