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What Is Heritage Cooking & Why Is It a 2021 Food Trend?

Growing up, my favorite weekends were spent watching my Filipino mother simultaneously brown ground beef while chopping up a variety of colorful veggies, from carrots to bright-green scallions. Meanwhile, I cracked eggs into a bowl while my sister whisked them, prepping our forthcoming lumpia-rolling session. For two to three hours, we learned the ins and outs of making lumpia (or, what we describe as Filipino eggrolls), a dish that dates as far back as the 17th century. It’s a recipe — and tradition — we continue to this day. But little did my sister and I know at the time, we were engaging in heritage cooking — and it just so happens to be a food trend we’ll see chefs and home-cooks alike embrace this year.

“Heritage cooking is trending and should be here to stay,” Colette Heimowitz, VP of Nutrition and Education at Atkins Nutritional and a New York Times bestselling author, tells SheKnows. “This surprises me because it has been around for such a long time and only appealed to a certain niche. Now, it has recently bubbled up to the interest of the masses.”

But what is heritage cooking?

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Image: Courtesy of Ms Chi Cafe. Courtesy of Productivity PR.

Heritage cooking means embracing and highlighting a culture through food. They’re historic, family recipes that have been passed down generation to generation. For some, they’re made-from-scratch recipes that use simple, whole ingredients and traditional, old-fashioned techniques and tools. They’re recipes rich in both flavor and history. And it’s a way of cooking that’s expected to trend throughout 2021.

“After 2020, we all need hugs. Heritage cooking will help us find comfort in connecting with our roots and give us big warm hugs from our tummy in 2021,” Shirley Chung, Top Chef star and author of Chinese Heritage Cooking From My American Kitchen, tells SheKnows.

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Image: Courtesy of Ms Chi Cafe.

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Chung wrote the book on heritage cooking (literally!), and her version of it is cooking with the flavors and dishes she grew up around and grew into, “from traditional Northern Chinese noodles and dumplings to Beijing’s unique melting pot of all eight Chinese regional cuisines.”

Chung says her heritage cooking reflects old traditions blended with her new experiences.

“Heritage cooking is important to me because in a way, it is my unfiltered true way of cooking my family’s favorite recipes into some new creations,” she explains. “I love to take traditional dishes and incorporate wholesome ingredients with fresh seasonal ingredients that still remind me of the comforting dishes that I grew up on.”

Heritage cooking in 2021

What does heritage cooking look like in 2021? For Kevin Tien, chef of Moon Rabbit in Washington, D.C., it’s a way to spotlight “vibrant” cultures through food and exposing diners to new traditions, from Burmese-American and Filipino-American cuisine, to Ethiopian-American and Vietnamese-American traditions.

“I’m glad heritage cooking is trending, but it should be a trend that is here to stay,” Tien tells Food & Wine. “We (first-generation American chefs, immigrant chefs) didn’t ‘show up’ overnight and start cooking. The rise in recognition for immigrant cooking and heritage recipes has been a long time coming, and to be able to cook their families’ food and to be showcased properly for it, is something first generation American chefs and immigrant chefs can celebrate. It’s high time these talented cooks get the spotlight they deserve and the spotlight on their cultures those vibrant cultures deserve.”

What’s an example of heritage cooking?

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Image: Courtesy of Albert Law, Porkbelly Studio. Albert Law.

Chung’s favorite example of heritage cooking is her scallion pancakes with hazelnut pesto dish.

“I learned how to make traditional scallion pancakes from my mom and grandma,” Chung says. “When I was growing up, I used to bug my mom or grandma to make scallion pancakes for me. They were always a special treat and were my ultimate comfort food.”

Scallion pancakes, which have been around for ages, is exactly what it sounds like: fluffy pancakes studded with green onions, or scallions. “[They’re] like the result of a pizza and croissant having a baby — savory and round, but filled with layers,” Chung adds.

It wasn’t, however, until Chung spent years cooking Italian food professionally — and growing to love hazelnut pesto — that she discovered that scallion pancakes paired perfectly with Italian food, including the aforementioned pesto.

“Now, I pair my hot scallion pancakes with pesto and Italian cured meats, creating a perfect salty and savory dish,” Chung says. “It even became a staple dish at my family’s Thanksgiving feast at my home.”

Before you go, check out Ina Garten’s easy weeknight dinner recipes below:

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