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True Story Blog

True Story: Mami King— How Ma Mon Luk Found Love, Riches, and the Perfect Bowl of Soup

When I was a kid, I travelled to the Philippines and was fascinated by the sights, sounds, and flavors. A feast for the senses! So it was a treat to revisit the country through Jacqueline Chio Lauri's book Mami King, illustrated by Kristin Sorra.


A picture-book biography of Ma Mon Luk's journey from heartbroken street vendor to successful restaurant owner, Mami King is also a heart warming love story. By creating the perfect bowl of soup—Mami: "ma" for his name and "mi" for noodles—Ma Mon Luk earns his fortune to make a future with his true love. 


Today Jacqueline tells us how she whisked up this true food-origin story with a dash of romance.



Was there one aspect of Ma Mon Luk's life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you throughout the writing process?

Vividly ingrained in my head until now is Ma Mon Luk propping a pingga bamboo pole on his shoulder. From both ends of this pole hang two vats containing the ingredients and wares for his mami noodle soup. Scissors strapped on his waste clinked-clanked as he plodded through the streets of Chinatown, Manila. He was an epitome of a hard-working immigrant street food vendor in the Far East. 


Anyone who has been to that part of the world would know how hot and humid it gets in the city. Walking outside, even for a short period, can be very uncomfortable. Imagine what Ma, a former schoolteacher in China, had to endure all day and every day in order to earn a living, so he could one day be deemed worthy of winning the hand of the woman he loved.


What was the most challenging thing about writing this biography?

It took me several re-writes before coming up with the ending. I wanted no misunderstandings about the message of the story without being too didactic. Although Ma found riches, how do I show where his true fortune actually lay while staying true to the story?


While researching this book, which fact surprised you the most?

That the Chinatown in Manila (Binondo) is the oldest Chinatown in the world! 430 years old! It was established in 1594 by the Spaniards, who ruled over the Philippines at that time, to keep a close eye on the growing Chinese population on the islands. Binondo Chinatown still stands today as a living testament of the harmonious coexistence of diverse cultures.


Why do you think kids can relate to Mami King?

Though the story might be set in an unfamiliar time or place, I think most kids are familiar with, if not enjoy, a bowl of noodle soup on a regular basis. It gives comfort, nourishment, and in general, it's food that makes one feel good. I also think that many kids enjoy a good love story. Children see love between two adults, such as their parents, grandparents, or even in fairytales where the idea of happiness blooms when two people who are in love end up together. 


Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography?

Book published in the Philippines, such as The Camino Real to Freedom and Other Notes on Philippine History and Culture by Jose Victor Torres. I also wove in historical details that I found from Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes 1521-1935 by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria.


How did you select the timeframe for your book? 

I started the story right after Ma's love conflict began—after he was rejected by the parents of the girl he loved and was leaving China for the Philippines with a broken heart. The conditions on board the ship that brought him across the ocean provided an opportunity to reinforce the core message of the story.


What's your #1 tip for writing true stories?

For me, writing true stories is like trying to create a recipe from ingredients that are already given. Unlike writing fiction, there's no leeway to shop for more or use other ingredients. You just have to work with what you got. Most of the time, you'd have to sift through a huge variety of ingredients that don't blend well together. So for me, the key is figuring out the main ingredient—the core of the story. Would the remaining ingredients enhance the flavor of the main ingredient? Those that could, I stir them in. Those that don't, I leave out.  


If you could pick the ideal place for a Mami King storywalk, where would it be?

In a Chinatown or Little Manila/Manila town. 


What other books would you recommend to readers who love Mami King?

If readers liked the noodle part of it the most, Cora Cooks Pansit and Magic Ramen. If they liked the love story bit the most, Love in the Library. If they are looking for other books set in the Philippines, Sari-Sari Summers and Holding On.




Sweet, savory, and satisfying, this picture-book biography is on four shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:

  • True Stories~Foodies 
  • True Stories~Makers
  • True Stories~Entrepreneurs 
  • True Stories~Asian & AAPI Stories

To take a peek inside the book, checkout my Booktok.


Every day is a good day for a true story but here are some special tie-in dates for Mami King:

  • February: Month of love and Chinese New Year
  • March: Noodle Month
  • April: Filipino Food Month
  • May: AANHPI Heritage Month
  • June 9: Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day
  • October: Filipino American History Month


Jacqueline Chio Lauri is a writer, anthologist, and editor based in Manchester, England. Her work includes The New Filipino Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from around the GlobeWe Cook Filipino: Heart-Healthy Recipes and Inspiring Stories from 36 Filipino Food Personalities and Award-Winning Chefs, and articles on global media sites, such as Huffington Post and Epicurious. Born and raised in the Philippines, Jacqueline holds a bachelor's degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from the University of the Philippines and earned multiple MBA-level Executive Certificates in Marketing & Business Strategies from Cornell University.

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