Ling Ma is author of the novel Severance, which has been translated into seven languages and named a NY Times Notable Book. A recipient of the Whiting Award, she lives in Chicago.
Here, she talks about open-faced sandwiches while writing, iced coffee mornings, and the search for spice in every meal.
On her all-time favorite meal:
Probably the Tom Yum Noodle Soup at Siam on 55th Street in Hyde Park, Chicago. When I was in college, Siam was around the corner from my dorm, and I would get that noodle soup a lot, probably once a week or so. It’s not the same as the tom yum soups from most Thai restaurants. There’s less spice and shrimp flavor. It’s more of a clear, bright, citrusy broth with your choice of wide or thin rice noodles.
Another good meal was at Chez Panisse the night before Thanksgiving, the only time we could get a reservation. I remember the passionfruit dessert and the printed menus, with an illustration of persimmons.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
More than any meal, I look forward to coffee when I wake up. I drink iced coffee or cold brew with whole milk. So, it’s morning light, bright and cheerful.
On snacking while writing:
Whatever I eat in the middle of writing should be easy to make. Lately, that takes the form of an open-faced sandwich. Maybe an avocado situation over toasted English Muffin. Or smoked salmon and cream cheese. Or, when it’s in season, I like a thick slab of heirloom tomato with mayo.
On her go-to late-night snack:
I’ve gotten out of the habit of late-night snacks, so it’s usually some kind of seltzer. I’m partial to Bubly; it’s not as acidic as other seltzers. The blackberry flavor is nice! Sometimes it’s plain water with a splash of rose water. I like it over ice, in a doubles glass, while watching TV. If I’m in a mood, it’s Flaming Hot Cheetos XX or Haribo gummies.
On her food quirks:
I prefer hot sauce with every meal. Sambal Oleck is the best for a bright, citrusy hot sauce. Crushed Calabrian Chili Peppers from TuttoCalabria has this mellow, deep sting that goes well with spaghetti or anything tomato-based. For a shrill, vinegary taste, I like Louisiana Hot Sauce. And Taco Bell Diablo sauce packets, when I can get it, are great too.
On her final meal request:
I probably I wouldn’t have much of an appetite by that point, so it wouldn’t be a meal per se. It would likely be tie quan yin tea, an oolong tea otherwise known as Iron Goddess of Mercy. It originates from Fujian province, where my family is from. The taste is a seaweedy apricot floral.