I came to China to explore new opportunities. Ever since I arrived, I have tried new foods and pushed myself to acquire tastes for foods I was nervous to nibble. Exploring new markets became a hobby. Ask me where to buy something, and I will most likely have an idea. I backpacked through different regions in China discovering more and more how diverse China is and how every region had dishes as distinct as their dialects.

Epiphany

One night I had trouble sleeping due to my usual culprit, anxiety. The question “What am I going to do with my life?” never begged harder for an answer. The ever nearing prospects of starting a family and caring for my parents demanded I find an answer immediately. I made mental inventory of my interests; I love design, marketing, projects, reading, writing, blogging, being online, photography, travel, eating, and cooking.

Cooking? I thought about a writer in Beijing who started a cooking school. She knew how to cook. I can sauté some things at home or try something from a cookbook, but I couldn’t imagine teaching. That is when it hit me! I DON’T KNOW HOW TO COOK!

Zucchini family: Shanti, mother, Shane, and baby Virginia

Mùdì (目的, Purpose)

Given everything I knew how to do and loved learning more about, I would travel China and learn how to cook. Family is paramount in my life; my parents inspired me with their stories of travel, injecting me with the passion to travel and live new experiences. Given that I want to start a family soon, the idea of learning how to cook for my future family from other families seemed brimming with stories I could collect and tell.

Cookbook / Food Blog

I thought of the cookbooks I own and the Chinese cookbooks I’ve come across in the states and in China. Some of the recipes were daunting, reflected the Panda Express menu, or didn’t have enough information and explanation. I decided I want to learn family favorite recipes, authentic and not typically found in restaurants. I want to learn tasty recipes that are easy to prepare and learn. These recipes are like souvenirs that define a culture, come with a story (told by other families or my own), and become a memorable experience for myself as well as other families whom I hope will enjoy through the food blog and cookbook.

Mother's parents, my parents, and Father's parents

Mother's parents (Emiliano & Lorenza Maravillas), Shanti's parents (Maribel & William Christensen), and Father's parents (Florence & Willam F. Christensen)

Muses

My thoughts always return to my parents who gave me their stories and introductions to new flavors. My mom was adventurous in the kitchen and cooked beyond her own Filipino culture. My mom has recipes she clipped or dogeared yet never tried, the new recipes she cooked and presented with pride, and finally the recipes that became our family favorites. For whatever reason, I don’t speak Tagalog, but she didn’t fail to verse me in flavors of her heritage. My dad had a new place for us to visit almost every weekend. We visited international food fairs, cultural festivals, hole-in-the-walls, and a few splurges to reward good grades. Often my brother, sister, and I would gawk as my father braved a new food, ate a chili pepper, or admitted the amount of wasabi we dared him. Together, my mother and father inspired my passion for food.

The Project

With each family I visit, the ShowShanti project grows in meaning for me. Living in Beijing and traveling China as a tourist, I was fascinated by many things but I couldn’t quite grasp anything that could endear me thoroughly to the culture. Now, each family I meet connects me to something that resonates well inside. While the Chinese culture has proven to be very private, the families who open their homes don’t have much, yet give so much. I ask each family for three recipes, but never get just three. I learn 4-10 recipes at a time. Most homes have two gas burners, some use an electric hot plate. Their desire to share with me, contribute to the project, and be excellent hosts leads to putting more plates on the table, teaching more dishes, and in all but one case never accepting the money I offer for ingredients.

For me this project has given me more than a cure for anxiety; it continues to reward me with experiences and new perspectives. I am simply happy to find something that makes me feel good and generates warmth amongst the people I meet.

 

Facebook comments:

30 Responses to Why did I start this project?

  1. Brian Lew says:

    Love your site Shanti!
    I also enjoy tweeting with you. Keep it up!!

    Brian
    blew1 :)

  2. Tranh says:

    Ever creative and prodigious, I love your project Shanti. Your drive is an inspiration. I can’t wait to try out your new superpower: pan-Chinese-home-cooking. Love, TP

  3. Ange says:

    You are an inspiration, follow your passion!

  4. showshanti says:

    Thank you Tranh! I can’t wait to give you a birthday feast! ♥

  5. showshanti says:

    Thank you Angela! Haven’t known you long, but you’ve inspired me a lot in such a short time.

  6. showshanti says:

    I’m working my way up. Thank you for continuing to help me get my stories out there! I’m so lucky you stumbled upon my blog! ✤

  7. Jenny says:

    Awesome and very inspirational indeed. I love to read your blog and see updates from you Shanti. Although we’re miles and miles apart, it always feels like we are very close at heart. I am so happy that you are learning so much about the Chinese culture…food definitely bonds us together esp in the Chinese culture, I’m sure you have learned that by now. Keep up with your good work Shanti. I can’t wait to see your book!

  8. shane says:

    i stole all the pictures!!!… you are creating cookbook ethnographies of different regions in china, you little anthropologist you…

  9. Jesper says:

    Hi Shanti,
    Landed on your blog via LinkedIn. What a fantastic project! Good luck with it.

    I travelled Yunnan for 18 days with my wife in 2001. We absolutely loved it.

    Where do I pre-order the book ;-)

  10. Tiffany Whigham says:

    I have fallen in love with your site!!!!!!!!!!! I love to read and view the articles and pics, when I am perusing the web. It is refreshing to see what new and exotic foods you will encounter. I discovered that I LOVE food and will try just about anything now…as long as it doesn’t crawl!

  11. aimee grace maravillas says:

    hi cousin your website is so amazing i read some articles and your site is so interesting

  12. Rogier says:

    Hi Shanti,

    I’ve recently started a project called Rice and Noodle that might be of interest to you:

    Rice and Noodle love to go out for dinner in Shanghai. But actually have no clue about the food they’re eating. This is an attempt to change that. Discovering Chinese cuisine from west to east, province by province. Each week Rice and Noodle visit a restaurant in Shanghai serving the most authentic food of that weeks province. Sharing photos and videos for you on this blog.

    See: http://rogierbikker.com/riceandnoodle/

    While checking upcoming cuisines I just stumbled on your blog, great project! Keep up the good work!

    R.

  13. William says:

    Finally read this blog…it IS very interesting and good. I wish mom and I could travel to boon dock places in China some day again.

    Got a hankering for something we experienced a few times in Japan in the wintertime. Oden, Japanese dish in the countryside (eating spots usually serve just one specialty at each), in a Japanese styled spot. The few oden places I found were in a snowy environment with a big red chochin (red paper lantern) at the door. The tables were small of very thick wood. One can select each goodie by just asking the cook and pointing to the goodie from your table. It is hot and steamy inside and the sake is hot.The oden is a variety of fish cakes and dumplings served with karashi,, a very hot MUSTARD, not wasabi. We found Colmans English mustard was probably it for our dish here at home. The mustard is powdered and I mixed it with a little water. All these special eating places in the countryside in Japan are interesting and very very photogenic, as are the dishes themselves. I would like to see photos of the kitchens and houses you visit in China. Saw figure skating and the gold last night. Congratulations. Nuff now, Dad

  14. Angeli Cooks says:

    Truly inspirational.

  15. Aisha says:

    To call you an inspiration just doesn’t quite cut it, although I am truly inspired by the ShowShanti project! Keep it coming :)

  16. showshanti says:

    Thanks Aisha! It’s great to hear from you!

  17. Diane Maupin says:

    Hi Shanti,
    gosh this is a wonderful website…I love the family pictures and can remember when Virginia was born. Such nice pictures of your parents when young too. All this information is important to those who love reading about your experiences and follow your culinary adventures. Great job!
    Many Happy Days Ahead,
    Diane

  18. Gabriel says:

    This blog not only has a lot of quality, but also a love of heart, and that’s important for cooking!

  19. Victor says:

    Hey Shanti! Great writing, great photos, great idea and a great cause.

    I fear the day that these recipes get lost because of time and Westernization… we are lucky in Vancouver (and SF) to have such a broad range of foods, but I can’t imagine many of these older Asian shopkeepers passing their skill willingly to their children. Reminds me of that No Reservations episode where Bourdain was in that tiny apartment learning how to make hand-made noodles with the bamboo technique.

    Keep it fresh!

  20. MeiMei says:

    You are, and have been from day 1, a huge reason for me to continue what I’m doing and follow my dreams. Thanks for being that and so much more to me and so many others. Your site really is awesome- it’s only been one year!!! You are incredible. Come back to Beijing so we can celebrate in true ShantiMei style! xoxo love love love

  21. Lisa says:

    Hello Shanti,

    This is going to sound really funny but your dad’s cab picked me up on the way to the hospital for my prenatal check up and we had a nice conversation about food. Your dad is awesome! At my stop he gave me your business card and I was right away curious as to how you started this favorite family recipes in China. Some day I hope to go back to China and get reconnected with my Chinese relatives and learn some their local recipes. You must thank you dad for me because your website is such an inspiration to me. I will try cooking some of your recipes at home. I love to cook Chinese food. Best wishes to you and your husband in Beijing!!! If you are ever in SF, please let us know…I would love to meet up with you!!!
    Lisa

  22. Dennis says:

    AWESOME. Just the other day I was dreaming about doing this myself…. keep it up!

  23. I fell in love with your contagious passion for food. Your blog is cool and fun to read. Your project is admirable. Cure for anxiety with cooking is the way to go.

    Cheers to you. Looking forward to your cookbook. Enjoy traveling in Thailand (found out on your tweet).

    PS:

    Check out Chumporn Cabana ( http://www.cabana.co.th) when in south. Ask for Varisorn or B – owners/my best friends. Tell them that (Jitti/House) sent u.

    Their resort serve best food around, green, and peaceful. Very interesting green/farming project they have been doing. Endorsed by King of Thailand….

  24. Christa says:

    Hi Miss Shanti! I forgot how I found my way into your blog, and I’ve not read everything, maybe not even half but I’m loving a lot of stuff I’ve browsed through on your blog. I’m a Chinese-Filipino currently in Beijing for some studies so I find your site to be quite helpful. :)

    Thank you for your blog and all the help you’re giving to people regarding Beijing and China, and some other places as well. Also quite amazed at your Mandarin! It is my fervent hope to be as fluent someday. More power to you and your blog. Cheers!

  25. Dear Christa,

    Thanks so much for your kind comments. It seems we have some cultures in common. I’m half Filipina, but if you count the fractions, I’m 1/16th Chinese. My husband is Chinese-American. My Mandarin is fluent enough to conduct my project, eat food, haggle in the markets, and chit chat about my family to families who teach me their home-style recipes. Adeline, who works with me on my project, is the beautifully articulate Mandarin speaker and translator. Together, we love connecting people through a passion for food; and look! Here you are!

    I look forward to running into you one of these days. We are in the same city after all. Thanks again for reading and for your support.

    x shanti

  26. Lotus says:

    How many people can honestly say they love what they do??
    I believe that you are not only an inspiration to others but also an “aspiration” for those who want to make changes to their lives but don’t know where to start – Shanti, you’re passion for the fellowship of food comes from within and oozes when you share it!

    Looking forward to having you join me in any leg of my “Culinary Trip to Italy” this fall :)

    Big squeeze xx

  27. Hi Shanti, we lost touch but glad to see your new site and your project is still going strong. I also see you on Instagram so we can stay in touch. Keep up the good work.

  28. [...] her husband Peikwen Cheng—one of the most talented photographers I know. Based in Beijing, Shanti travels all over China  meeting with local families to learn about authentic home-style Chinese cooking. Her many [...]

  29. [...] Peikwen Cheng—my ex-colleague and the most talented photographer I know. Based in Beijing, Shanti travels all over China meeting with local families to learn about authentic home-style Chinese cooking. Her many journeys [...]

  30. Lester says:

    Hi Shanti,

    Thanks for blogging about something that I love, food! Hopefully someday, some of us will be lucky enough to sample some of the cooking that you’ve learned. Happy fooding! :)

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