Mala girls, Fongchong Havighurst and Taylor Holliday. The aprons say mala (numbing and spicy).

What happens when a white family in the American South adopts an 11-year-old Chinese girl who’s never eaten a meal other than Chinese in her entire life and has no intention of starting now? Writer, blogger, and adoptive mother Taylor Holliday shares a story of how fear and frustration on all sides give way to a solution in this fiery story of creating a family from strangers by cooking Sichuan food.

Fongchong cooks for the first time ever, soon after she arrived in Nashville (2011).

Fongchong steers clear of traditional American food both inside and outside her new home, but eventually finds her place in the New Nashville by befriending other immigrants and refugees and their food, while remaining fiercely loyal to her own cuisine. 

Fongchong and Taylor at a Sichuan pepper farm

Fongchong with her Sichuan Mala Crawfish Boil. To see how this recipe compares and contracts to a Louisiana version, click here.


Learn more about Taylor Holliday’s challenge to cook Sichuan food in America on her website, The Mala Project. There, you may read her blog, follow her recipes, and even order Sichuan ingredients.

Need a good Sichuan cookbook? Try Fuchsia Dunlop’s superlative Land of Plenty (2003, W. W. Norton & Company)


Music for this episode includes “Banjo Guzheng Pickin’ Girl” performed by Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei. See a live performance of the song from Music City Roots Live at the Factory here. It is their version of an old Appalachian tune called “Banjo Pickin’ Girl” written by the Coon Creek Girls in the 1930s. Washburn, a Grammy-winning banjo player, and Wu, a virtuoso guzheng player, also perform “Fisherman’s Song,” a traditional Chinese piece, and an original “mash-up” called “Cindy’s Little Hand” that is an arrangement of the Chinese traditional piece “Little Open Hand” and the traditional Appalachian tune “Backstep Cindy.” Find out more about their music here:

The podcast also includes “Sulla Construzione Del Ponte SullAdda” by Billy Torello.

The Producer

Taylor Holliday is a freelance writer, blogger at and purveyor of Sichuan specialty ingredients at She lives in Nashville with her daughter, Fongchong Havighurst, who is chief taster and translator in their food pursuits, and her husband, Craig Havighurst, chief dishwasher and cheerleader.