A Foodie Journey Through AAPI Heritage Month with Nancy Yap
In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, JCI Worldwide is highlighting the plurality of cultures within the AAPI community with a series focused on the universal unifier: food. The essay below comes from our partner Nancy Yap, Executive Director of the Center for Asian Americans United for Self-Empowerment (CAUSE), a nonprofit organization committed to advancing the political and civic engagement of leaders in the AAPI community. In addition to her work at CAUSE, she is the President of the Arts District Little Tokyo Neighborhood Council, as well as co-founder of the Community Feeding Community and Haunted Little Tokyo programs in the neighborhood.
My father used to say it’s not a meal without a bowl of soup. Even now, I find myself adding soup to every meal possible. Just yesterday, I sat down to an In-N-Out cheeseburger combo and felt it was incomplete. I made a quick small bowl of chicken broth, bok choy, and soft tofu, and immediately felt the meal was perfect.
I am Chinese-Filipino-American. I was born and raised in Ohio, completed college in New York City, and have been an Angeleno for over 15 years. My parents, doctors who immigrated to the Midwest in the 1970s, continue to call Cleveland their home. They grew up on Filipino food, and so did I. It’s a cuisine marked by creativity, fusion, and hipness, way ahead of its time.
It wasn’t always easy for my parents to find ingredients that brought the authentic taste of home, so many dishes were improvised and pieced together, sharing their stories of food across generations and geography.
I spend a lot of time hunting for the flavors of my childhood, trapped in time with a mix of history and regional access. New York and Los Angeles don't quite have that midwestern Asian flavor. This hobby has also informed my Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) identity. Asian American cuisine represents how unique our communities are regionally, how hard it is to build a community that represents so many ethnicities, and how we share common experiences in America. This is why celebrating the diversity and complexity of my heritage is important.
There are so many intersections of history, culture, family, and adventure in the AAPI community. These intersections are not always represented in mainstream narratives, but they are in the fabric of our day-to-day lives, and above all, in our food.
In thinking about AAPI Heritage Month, I want to recommend a dish that comforts me and reminds me of home. Bulalo is a Filipino beef soup that with vegetables—chiefly cabbage, corn, carrots, and potatoes. The beef, still on the bones, is slow-cooked, creating a stock that is healing and delicious. When I was young, I remember the smell of soup in every room of our house. The corn from nearby farmers in Ohio was fresh and sweet. We were farm to table before it was trendy.
In Los Angeles, you can find a variety of beef bone soups. I recommend them all, each with their own unique details, but the base flavor is there, lying underneath, reminding me of home. Here are a few of my favorites:
Sullungtang (Korean) – Add your own salt and eat with a side of kimchi and rice.
Oxtail pho (Vietnamese) – Served with rice noodles, herbs, beansprouts, and jalapeños.
Cocido (Mexican) – Often also includes corn in the soup (a definite plus for me!) with a side of rice and tortillas.
As you try these dishes or search for your own taste of home in other cultures, I have one simple request this month: support small family-owned businesses who love to tell their story through food.