We’d be lying if we said American Chinese Food was on our top five list of ethnic cuisines. (It would be Mexican, Indian, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Korean, Italian, then Chinese) Cooper’s palate for “Chinese food” changed sometime after he traveled to southern China. He found that traditional Chinese food was less sugared and salted but had much more fat. It was refreshing to discover the differences in taste, this was not what he grew up eating in America. Family style sharing and giant lazy susans were also novel as many of the Chinese restaurants he grew up on served buffet style fried food.
What was so impressive about the CHOW exhibit in the Museum of Food and Drink‘s pop-up space was the way that the Chinese restaurant in America was contextualized as an important expression of the immigrant experience. It powerfully demonstrated how a rich immigrant culture combined exclusionary tactics of the dominant society can create a thriving sub-culture.
Chinese Food History
When you walk into the space your senses are overwhelmed with the smell of blueberry infused fortune cookies baking. On display are original cooking tools and vintage menus of Chinese restaurants from across United States.
The first craze of Chinese food was in the early 1800s when Americans were eating a dish that they referred to as “Chop Suey”. This dish was likely a stir-fried mixture of animal innards and vegetables tossed in a soy sauce.
In the middle of the exhibit a fortune cookie machine is on display. Here a visitor can watch all the steps to the process of making a fortune cookie on a mass scale. Best part, eating unlimited cookies!
The machine is a part of MoFad’s Twitter campaign #ProjectFortune. It’s an interactive experience; each cookie contains a custom fortune submitted via twitter with the hashtag, or entered into the kiosk here at the museum. Getting them printed and cut to size must be a chore! The cookie recipe changes every so often, currently they use blueberry and raspberry extract, which we have never tasted in a cookie before. The cookies are addicting! Luckily you can take even more home with you in a take-out box. We also learned that they donate the excess to a food pantry.
There is also a space that features cool smell generating machines called the “Smell Synth”. You can mix fragrances together to create smell recipes. Cooper got creative and mixed up some stank like a olfactory DJ.
Our favorite part of the exhibit was the Chinese food tasting from a professional food consultant. The custom printed chopsticks were a nice touch. We also loved that the bamboo bowls were biodegradable and they use NYC Dept of Sanitation’s new curbside organics collection bin to collect food waste.
This might be a small museum but it packs a lot of history, fragrance, and flavor!
P.S. Demonstrous Productions helped them out with a fundraising video, they deserve a bigger space!