I recently attended an unusual food tasting in Oakland, California's Chinatown. Samples of chicken and black fungus wine soup, papaya and snow fungus soup, and herbal chicken congee were a part of the mix. The presentation and tasting was put on by a new company, Liu Mama, based in Oakland Chinatown that cooks fresh meals and delivers them to postpartum moms.
If you think it's a very niche market, it is. During my two pregnancies, planning around food was a big part of family discussions, particularly with my parents. Like many middle class Taiwanese parents, they are old school when it comes to postpartum traditions, which typically require one to stay indoors for at least a month and eat specific, healing foods. The East Bay is ripe for a place like this, especially in Chinatown, since the closest of such places are based in Fremont or further south. I wish there was a place like this when I gave birth to my daughter; instead, I made my mother make all the food for me. (I wrote a story last spring about new Asian American moms who are embracing some of these ancient traditions). I say I wish, because it would have at least been an option.
During the tasting, I overheard some telling comments. Of the 25 or so attendees, many were young-ish expecting couples or women, and about a third were older generation couples who attended on behalf of their daughter or daughter-in-law. The older generation made comments like, "They don't want to eat the herbal stuff!" Most of the presentation was delivered in Mandarin, but there were English translation as well.
Allan Liu and his family started the company in recent months to cater (literally) to the booming younger generation who are having babies left and right, it seems. They are employing Allan's mother, the "Liu Mama" of the company's namesake, to cook everything, plus two additional kitchen staffers. They've rented out the Oakland Asian Cultural Center's commercial kitchen, centrally located in Oakland's Chinatown.
For 30 days after giving birth, they deliver healthful meals (beginning with hospital deliveries if the births are in hospitals) to the new mother's doorsteps -- to the tune of $1,688, plus delivery charges. And while this may seem like a whopping amount (it is), several of the parents signed up on the spot after the tasting. I later learned that other postpartum food delivery places in the Bay Area and in Southern California charge about $1,800 for one month of food, so I guess that's the market rate. At an additional cost, you can have fresh meals delivered to the rest of the family as well (of the non-postpartum variety).
To prepare the foods, Allan Liu told me that the chefs begin at 5 am everyday and the three meals (a main meal, soup, dessert and tea) are delivered by 11 am. In general, there is less oil, salt and no MSG in the foods. Liu Mama has had more than 20 years' experience of caring and cooking for others, according to her son, Allan. She's helped many a child and relative, and was hired by friends and acquaintances through word of mouth to cook during the postpartum period.
I know for my own mother, it was a huge task to cook for me, plus help babysit my older child on ocassion, plus manage meals for the rest of the family. She probably spent several hours a day buying ingredients, preparing and making these meals. Perhaps even more stressful is this notion that the traditions must be done "right," this huge responsibility placed on the older generation to nurse the new mom back to health, because that's how it's been done in previous generations. Plus, one is presumably learning to cook things a very specific way (if you abide by tradition).
I remember my mother consulting her acupuncturist and specialized recipe books to find out how to make pigs' feet and papaya soup and white fungus and goji berry dessert (the latter of which is pretty tasty, I should note). You can see a sample menu of Liu Mama's online here. Allan Liu mentioned that accommodations can be made for allergies. Meals are currently delivered in plastic containers, but he mentioned that he can accomodate requests and are currently working on experimenting with stainless steel containers and other options.
One noteworthy thing about this new company is that they have a bilingual website in both Chinese and English. At the presentation, full packets of information were also available in both. In the past, based on my own personal experience, it seems that all of these postpartum-related services were soley advertised in Chinese-language media, such as newspapers. This new medium definitely allows the younger, English-speaking generation to be engaged or at least informed.
For those who are interested, Liu Mama plans on having monthly presentations and tastings. The next one is Saturday, October 15th between 3-4 pm at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. RSVP by calling 510-214-3833.