My name is Juling He (何菊玲).
After several years of traveling China, exploring Chinese cuisine, and developing myself as writer/editor for food and travel publications, I discovered my passion in cooking for friends and family. In 2013, I arrived in the United States with my family and we settled into Philadelphia.
I arrived in Philadelphia and found that there were more obviously overweight people than I saw in China. It didn’t take long before I understood the reasons. Wandering the streets hungry in Philadelphia is dangerous. Hunger is met by the easy access to junk food—donut shops, grocery aisles filled with seductively packaged potato chips, and processed foods loaded with refined sugars stacking the shelves. My first impression of the US: this country is saturated with junk food!
One day in May of 2013, I met up with some new friends who happened to be very health-conscious as demonstrated by the way they look like.My new American friends shared their perspective about the Chinese diet. Apparently, they believed that the Chinese diet was healthy because it included more whole foods and plant-based ingredients. While not entirely true, I felt grateful at that moment to be born and raised in China—a country boasting great variety of local cuisines, vegetables and grains, as well as cooking methods compared to those in French cuisine. I did not realize this bliss while living in China where Western food is usually regarded as exotic and somewhat elegant.
When I became a mom, my awareness and concern regarding diet reached its peak. Every time my husband and I went out with our son to the zoo, a museum, the aquarium, or any other activity, we were limited to food that was available. Overly-salted pizza topped with thick layers of cheese, sugary bread, hamburgers with questionable meat, french fries, and hot dogs were ubiquitous! I had no choice other than to pack homemade food for our son to eat whenever we went out. To further my horror, friends later told me how their children were fed french fries and the like at school and even daycares!
As a newcomer in this country brimming with choice, I found myself missing my homeland. Food is one way to relieve homesickness. But I have also enjoyed cooking food from my heritage to build new connections as well as maintain ties with the past. Don’t get me wrong, Philadelphia is a great city filled with history and enriched by a long history of Chinese immigrants. Here in Philadelphia, we have Chinese restaurants. However, the Chinese restaurants only scratch the surface of the broad genre called Chinese cuisine. There’s more to Chinese cuisine than Cantonese and Sichuan dishes.
My recent experiences stimulated my passion for cooking and motivated me to invent new Chinese-inspired dishes. Supreme happiness in life is cooking for the people you love. I am delighted when I watch my husband and our son eating and enjoying the food I cook. I am further delighted when friends taste and enjoy dishes from my hometown.
Again, I don’t want to convey that all American food is bad. I am sharing my personal observations from within the five years I’ve lived here. And my observations are shared by many. I don’t have direct access to healthy and high-quality American cuisine, served mostly in high-end restaurants. I know good restaurants provide better representations of American food and some health-conscious Americans consume wholesome ingredients every day. I acknowledge the existence of healthy American food, but sadly it isn’t as available to everyone every day.
After five years of experiencing the American melting pot, I feel blessed to live in Philadelphia—a diverse and tolerant city. The sense of long-lost, hearty happiness has been with me since I started to buy vegetables from Queens Farm. They provide over 300 types of fresh produce year round, many of which are Asian, with the same flavor as the vegetables my mom grows in her garden. There is also a year-round farmers’ market close to where I live that sells all kinds of fresh organic produce grown by local farms. There are also grocery stores and markets of all kinds – Korean, Chinese, Italian and of course American – where I can pick up whatever I want. All these exotic elements spice up my dining table. Having grown up on fresh meat and vegetables that my mom grew herself, my tastebuds are sensitive to the quality of ingredients.
I feel compelled to share what I know about the benefits and ease of cooking Chinese food. There’s a lot more to Chinese food than mapo tofu, kung pao chicken, pot stickers, and dim sum. I have explored cuisines beyond my Chinese heritage and I invite you to join me as I introduce to you the world of Chinese home-cooking as well as the healthy dishes of other cuisines. As long as we stay open and are driven by a desire to lead healthy lives for ourselves and our families, we can have fun as we nourish ourselves with what we cook at home.
Above all, as a mom I wish to fill my son’s memories with home-cooked meals that will return each time he catches the aroma of good food throughout his lifetime. I imagine his memories feeding him with a lifetime of happiness. I also hope he develops a consciousness of eating and cooking healthy food from all cuisines throughout his lifetime. My mother is a wealth of knowledge packed with recipes from my hometown. I have a delicious repertoire of recipes from all around China. And I hope my son will expand his palate to cuisines from all around the world.
While I enjoy cooking and writing, I know sharing the stories along the way will be fun and fulfilling. And if I can exchange inspiration and new friendship, the joy would surpass my expectations.