Why I Write About Food 005: Maggie Zhu of Omnivore's Cookbook

When Maggie tackles a recipe to share on her blog, you can rest assured that she's doing the necessary research and kitchen tests to bring you not only clear instructions and practical cooking tips, but also the story and culture behind the food. Her approach makes it easy to learn about Chinese cuisine, and you may even be encouraged to take on homemade dumplings and mooncake. 

Tell us about Omnivore's Cookbook.
Omnivore’s Cookbook shares Chinese recipes and shows readers how easy it is to cook them. I use a lot of step-by-step photos, and sometimes videos, to explain ingredients, preparation, and cooking techniques that may not be familiar to Western readers.

Why do you write about food?
I love to share stories and recipes. It’s so rewarding when a reader cooks my recipe and tells me they enjoyed the dish. Writing about food is also a learning process that I like and that I benefit a lot from. If I’d never started a blog, I’d never have ventured very far out of my comfort zone. Now, I explore and experiment with new recipes every week, and it makes every dinner very delicious. Blogging also gives me the chance to connect with many talented people. I just moved to the US from China five months ago, but I already had local friends even before arriving. My family and friends may be far away from me, but I never feel lonely. It’s amazing!

How has moving to another country and living abroad changed the way you eat and cook?
It has changed 100% percent, because I didn’t cook much when I was living in China. My mom was in charge of daily cooking and she served very different food from what I would usually make, which was less meat and more vegetables. I cooked only on weekends, for my blog. Since moving to the US, I’ve started to use the oven more often (it’s so convenient!). I also cook a lot of pasta and salads, because they’re so easy. I also needed to get used to an electric stove. I had been used to making stir-fry dishes on a gas stove, so it took me quite a while to change the way I heat the pan. The biggest difference is, now, I need to be more practical and find ways to cook more efficiently, because I cook almost every day. My recipe style has changed quite a bit because of this.

What are you currently reading? 
I’m reading several Chinese cookbooks now, and one of my favorites is Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees. Some of the blogs I follow all the time are: Curious Nut, Just One Cookbook, Simply Fresh Dinners, Kevin is Cooking, and Hapa Nom Nom. The list goes on. I recently picked up Will Write for Food by Diane Jacob again. It contains so much useful information about food writing, such as how to properly write a recipe. I think every food blogger should read it.

What's your favorite recipe on Omnivore's Cookbook?
Cantonese Chicken Egg Rolls. At a dim sum restaurant in Guangzhou, I had these amazing chicken egg rolls that were so rich and flavorful. They were the most flavorful egg rolls I'd ever had. I spent a lot of time and effort developing this recipe, and finally re-created a very similar version. It uses bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms (instead of cabbage, like most egg roll recipes), with a very rich sauce, to create a scrumptious filling that is addictively tasty. It’s the type of dish I’d want to serve at a party because I know everyone will like it.

Question from Sarah of Well and Full: What are your motivations to keep writing, keep recipe developing, keep photographing? What keeps you going? (Click here to read Sarah's interview)
My motivation comes from people who believe in me, including my readers, my husband, my blogger friends, and the many nice people I've encountered through the blog. Because of them, I have to believe in myself. There were very difficult times, like when my blog growth was stagnant, or when I would compare my work to that of some artists and think I was a total failure, or when I had a major burnout. But at the end of the day, their encouragement made me think that I can really do this. Which means I had to keep up with my work.

Visit Maggie's website at www.omnivorescookbook.com
Recommended Recipes:

Zongzi with Red Bean Paste (Sticky Rice Dumplings)
The Ultimate Guide to Traditional Mooncake
Cantonese Chicken Egg Rolls