Her team sought to include as many Asian cuisines as possible across a vast swath of the city. That includes a noodle factory in College Point; a viral purveyor of scallion-pancake burritos that until recently served exclusively from its fire escape; and a spot serving up Cantonese classics in Homecrest, one of the city’s smallest satellite Chinatowns neighboring Sheepshead Bay.
Recipes run the gamut of skill levels, and Mao’s team eschewed making them more accessible or adapting them with easily available ingredients. “There’s been a shift in cookbooks toward not watering recipes down,” she notes. “Some recipes in the book are really out there.”
The pla som (sour fish), for one, from the Upper East Side’s Thai Isan restaurant Zabb PuTawn, involves fermenting a fish for four days unrefrigerated. “Not every home cook is gonna want to do that,” Mao acknowledged. “It’s a very daunting task, but we wanted to have things be true to how the chefs wanted them to be.” Several recipes had never been written down, existing solely in the cooks’ heads and muscle memory; one was transcribed from a video the team shot of the chef narrating as she prepared the dish on site.
Made Here also includes a number of restaurants that have shuttered, both prior to and during the book’s production. It’s an unfortunate reality of the industry, especially in New York, but as Mao observes, “that doesn’t in any way diminish the importance of their stories. Someone came here, built this business, and had this journey. We wanted to show what this meant to them. And some have bittersweet endings or inconclusive endings, which is also very characteristic of the city.”
The 2022 closing of the Queens Center Mall favorite Boc Boc Chicken Delicious, for example, was mourned by many, but, Mao points out, “the owners worked in restaurants for so long and they put their daughter through college.” (In the book, proprietor Ruth Li says proudly of her loyal customers: “I raised a lot of food-court kids, watching them grow from little kids to college kids.”)