Jennifer here. Super excited to introduce you to Mia P. Manansala, whose debut book, Arsenic and Adobo (May 4, 2021), is getting a lot of well-deserved buzz. Filled with great food, nosy aunties, and a cute Dachshund, what’s not to love?
By Mia P. Manansala
Food and murder.
What a combination, right? Who thought to create an entire subgenre based around those two things? And yet they work so well together. Not just because of the obvious “food is necessary to life” aspect, but because food is love. Food is community. Food brings people together. And murder tends to be the antithesis to those things.
Honestly, when I first started reading culinary cozies, I was just excited to see my love of food and my love of mysteries together in a fun, entertaining package. I didn’t put further thought into why so many cozies had that theme, or how an author chose what food to describe, what recipes to include, what dishes to highlight. I mean, how could something as superfluous as a cookie recipe have any real impact on the story? Yet when I started working on my soon-to-be debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, I had to be strategic about what dishes were included and why.
I have a multiple-page Google Doc full of food ideas I want to use in future Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery books. As delicious as they all sound (and are the perfect way to procrastinate since in my case, baking = research!), only a few can make the cut. So how do I choose which to use? What importance do I assign to each dish? Here are some of the criteria I use:
Book 2 in the series, titled Homicide and Halo-Halo (tentative release date February 2022), is set in the summertime and centered around the town’s biggest festival. Because of that, I knew I needed cold desserts and barbecue/picnic-style food. Halo-halo is the Philippines’s national dessert, a delicious combination that marries shaved ice with an ice cream sundae. I had a lot of fun coming up with different ways to reimagine the flavor combinations in different forms, ie. popsicles, cupcakes, chia pudding, etc.
I can’t say much about Book 3 since I’m still in the process of writing it, but I plan on setting it around Christmastime. This means focusing on food typical of that season for Filipinos. Because seasonal food can often be tied to holidays, you not only get the yummy descriptions we all look for in a culinary cozy, but you also learn a bit about the culture and people around it.
A lot of the Filipino food I grew up with was very meat-heavy because my mom is a picky eater and doesn’t care for fruits or vegetables (I know…). My dad catered to her tastes since he was the cook in the family and wanted to keep her happy, though he did sneak in the few veggies she’d actually eat to keep it somewhat healthy. It seems small, but it’s a way of showing love.
How people eat together can tell you so much about who they are and their relationship with each other. Does one character greedily fill their plate with food before anyone else gets a serving? Does one of them wait till everyone serves themselves before they fill their plates? Do they refill someone’s plate/glass when they see it’s empty?
In ARSENIC AND ADOBO, my protagonist’s best friend is a vegetarian Muslim. Pork features in quite a few Filipino dishes, but Tita Rosie (the protagonist’s aunt) delights in finding ways to reinvent her dishes so that everyone feels welcome in her restaurant. Meanwhile, Lola Flor (the protagonist’s grandmother) insists on doing things the traditional way. While this makes her seem inflexible, it’s also a way of showing how food is one of the few tangible links immigrants have to their motherland, and a plate of food is rarely just a plate of food.
Let’s be real, this is probably one of the top reasons to choose a particular food. I mean, we are mystery writers, after all. Researching ingredients that have the potential to kill or thinking up foods that would mask the taste of the poison inside…I’m pretty sure I’m on some sort of FBI watch list, but it’s all part of the profession, right?
I’m giving away a physical copy of ARSENIC AND ADOBO to one of you lovely readers! Just let me know if you’ve ever made a recipe from a culinary cozy before in the comments section. Thanks!
The first book in a new culinary cozy series full of sharp humor and delectable dishes—one that might just be killer….
When Lila Macapagal moves back home to recover from a horrible breakup, her life seems to be following all the typical rom-com tropes. She’s tasked with saving her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant, and she has to deal with a group of matchmaking aunties who shower her with love and judgment. But when a notoriously nasty food critic (who happens to be her ex-boyfriend) drops dead moments after a confrontation with Lila, her life quickly swerves from a Nora Ephron romp to an Agatha Christie case.
With the cops treating her like she’s the one and only suspect, and the shady landlord looking to finally kick the Macapagal family out and resell the storefront, Lila’s left with no choice but to conduct her own investigation. Armed with the nosy auntie network, her barista best bud, and her trusted Dachshund, Longganisa, Lila takes on this tasty, twisted case and soon finds her own neck on the chopping block…
Mia P. Manansala (she/her) is a writer and certified book coach from Chicago who loves books, baking, and bad-ass women. She uses humor (and murder) to explore aspects of the Filipino diaspora, queerness, and her millennial love for pop culture. Her debut novel, ARSENIC AND ADOBO, comes out May 4, 2021 with Berkley/Penguin Random House.
Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @MPMtheWriter
Or check out her website: www.miapmanansala.com
Pre-order link: http://bit.ly/arsenicadobo