‘Soy Sauce for Beginners’ is simply delicious

Kirstin Chen
Like her book’s principle character, author Kirstin Chen is from Singapore and lives in San Francisco. Credit: Sarah Deragon

Kirstin Chen’s new novel about a woman named Gretchen who flees her failed marriage in San Francisco to return home to Singapore is about a lot of things. It’s about reinventing yourself at 30; realizing your parents’ faults; the meaning of home. But it’s also about soy sauce. Gretchen’s family owns an artisan soy sauce business, and Chen’s flavorful prose will have you thinking about the often dismissed condiment in a whole new way.

“I knew I wanted it to be a family business and something that was ubiquitous in Asia, but I picked soy sauce without knowing anything about it,” Chen tells us. “I thought it would be mundane, but the instant I typed ‘soy sauce’ into Wikipedia, I realized I had something much bigger on my hands.”

Through her research, Chen discovered that real soy sauce is made similar to wine; it’s aged for months and has a variety of notes. She even visited a family-owned soy sauce factory in Singapore, where she met a young woman eerily similar to her novel’s principal character. Like Gretchen, she was the great-granddaughter of the founder and had just started working in the factory.

This young woman also showed Chen one of the more striking rituals in the book: a concoction of soy sauce and Sprite sipped at the end of every factory tour. “She told me at the end of every tour, her grandfather would give guests soy sauce and Sprite, so I stole that directly from her and used it in the book,” Chen says.

Soy Sauce For Beginners book
“Soy Sauce for Beginners” is out now.

Like her novel’s character, Chen is from Singapore and lives in San Francisco, so she is intimately familiar with what it’s like to return home. “One of the paradoxes of Singapore is that it’s encouraged to get the best education abroad, but conversely, we’re all encouraged to come home and start families,” Chen explains. A big theme in “Soy Sauce for Beginners” is stacking what your parents want for you against what you want for yourself — something everyone can relate to.

Making matters more complicated, Gretchen’s mother’s hidden alcohol problem is finally exposed, and her mother needs her more than ever even if she won’t admit it. How can you help your family when your own life is in shambles? It’s just another one of the questions the book explores.

A hot new love interest, competitive friendship and all the complications that come with working at a family business keep readers hungry for more, making the book easy to devour in days.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence

Reading date: Jan. 27, 7:30 p.m. at McNally Jackson Books in New York City.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

'Five Star': A coming-of-age story about Brooklyn's gang…

'Five Star' tells a coming-of-age story about Brooklyn's gang culture at the Tribeca Film Festival.

National

New statue of Penn State's Paterno set for…

By David DeKokHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Fundraising for a new statue depicting Joe Paterno "as the man he was and not Joe the football coach"…

Local

NYPD detective shoots partner: DA

A New York City Police detective was arrested early Thursday and charged with driving under the influence while on the clock.

Local

Judge strikes down NY limits on donations to…

A federal judge on Thursday reluctantly struck down New York's limits on donations to independent political action committees as unconstitutional, potentially ushering in a new…

The Word

Taylor Swift battles paparazzi daily at Tribeca penthouse

We're entranced by these photos of poor Taylor Swift leaving her Tribeca apartment.

Movies

'A Brony Tale' documents men who are into…

Ashleigh Ball, a voice actress on "My Little Pony," speaks to us.

Movies

Tribeca: Nikki Reed on going funny for a…

"Intramural" star Nikki Reed talks about being the straight person in a broad comedy, spending time in Austin and how "Thirteen" was a "miracle."

Going Out

Pop-up cat cafe opens to long lines in…

The country's first pop-up cat cafe opened in New York on Thursday.

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24…

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24 version

MLB

5 infamous pitcher ejections for cheating

Never fear Yankees fans, Michael Pineda is far from the first MLB pitcher to be thrown out of a game for cheating.

MLB

Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda ejected for using pine…

Pineda was thrown out of the game against the Red Sox Wednesday for having pine tar on his neck -- for all the world to see.

NFL

Giants 2014 regular season schedule

The Giants will play five prime-time games — against the Lions, Redskins, Eagles, Colts and Cowboys.

Parenting

New study: Inside the wage gap between boys…

According to a new study, there's a wage gap between boys and girls, with boys earning more allowance for less chores.

Tech

From Apple TV to Fire TV, big changes…

Apple is set to launch a new generation of it's Apple TV, which grossed over $1 billion in 2013. But competition from Amazon and Google looms.

Style

Katy Perry releases a new Claire’s collection

Katy Perry expands her empire by releasing an accessories collection at Claire's.

Style

MAC & Proenza Schouler collection unveiled

MAC Cosmetics is releasing a new collection with Proenza Schouler.