Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods

by Grace Lin (Author)

Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

Newbery and Caldecott honoree and New York Times bestselling author Grace Lin delivers a groundbreaking, lushly illustrated, and beautifully written full-color book that explores the whimsical myths and stories behind your favorite American Chinese food.

From fried dumplings to fortune cookies, here are the tales behind your favorite foods.

Do you know the stories behind delectable dishes--like the fun connection between scallion pancakes and pizza? Or how dumplings cured a village's frostbitten ears? Or how wonton soup tells about the creation of the world?

Separated into courses like a Chinese menu, these tales--based in real history and folklore--are filled with squabbling dragons, magical fruits, and hungry monks. This book will bring you to far-off times and marvelous places, all while making your mouth water. And, along the way, you might just discover a deeper understanding of the resilience and triumph behind this food, and what makes it undeniably American.

Award-winning and bestselling author Grace Lin provides a visual and storytelling feast as she gives insight on the history, legends, and myths behind your favorite American Chinese dishes. Chinese Menu makes the perfect gift book for anyone who loves good food--and an even better story.

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Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
An utterly delectable feast of history and storytelling.


Starred Review
This celebration of Chinese cuisine and culture is factual, engaging, and mouthwatering.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Via appetizing full-color gouache and pencil illustrations alongside lush, mouthwatering prose, Newbery and Caldecott Honoree Lin chronicles the origins of the most ubiquitous dishes in American Chinese restaurants. A table of contents, structured like a Chinese takeout menu, breaks down topics--such as soups, side orders, and chef's specials--into bite-size sections that describe the meals' sometimes mythical origins. By tracing the etymology of wonton soup, for example, the creator outlines how, when examining the dish name's Northern Chinese roots, "wonton" can refer to "primordial chaos or the Daoist creation story of the world." Lin allows common foods their time to shine, noting how the dumpling was created by a doctor more than 1,800 years ago to help villagers combat frostbite, and the fortune cookie has Japanese American beginnings. Other entries include dragon-filled tales of various teas, and the backstory and etiquette surrounding chopsticks. Each selection, often prefaced with a personal anecdote and historical or folkloric context, whisks readers back in time; some entries highlight ancient tales about magic fruits, while others address troubling periods of strife and discrimination. These foods--and their stories--find common ground in their deep-rooted connection to Chinese American culture, which is further anchored by an author's note that details the book's inspiration. A family recipe and endnotes conclude. Ages 8-12. Agent: Rebecca Sherman, Writers House. (Sept.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 3-7--Newbery and Caldecott Honor author/illustrator Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon) delivers a scrumptious smorgasbord of folktales, myths, and origins of popular items on the menu. The contents read like a who's who of favorite foods on a Chinese menu, from dumplings, to teas, to fortune cookies. Highly researched, the book delves into each delicacy, telling where and when the foods originated. Each dish starts off with the author sharing childhood and family memories, an explanation of what the dish contains, and the significance of the dish in the Chinese culture (or whether it is simply a dish that Chinese restaurants have created to please the American palate). Following this is the true heart of the book: a folktale or myth to tell the story behind the food. In one, a dog with nine tails travels to the heavens to find rice grains, returning with just one tail, but also with the rice seeds, thus explaining why dogs have one tail and where rice came from. Each of these folktales can stand alone and holds up to rereadings, of which there will be many. Appetites will be ignited as tweens will want to try dishes new to them, and to rediscover their old favorites. Lin's gorgeous, identifiable gouache and pencil illustrations add charm and depth to each item. Included is a food origin time line, a family recipe for scallion pancakes, end notes, bibliography, and index. VERDICT Not to be missed, grab your chopsticks, some oolong tea, and dive into this culinary treasure trove.--Michele Shaw

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Not to be missed, grab your chopsticks, some oolong tea, and dive into this culinary treasure trove.

SLJ, starred
Grace Lin
Grace Lin (she/her), a New York Times bestselling author/illustrator, won the Newbery Honor for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and the Theodor Geisel Honor for Ling and Ting. Her novel When the Sea Turned to Silver was a National Book Award Finalist, and her picture book A Big Mooncake for Little Star was awarded the Caldecott Honor. Grace is also an occasional commentator for New England Public Radio, a reviewer for The New York Times, a video essayist for PBS NewsHour, and the speaker of the popular TEDx Talk "The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child's Bookshelf," as well as hosting the two podcasts: kidlitwomen* and Kids Ask Authors. In 2016, Grace's art was displayed at the White House, where Grace herself was recognized by President Obama's office as a Champion of Change for Asian American and Pacific Islander Art and Storytelling. You can visit Grace online at and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @pacylin.

Chelsea Clinton (she/her) is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of She Persisted, She Persisted Around the World, She Persisted in Sports, She Persisted in Science, Don't Let Them Disappear, It's Your World and Start Now!, as well as Grandma's Gardens and The Book of Gutsy Women, which she wrote with Hillary Clinton, and Governing Global Health with Devi Sridhar. Chelsea earned a master's degree in public health from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, where she is now an adjunct assistant professor, and a PhD in international relations from Oxford University. She is also the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, where she works on many initiatives, including those that help empower the next generation of leaders. She lives in New York City with her husband, Marc, their three children and their dog, Soren.

Gillian Flint (she/her) is an illustrator who has a passion for painting in watercolors. She has been drawing and creating characters for as long as she can remember. Her work has been published in the USA, the UK and Australia. In her spare time she enjoys reading and gardening at her home in the UK. You can visit Gillian online at and follow her on Instagram @gillianflint_illustration.

Alexandra Boiger (she/her) has illustrated nearly twenty picture books, including the She Persisted series by by Chelsea Clinton; the popular Tallulah series by Marilyn Singer; and the Max and Marla books, which she also wrote. Originally from Munich, Germany, she now lives outside of San Francisco, California, with her husband, Andrea; daughter, Vanessa; and two cats, Luiso and Winter. You can visit Alexandra online at and follow her on Instagram @alexandra_boiger.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date
September 20, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV000000 - Juvenile Fiction | General
Library of Congress categories
Cooking, Chinese

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