TikTok Chef Cassie Yeung and Her Mom on Expressing Love Through Food

Cassie Yeung
Cassie Yeung

Where I'm From: Now and Gen features in-conversation pieces between generations — like a younger woman and her grandmother — discussing topics like beauty rituals, finances, or marriage. For our latest installment, we caught up with TikTok-famous chef Cassie Yeung and her mom, Betty, about the significance of food in their Chinese Singaporean culture. Read their chat about food below.

For Asian American families, food is personal. It's about more than just sustenance. Food is a way for Asian Americans, and particularly immigrants, to keep their traditions and heritage alive and connect to their families despite distance, language barriers, and history. That's certainly the case for content creator and chef Cassie Yeung, who's known for her fun, personality-driven recipes, like her popular "Takeout Who?" series in which she re-creates common takeout meals.

"If it weren't for my mom, I don't think I would be the chef that I am today."

Cassie uses her love for food and cooking to connect with her extended family, her 3-plus million followers on TikTok, and most importantly, her mom, Betty. In fact, Betty inspired her to start getting curious in the kitchen. "I hate to admit it, but if it weren't for my mom, I don't think I would be the chef that I am today," she says. "She grew up cooking every single meal for the family and that definitely trickled down when she came to the states. No matter what, after a long day, she would come home and cook for us. We were not a take-out family."

Growing up in Singapore, Betty had to cook. "Being one of nine children, I had to take over the reins at home," she says. "I had to do all the cooking and cleaning. Cooking was necessary for us." And while whipping up meals was "not by choice" back then, she now feels joy feeding her family, which she's passed down to Cassie. "It means a lot that I'm able to make something good that they're gonna enjoy and I'm passing along whatever I learned as a child to both my daughters," she says.

Below, the mother-daughter duo discuss the importance of food in their culture; their favorite Chinese Singaporean food traditions; and the life lessons they've taught each other.

On Why Food Is So Personal in Asian Cultures

CY: We never gather as a family unless there's food involved. Food is always the center of our gatherings. I know a lot of families do this, but this is definitely special to Chinese Singaporean culture. My sister and I, both being first-generation and American-born Chinese, it's interesting for us to see because my mom has brought over the food and culture she was raised with. She's shown us without even having to explain through her food.

My sister and I traveled back to Singapore this year, and it's been the first time we've gone back as adults, being able to pay attention and identify this culture. Now, seeing it in my extended family on my mom's side is so special because I realize, wow this is the center point of our entire family.

BY: Absolutely. When my eldest brother came to the United States to visit me, he would bring me special sauce that's not available here and he would whip up a meal for all my friends and family, and I'd invite everybody that I know. We've learned to appreciate food because growing up from a humble family, we had very little. We appreciate food a lot more in the sense that more food is available to us now, rather than the basic ingredients.

CY: And food is obviously such a universal language. My extended family speaks Hokkien and I don't, but every time I go to Singapore, my aunt and I have this special moment where she'll teach me family recipes. We have a language barrier, but when it comes to food, we both understand what is happening and what she's teaching me, and I think that is really special. As sad as this is, she says, "Now, when I'm gone, somebody in the family will know how to carry these traditions on." Food is special in that sense — I'm now carrying on family traditions as well.

BY: That's right. She's extremely happy that she's able to pass it down to Cassie.

On the Journey to Embracing Their Food and Culture

CY: When I was younger, I would lie and say, "I want pizza, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich," the things that kids were really going crazy over. But as I got older, I was like, "No, I don't want this." I wanted rice, noodles, all the things that my mom would make.

"As I got older, I was just like, 'Why am I embarrassed of this food?'"

Because I was on the dance team, we would have tailgates. And while many people were bringing the typical finger foods, my mom was bringing trays of dumplings, spring rolls, and noodles, and everyone went crazy over it. None of the other food was touched. People I didn't know were coming up to me like, "Oh my God, you're Betty's daughter. She's making me dumplings for my birthday." As I got older, I was just like, "Why am I embarrassed of this food?" I should not be embarrassed. This is something that's so special, obviously so many people are loving, and I know that I love myself. It did take me a while to start to admit it, but now, especially with TikTok and Instagram, it's no longer something that people are shaming. [Viewers are] not just curious to see what other people enjoy, but they're curious to see how they can re-create it or enjoy it themselves. That's why content creation is so special to me now. I'm still on this journey figuring out how to love this culture and love myself, and taking people along with me and allowing them to fall in love with it as well.

BY: I wasn't gonna bring pizza or pasta or whatever. I'm gonna make noodles, dumpling, and spring rolls. Whenever Cassie and my other daughter are not feeling well, they say they want to come home to Mom and Mom will make them the special food that will make them feel better. They're like, "Mom, can you make me a congee or this noodle soup" that they crave. That is very, very special to me because that's a connection that we have. That is something that I'm really, really happy about.

On Their Favorite Chinese Singaporean Food Traditions

BY: The reunion Chinese New Year hot pot dinner in Singapore. Singapore is humid and extremely hot. However, without fail, we will have a boiling hot pot on New Year's Eve with my entire family, and we'll eat in shifts. We'll have a table of 10, and the older children will go first and the younger children will come and do the second shift. It is a very joyful occasion and tradition. It's loud, it's noisy, and everybody's talking at the same time, and there's a lot of food. And it's hot.

CY: For me, it's dim sum. My family calls it yum cha. I'm in Philly now, my parents are in New Jersey, and then my sister and my brother-in-law are also in Philly, but just not so close to me. But we always go back to where my parents are, and we have some dim sum together. Almost every weekend in my childhood, my parents would take us out to dim sum. Once I moved away for school and then I was living in California for a few years, I wanted that traditional dim sum. So this is a special time for me now, as an adult, because I get to sit back and feel like a kid again, because my parents just order everything. It reminds me of my childhood and now is basically a tradition. Any time we gather, 99 percent of the time, we're gonna go for dim sum the next day.

On the Life Lessons They've Learned From Each Other

BY: I'm extremely proud of her, and she really inspired me because she took on this TikTok thing in a year. She ventured into something unknown to her and although she's familiar with cooking, she's not familiar with what it entails and what the outcome is gonna be. She's brave and smart and creative. I'm not just saying that because she's my daughter, but she really is. She's one of a kind.

CY: The first time I'm hearing this! We don't say this about each other, so it's funny to hear it, although I know it. I would say I have a lot to owe to my mom because, again, if it wasn't for her cooking in the kitchen, I wouldn't have had the same passion as I do now. But on a more technical stance, she's taught me that whatever you want to do, you just have to go after it. I transitioned into content creation not really knowing what was going to happen, and having that conversation with my parents — obviously it's foreign to them as well — it was a tough decision, going into the unknown. But my mom was the one saying, you have to show up and post like this is already your full-time job. Her putting it into those words clicked for me because I thought, if I do this, I really have to go for it. I am very grateful that my parents believed in me. I'm very thankful that they were not only supportive, but also gave me that hard work ethic — because my parents, still to this day, work so hard for everything that they have in their life.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Yerin Kim is the features editor at POPSUGAR, where she helps shape the vision for special features and packages across the network. A graduate of Syracuse University's Newhouse School, she has over five years of experience in the pop culture and women's lifestyle spaces. She's passionate about spreading cultural sensitivity through the lenses of lifestyle, entertainment, and style.