Thursday, June 28, 2012

FOODFIC: Please Welcome Charong Chow, Author of Random

Food is such an important part of who I am, especially as a Chinese-American growing up in Miami. I can still smell the favorite dishes my mother cooked, like stir-fry spicy shrimp or freshly steamed bao-tse (meat and vegetable stuffed buns).

Most of my childhood friends were Latin, and today I make Cuban picadillo from a friends recipe. I write about food for national publications and websites, including my own food blog, Eating With Hudson and Paradise, which is written with my two young children.

Since I love eating, I dont think I fully trust others who dont care for food. To me, a person who enjoys food understands herself more, and what she wants out of life. Loving food is loving life and everything it has to offer. It is only natural that the characters I create when I write enjoy eating as much as I do.

When I began writing my debut contemporary YA novel, Random, I didnt set out to write about foodie teenagers, but my characters are always having meals and eating foods I personally cannot live without. Eating together in a group is integral to a social life. Sometimes the foods they make or eat reflect the mood of the scene or how a character is feeling.

The first time Tierney, the main protagonist, is alone with Tom, who is the new boy at school, they are hungry at a friends house. They cook what many teenagers love, frozen pizza, but they are so involved in their conversation and growing attraction that the pizza is burned to a crisp.

Rereading Random for this blog post, I laughed when I found two references to Trader Joe's, which is a chain of specialty grocery stores in California that we love. Most of their products are their own store brand, and our family cant live without their well-known snacks. In the book, I mentioned Trader Joes Chocolate Ice Cream and Chocolate Cupcakes, which are the best store bought cupcakes I have ever tasted. Sadly, they have been discontinued.

Another aspect of food in Random, is how I used it to record landmarks in Los Angeles. After growing up in Miami, I moved to Los Angeles to attend the California Institute of the Arts. Having lived in the city for 14 years, many restaurants pinpoint different neighborhoods and memories. Much of the book is an homage to old Hollywood and Los Angeles.

Tom is new to LA, and as his relationship grows with Tierney, she plays tour guide and shows her side of the city to him. They drive to see the Hollywood Sign and visit the Griffith Observatory, where the film Rebel Without a Cause was shot. She takes him to some art galleries in Chinatown, and they eat pho, which is a type of noodle soup, at a small Vietnamese restaurant we also enjoy eating at on the Eastside. Los Angeles is a part of who Tierney is, and me, for that matter.

Teenagers arent always the biggest chefs, but when Tom finally cooks for Tierney, he makes grilled cheese sandwiches, the ultimate comfort food. However, she never tastes it. They immediately start fighting, and it ends up a gooey mess.

I was a vegetarian when I wrote the book, so all the food mentioned in the novel is vegetarian. I didnt write overtly vegetarian dishes like tofu salad, but I quietly wrote only meatless foods, like homemade bread, bean soup, croissants and brick-oven pizza. I didnt want to sound preachy, but I thought I could promote a certain healthy lifestyle - even though many other aspects of these characters' lives, not least their epic partying, are far from healthy!

Thank you so much, Shelley, for allowing me to ramble about one of my favorite subjects, eating. Food in books is such a fun and fascinating subject, and Im glad that you have a blog about it. Food represents our deepest desires and who we are culturally and philosophically. We are what we eat!

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Charong!

You can find Charong at:


  1. Very good blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers?
    I'm hoping to start my own site soon but I'm a little lost on everything.
    Would you suggest starting with a free platform like Wordpress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I'm completely confused .. Any suggestions? Appreciate it!
    My web blog :

  2. I definitely suggest you start blogging, both to get into the good habit of it and also because the more the write, the better you write. As for a platform, I've been very happy with Blogger, but I know many writers who prefer Wordpress; I think Blogger is perhaps slightly more user-friendly, but Wordpress gives you the option to rename your page as a .com which appeals to those who do not want to also build a website. Thanks for stopping by! Shelley W.

  3. Charong has been busy since her 2012 visit:

    "I'm excited to announce I recently finished a new untitled novel from the perspective of a Muslim father of two. I wrote the book with Nomi Khan, who came up with the original story concept. It is an American immigrant story and psychological thriller, in which Musa Khalis, an average, deeply loving family man, who happens to be a Muslim-American, is gradually radicalized both by the prejudice and suspicion he experiences in daily life, and by an almost mystical figure, Dr. Wasim Ejaz, who comes into his life to reawaken his passion for the religion he grew up with, Islam.

    As Musa's new friendship grows, and promises to lead him on a path of greater manhood and new piety, the novel builds into a multilayered cultural portrays and a psychological thriller of what it means to be a Muslim in post-9/11 America."