"The family is where it's at in Asian culture," says Nina Simonds, who is known as one of the foremost authorities on Asian cooking and culinary traditions. "Whenever and wherever I visit in Asia, I always find an emphasis on family, and it's this dedication to it that I brought home with me after living there the first time."
Nina recalls that when she was a child, her parents' evening ritual included watching the nightly news, so she and her sister and two brothers frequently gobbled up their food in the 10 minutes before the news came on and her mother and father abandoned the table for the living room sofa.
"My husband couldn't believe what a fast eater I was when he first met me," she says with a laugh. Things changed when she went to live in Taiwan in the early 1970s at the age of 19. She was a serious student of food, language, and culture, and to learn as much as she could, she lived in a Taiwanese household. She quickly adopted her hosts as a surrogate family. They, in turn, joyfully embraced their Western daughter.
"Every morning, we went to the market to pick out food for two or three dinners," Nina remembers. "Dinner was one of the most important parts of the day because it was a time when the entire family gathered. Everyone stopped what they were doing and sat down at a large, round table with a Lazy Susan in the middle. There were always two vegetables, a little meat, and sometimes a little fish. And there was always a simple soup and steamed rice.