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New book dives into food truck wars and Filipino folk magic

 May 11, 2023 at 5:11 PM PDT

S1: Filipino folk magic and food blend together in the takeout , a new middle grade book by local author Tracy Badu. It follows 12 year old Mila , whose family owns a Filipino Indian food truck. But when a new celebrity restaurant opens in their small town with a menu that mirrors the food trucks almost exactly , she sets out to expose the recipe thieves. That takeout is Tracy's third book in a year. She debuted with Freddie versus the Family Curse last May , and she's writing two more on top of her day job as an attorney. Welcome back to Midday , Tracy.

S2: Thank you for having me.

S1: So the takeout is all about this battle between a small , family owned food truck and a high end celebrity restaurant.


S4: And there are a lot of.

S1: Filipino Indian fusion dishes in the book , like the Turon Lassi , a yogurt drink , which Mila herself dubs the Mila special.

S3: I unfortunately do not do any , you know , delicious Filipino cooking. But I've I'm so lucky to have folks around me who do. And then my husband and his family are Indian Indian Americans. So I got to have all sorts of delicious home cooked food through them and started thinking about how delicious would these two kind of cuisines be put together. And that's what what led to the Filipino Indian fusion food truck. These are all , unfortunately fictional recipes that I have not tried myself due to my sad cooking skills. But , you know , if any readers out there want to try to make a throw on lassi , I'll be there. Call me up.

S4: All right. And , you know.

S1: Food is a great connector for lots of families and cultures. And you explored that aspect a lot in your book.

S3: And of course , you know , you go to anybody's anyone's house in our family and you're going to be offered something to eat and maybe something to take home. So food was such a big part of my , you know , growing up and being around family and friends. It's something that when it came to writing a book , this was a natural thing for me to move into. Again , my cooking skills are unfortunately not up to the level to create the recipes in the book , but my family is so talented when it comes to to their magic in the kitchen and I'm happy to have taken some inspiration from them. Wonderful.

S1: Wonderful.


S3: So I'm going to read a part of the first chapter where Mila is serving up a Tehran lassi to her customers. I almost hand the second to Ron lassi to another customer. When I notice something off about her , she sniffles on the phone. We were supposed to spend the summer together and he breaks up with me a broken heart. I may have a fix for this , or at least a temporary one if I can get it to work. When the girl reaches for her drink , I wave her closer so I can speak without the adults overhearing. I might have an all natural potion that can help ease the heartache. I whisper. But you have to keep it secret. I tilt my head toward Dad and Mister Rom the universal sign. Far from these guys. She lowers her phone all natural. So it's not a drug or anything. I shake my head. It's more like a tea , a bunch of herbs and roots steeped. So they're super concentrated. It's prepared by Filipino folk healers , non-Western medicine. Sure , I'll try anything to get that jerk out of my mind. I reach inside my blue messenger bag and feel around for a small glass bottle , keeping an eye out to make sure Dad and Mister Ram don't see. They wouldn't love the idea of magic in a customer's food. Dad didn't even approve of me adding double washed as opposed to triple washed cilantro to a customer's dish for fear that someone might get a stomach bug and blame the truck. But there's nothing to worry about with these blends.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hyndman. We are speaking with local author Tracy Bajwa about her latest middle grade book , The Takeout. So let's talk about Mila , our protagonist. She just moved to this small beach town and is struggling to fit in. Can you tell us more about that ? Yes.

S3: So in the book , Mila moves from the big ocean of Los Angeles , very diverse. So many things going on all the time to a small fictional beach town. And everyone there is Super Samy in terms of they all love the same bands , watch the same TV shows , kind of wear the same brands. So she feels a little bit out of place and her struggle in making friends , not being sure whether they like those different parts of her of , you know , all the Filipino folk magic she does and and kind of how different she is from everyone at her school these are kind of some struggles that I think a lot of kids deal with when they move to somewhere else or just start to notice that there are things different about them than than the rest of their classmates. And it was interesting exploring it in the book through Mila and with that little extra bit of magical flair.

S1: You know , Mila is one of the few Filipinos in this predominantly white neighborhood , and so she's treated like an outsider in many cases.

S3: And it's not even , you know , like anyone is purposefully being mean to her or trying to exclude her. There's just little things that she realizes like , you know , I don't want to bring my Filipino home cooked lunch to school just yet. I don't know everyone well enough for them to not , you know , ask like , what is this ? And even with the Filipino folk magic , it's something that's so integral in her family and kind of goes back generations , but she doesn't feel comfortable telling her new friends about it because she's worried that they might ostracize her for it. So , you know , I did not grow up doing Filipino folk magic , unfortunately. But I feel like there's it's an experience of a lot of maybe , you know , first or second generation kids where you're just not sure how much of your culture to bring into your environment in any given point.

S1: Well , yeah , you know , that's an experience that's familiar to a lot of people. And , you know , you also mentioned that Mila is dabbling in a bit of folk magic and comes from a long line of Filipino folk healers.

S3: So that was really fun for me to explore in this because , you know , our family does not that I know of include many folk healers , but I do remember a trip to the Philippines where we we did have a local healer come and kind of help my brother out with a little bit of a stomach issue after we went swimming in the local river. And I remember thinking like , Oh , okay , they just called somebody in the neighborhood to to come help my brother out. They didn't , you know , take them to , you know , the hospital in the nearest city and things like that. And that's an experience that stuck in my head of there are so many different ways and practices out there that that people use to treat themselves and treat others. And for the purpose of the book , I definitely took it a step or two further and , you know , added a little bit more magic to it. I very loosely based some of the potions on what elbow use now in terms like vinegar and garlic and just different things that they put into their their tinctures. And a lot of the incantations are really just kind of made up for the purpose of the book. So I hope young readers don't try to replicate any of it. It is totally fictional , just sadly , just like the actual recipes of the dishes in the book.

S4: You know ? But really , all of your books so far have drawn from.

S1: Cultural influences and your Filipino American upbringing.

S3: So , you know , my previous middle grade book , Freddy is really. He's trying not to be cursed. He's trying to defeat this family curse and not be the clumsy kid and move on. And being Filipino-American is something that doesn't really come into play. He's just , you know , a kid that is trying to live his best life with Milla , her moving to a new town where she feels different , that's where her identity kind of comes more to the forefront. It's it's part of the struggle that's highlighted in the book of not only is she trying to expose these recipe thieves , but she's also trying to figure out for herself , you know , who am I as a Filipino American ? My sister and my mom are really into the history and heritage. I'm still learning and I even still feel like a little bit of an outsider among my American classmates. So the identity part was a lot. It required a lot more thought and exploration in this story. And I feel like that was a bit of a leap for me to come from Freddy versus a family curse of really exploring some of the complex emotions that kids may feel in this kind of scenario. Hmm.

S4: Hmm.


S3: I feel like when I grew up , there were there were definitely , you know , books with Filipino characters and everything. It was just a matter of access and opportunity. I wasn't able to really get my hands on what was out there. But now there are so many wonderful children's authors that are doing middle grade and young adult and picture books , and I have gotten the pleasure of meeting a handful of them in person and online. And a friend of mine did call it. He likes to call it like a we're in a Filipino renaissance in terms of children's literature. I feel like that is a little bit of a stretch. You know , I write books with , you know , fart jokes in them. I would not call them so much of a renaissance , but I'm so excited that there are enough of us that are the full breadth of experience that Filipino and Filipino American kids have like can be represented in all of our books.

S4: And what do you hope.



S3: Kids look at Miller's struggle of am I enough ? Am I doing enough ? Do I know enough ? And I want kids to see her struggling through that and realize that they themselves are enough , that you don't have to feel like you are not , you know , for example , Filipino enough or American enough. You are who you are. Everyone is on different parts of their journey to who they're going to grow up to be. So , you know , take your time and don't feel like you have to be someone you're not.

S4: Good advice. I've been speaking with.

S1: Local author Traci Padua about her new middle grade novel , The Takeout. She'll also be at the Festival of AAPI Books or FAB in Long Beach this Saturday. And Tracy , thank you so much for talking with us.

S2: Thank you again.

S3: For having me.

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Harper Collins / Author photo by Amy Huang
In this undated photo, the cover of "The Takeout" and author Tracy Badua are shown side by side.

San Diego author Tracy Badua’s new middle-grade novel, “The Takeout” came out Tuesday. It follows 12-year-old Mila, whose family owns a Filipino-Indian food truck. When a new celebrity restaurant opens in their small town with a menu that mirrors the food truck’s, she sets out to expose the thieves, with the help of friends and some Filipino folk magic.

Badua joined Midday Edition to talk more about her take on fusion cuisine and the relationship between folklore and Filipino American identity.


Tracy Badua, author of "The Takeout"