The Father-and-Son Team Behind “Hunger Pangs”

The Peacemaking Power of Food

The peacemaking power of food – that’s what you witness as Kevin Pang and his dad, Jeffrey Pang, get ready to shoot an episode of their YouTube show, “Hunger Pangs.” “Let’s rock ‘n’ roll – it’s shrimp time!”

Working through their recipe for honey walnut shrimp at the studios of America’s Test Kitchen in Boston (where the show is produced), you’d never know that it’s taken more than 30 years to get to this point. Kevin Pang was six when his family emigrated from Hong Kong to Toronto, eventually moving to Seattle, where Jeffrey opened an export business.

Struggles of Assimilation and Cultural Identity

“If you were an immigrant kid, you’re living in America, you do everything that you can to fit in, to try and be American, and part of that is rebelling against your childhood, against your culture,” Kevin said. He mentioned it caused a deterioration in his relationship with his father, “because I refused to speak Chinese at home.”

Jeffrey said, “My language is a big barrier for me. I don’t know how to talk to my son because he very quickly entered into this Western world.”

“The slightest provocation, I think, would set things off,” said Kevin. “Look, you have two headstrong males. It makes for a pretty, fiery situation.” Over time, contact between them became a perfunctory, weekly phone call: “Just say ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye,’ no fighting,” said Jeffrey.

A Reconnection Through Food

That is, until Kevin became a food writer for the Chicago Tribune. He said, “I had a reason now to call my pops and say, ‘Hey, what is red braised pork belly?’ Now, we’d have these half-hour conversations.”

And then, in 2012, to Kevin Pang’s amazement, his food-loving dad took to YouTube with Chinese cooking demonstrations (2.2 million views and counting), punctuated with nods to a shared history that Kevin had ignored. Everything Kevin could never say in person flooded out in a New York Times article he wrote in 2016, “My father, the YouTube star.”

“To bear my soul in front of my family, it’s just this inconceivable, just horrific idea,” Kevin said. “But to do so, like, in a national newspaper? I have no problem with that.”

Jeffrey Pang’s response? A voicemail message: “Hi Kevin. This is a good and true story. Thank you. Call me sometime. Dad.”

A Culinary Journey Together

Now, father and son reminisce their way through Asian markets – and, of course, they cook. Kevin finally gets that with each ingredient, each dish, they’re re-telling their story, and preserving it.

For a year before they left Hong Kong in 1988, Catherine and Jeffrey Pang collected family recipes, afraid they would lose their heritage. “I still can recall the moment they taught us how to cook a specific dish,” said Catherine. “It’s our treasure.”

Some of those recipes have found their way into the cookbook Jeffrey and Kevin have just published together, titled, “A Very Chinese Cookbook: 100 Recipes from China & Not China (But Still Really Chinese).”

“Food is our common language,” said Kevin. “That’s the language that we speak. That’s what we can talk about. And who would’ve thought?”

The Significance of Food in Cultural Identity

Food, beyond its basic necessity, holds profound cultural significance. For many immigrants, like the Pangs, it is a bridge connecting them to their roots. The peacemaking power of food is not just a phrase but a reality that resonates deeply with families striving to maintain their heritage while assimilating into a new culture.

Culinary Heritage: Preserving Through Generations

The Pang family’s journey underscores the importance of preserving culinary heritage. The recipes Catherine and Jeffrey painstakingly collected serve as a testament to their culture and a legacy for future generations. These recipes are more than just instructions; they are stories, memories, and a connection to their ancestors.

The Evolution of “Hunger Pangs”

“Hunger Pangs” started as a simple YouTube channel showcasing Jeffrey’s culinary skills. However, it evolved into something much more significant. It became a platform for Kevin and Jeffrey to reconnect, share their culture, and bridge the generational and cultural gap between them.

Creating a Bond Through Cooking

Cooking together allowed Kevin and Jeffrey to mend their strained relationship. As they diced, sautéed, and tasted their way through various dishes, they found a common ground. The kitchen became their meeting place, a space where they could communicate and understand each other without the barriers of language and cultural differences.

Impact on the Audience

“Hunger Pangs” has resonated with many viewers, especially those from immigrant backgrounds who see their own struggles and triumphs reflected in the Pangs’ story. The show’s success lies not only in its delicious recipes but in the genuine and heartfelt interactions between Kevin and Jeffrey. Their story inspires others to explore their culinary heritage and use food as a means of connection.

Conclusion: The Legacy of “Hunger Pangs”

Kevin and Jeffrey Pang’s journey is a testament to the peacemaking power of food. Through their YouTube show and cookbook, they have not only reconnected with each other but have also inspired countless others to do the same. Their story highlights the importance of preserving cultural heritage and the role food plays in bringing people together.

Their journey is far from over, but what they have achieved so far is remarkable. The bond they have forged through cooking is a reminder that it’s never too late to reconnect with our roots and the people we love.

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