Category: JPG

These Elaborate, Poetic Dishes Are A Piece Of China’s Culinary History

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Golden Pheasants Welcome Spring,” prepared by Lu Jiaming

Dieter Mackenbach, the person behind the Instagram @chinese_plating, never would have guessed that a trip to the local library would send him on a path toward being obsessed with culinary history. Mackenbach is the person behind the Instagram @chinese_plating, which posts images of 20th-century Chinese food design in archival magazine collections, highlighting their intricate creations. The images are fun to look at — and they offer a new perspective on the cuisine, telling historical stories and showcasing impressive techniques.“Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve always made extensive use of the local libraries. I spent a lot of time in the Chinese National Library in Beijing and became really interested in Chinese culinary magazines,” Mackenbach said, specifically citing the ’80s magazines China Culinary and Sichuan Gastronomy. He checked them out from the library and started taking pictures because he was fascinated by the dishes; he then shared them on Instagram.

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Crab Roe Dumplings,”

A lot of the food in these magazines is from culinary competitions that were designed to demonstrate a chef’s expertise in knife carving and food presentation. There’s also a strong emphasis on poetic composition and whether the dishes make references to historical events or literature. Christopher Tan, a food journalist turned cookbook author, worked as a reporter for a local fine food and wine magazine in the ’90s. During this time, he watched teams of professional chefs from around the world — Europe and Asia — compete in Singapore and produce complicated work that he said “would fit right in with the @chinese_plating photos — tons of stripes, patterns, three-dimensional work, vegetable and dough carvings, what have you.” He likens the work to the level of craft apparent in some episodes of The Great British Bake Off.“One thing that stretches through is an awareness of symbolism,” he said, “the use of foods with particular qualities for what they evoke, over and above their sensory attributes.”

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Bamboo Fungus and a Fish Thread Soup”

A step up from traditional home cooking and plating is special festive and heritage cooking, which is done for important occasions such as Lunar New Year, Taoist holy days, or weddings. More time and expense are allotted to making traditional delicacies and dishes for these occasions, and their makers are expected to exercise their craft and skill to the utmost degree.As for @chinese_plating, the account is photographic evidence for how varied Chinese food can be, Mackenbach said. “This is obviously not everyday, common food; most people throughout Chinese history absolutely do not eat such exorbitant dishes,” he added. “It can be quite wasteful, and some of it is not even meant to be eaten — the raw pumpkin carving, for example. It was mostly for show, for business meetings or extravagant occasions.” He claimed that this elaborate plating style stems from a tradition of Chinese cultural elite and literati putting on events and banquets.

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Ghostly New Year Toast,” prepared by Lu Fei

“China as a whole takes their plating seriously. How my mom plates food at home, it’s very thought-out and not natural. In culinary school, I was always told to make things look natural. But then you take something like this, and you can’t deny it’s beautiful,” said Calvin Eng. Eng is a former chef at Win Son, and is in the process of opening up Bonnie’s, a Cantonese-American restaurant in Brooklyn. He’s also a fan of the account. He said that it’s great to see the love and care that people put into these dishes in the past, and he hopes it encourages other people to pursue Chinese food further.There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about shifting the perceptions of Chinese food in the US, and people want to emphasize the diversity, sophistication, and healthiness of Chinese food.“Many high-end restaurants in China now copy Japanese and Scandinavian minimalist plating, which is not as individual to the country and kind of falls within the general minimalism whitewashing of everything. People send messages to thank me for sharing, claiming that it really gives them a sense of pride in their culture,” Mackenbach said.

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Good Luck and Great Prosperity,” prepared by Chen Qinghua

Instagram is blocked in China as a whole, so Mackenbach does not have many followers from there commenting on his posts. The account’s photos have been shared on Weibo, China’s popular Twitter substitute, Mackenbach said he was delighted to read through about 100 comments from people who remembered seeing such plating as kids.He said that some people see this “maximalist food design phenomenon” as tacky or not in vogue. “Some Chinese people lament this style, but I think it has its place,” said Mackenbach.“It does preserve a piece of food history,” said Grace Young, a cookbook author who has advocated saving restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown. “This food comes from that era in China when wealthy people not only wanted good food, but they wanted something that was pleasing to the eye.”The sentiment is similar, she said, to the tradition of dim sum. “‘Dim’ is to touch and ‘sum’ is your heart [in Cantonese]. It’s little things to touch your heart, which of course meant to please, to delight, to fancy.” It’s the same philosophy behind the over-the-top presentation in the magazines, that food should be something to revel in and to celebrate.

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Crystal Dragon Dumplings,” prepared at the Chengdu Military District Wangjiang Hotel,

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Penguin Dumplings,” prepared by Jiang Jianping

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Angelfish Rolls,” prepared by Yu Tingcai

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Bamboo Announces Peace,” prepared by Cao Zhiqing

Courtesy of Dieter Mackenbach

“Nostalgia,” prepared by Wu Zhiguo

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Seeking Good Fortunes In Chinatown: Three Businesses On A Quiet New Year

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Alice Liu, owner of Grand Tea Imports on Grand Street.

Manhattan’s Chinatown is one of the jewels of New York City, and it usually shines brightest on Lunar New Year. The holiday has been a time to get together with family and friends, eat and share wealth, or maybe watch the lion dance in a parade.Now, after a disastrous year that has seen landmarks close, xenophobia in the streets, and a virus that has devastated its older community, struggling businesses are mustering optimism to wash away the old year.Grace Young, a cookbook author and advocate for Chinatown businesses, visited the neighborhood with photographer Julia Wang as street fruit vendors and brick-and-mortar businesses alike prepared for Lunar New Year, which begins Feb. 12.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

A shuttered business, also on Grand Street.

Hop Lee is one of Chinatown’s five remaining “legacy” restaurants to have been in the area for about 50 years. Its downstairs dining room and upstairs banquet hall are capable of seating over a hundred guests, and it was the last restaurant on the block to open back up (in October) after the city shut down in March. Owner Johnny Mui said that they are hanging on. “I had to put off the rent for December and January,” he said. “It’s another $8,000 [per month] for electricity, water, gas — if I don’t have that, then I don’t have a restaurant. I can wait two to three months on the rent. I have to.” These monthly expenses don’t include garbage removal, insurance, property tax, or the cost of food and wages. He cannot be late for any of these bills — if his gas were to be shut off, it might take one year for them to turn it on again. “Rent is just 30 – 35% of my headaches.”

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Decorations in Chinatown in February, and people buying citrus ahead of the new year.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Take out at Hop Lee.

Mui said that property taxes also went up this year. “The city doesn’t help,” he said. “They say, ‘Apply for a PPP,’ but it doesn’t work for all businesses.” Recently, a loan program intended for low- to moderate-income areas in New York for businesses with less than 100 employees excluded multiple areas of Chinatown, including the area of Mott Street where Hop Lee is located. “Chinatown was the first neighborhood to be impacted by Covid,” said Young, “it’s almost ironic that these are the zip codes being left out.”Indoor dining in New York City has been allowed at a capped percentage for roughly 2 of the last 11 months, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week extending it to include Lunar New Year. For many Chinatown restaurants, their large, banquet hall-style dining rooms are especially set up to accommodate large families, groups of friends, and work gatherings. Hop Lee had customers making reservations for Lunar New Year months in advance, only to be canceled again when indoor dining shut down after the Thanksgiving holidays. Bringing back indoor dining at 25% capacity is a boon, but giving restaurants and the purveyors who provide supplies for them just four days to prepare for it is chaotic.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Johhny Mui takes a call for an order, on the right, the lobster Cantonese is one of Hop Lee’s specialty dishes.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Mui cannot afford to staff a waiter outside full time, but some patrons of Hop Lee decide to eat their take out on the tables outside the restaurant anyway.

Jennifer Tam is a Chinatown resident and cofounder of Welcome to Chinatown, a nonprofit started in the early days of the pandemic that has raised over $650,000 for Chinatown’s small businesses to date. “It’s amazing, but it’s not nearly enough to get Chinatown back on its feet,” she said. Because she is local to the neighborhood, she witnessed firsthand the impacts of racism and xenophobia on Chinatown in January 2020, months before the whole city shut down. “We had heard that traffic and business went down about 80% overall. Not to mention the unanticipated expenses that popped up — PPE, heating elements for outdoor dining,” she said. “These businesses cannot afford that. A lot of Chinatown businesses don’t have multiple investors because they are family-owned.”This past year, Chinatown has withdrawn into itself, with businesses reeling from the lack of customers and trade. In 2019, New York City drew 67 million tourists who could pass through the vibrant downtown area — not to mention hundreds of thousands of university students, people who serve on juries, and lower Manhattan workers, many of whom have since gone remote.Hop Lee is a cash-only business that relies on a steady stream of locals, some of whom come for delicacies like lobster Cantonese; others, like a group of local postal workers, who took advantage of the $5.95 lunch. “There’s no street traffic. I don’t want to raise my prices or I’ll lose my regulars,” said Mui, who has had offers in the past to sell the business but declined out of respect for the original owner, who is still alive. “If we close, they lose the culture, not just the food,” he said. “People won’t know how to cook the lobster [Cantonese style]. It’s like our neighbors in Little Italy — there is pizza everywhere, but in each place it’s a little different, no one else can make it like [them].”

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Take our containers next to banquet tables set up for Lunar New Year.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Johnny Mui, the owner of Hop Lee.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Natural 88, at 88 Mulberry Street.

Other stores are finding that their business fluctuates in unpredictable ways. Natural 88 is a small family grocery, run by Lisa Wu, Yong Jiang, and their three daughters. Before the pandemic, supply restaurants in Chinatown made up 50% of their business, with customers buying entire cases of vegetables like bok choy and Chinese spinach. Now, the same customers have dropped their produce orders down to just 5 or 10 pounds. Natural 88 has made up part of the difference from foot traffic, as other places are unable to keep their doors open and customers seek out new options.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Lisa Wu at Natural 88.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Cases of pomelos for Lunar New Year, and bags of bok choy at Natural 88.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Yong Jiang, Lisa Wu, and their three daughters Judy Jiang, Julie Jiang and YJ Jiang.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

The window display at Grand Tea Imports, and a tea set up upstairs.

For specialty Lunar New Year items that “only the aunties know,” Young recommends Grand Tea Imports, which specializes in imported tea, feng shui and ancestral worship and Buddhist goods. Owner Alice Liu saves pomelo leaves for Young — it’s a tradition to bathe in them the night before Lunar New Year to wash away the bad luck. In 2019, Grand Tea had expanded from two stores on Grand Street, opening two more at the beginning of 2020. After the pandemic shut most of the city down in March, they closed down three of the four stores. Then, a fire raged through their flagship on Grand Street. They lost 40% of their inventory and suffered significant damage, with no insurance coverage.After they moved out of the fire-damaged building and across the street, Liu stepped in to take the business over from her parents. “My dad said it was time to pass the baton this year,” she said. “He believes that for me to succeed, I need to have pressure and a fire under my butt. He paid his dues [with the business] and now it’s my turn.”“I don’t know if I’m prepared, but I’ll grow into it,” she said. “My parents won’t ever be hands off, and I’m definitely learning as I go with a lot of the operations and the financial end of the business. When my parents were running it, they kept track of the income they brought in on a notebook. We didn’t have any of the financial stuff set up. So it’s on me to set up those systems.”Lunar New Year is a time for new beginnings, and the attitudes this year reflect this more than ever. “Last year was a bad year,” said Liu. “Luckily, we can only go up from here.”

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Alice’s mom sorting through inventory on the left, her dad weight tea on the right.

Julia Wang for BuzzFeed News

Alice Liu at Grand Tea Imports, the business she now owns.

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This Photographer Documented The Positive Impact Of A New Supermarket That Opened In A Food Desert

Michael M. Santiago

In 1970, the last supermarket on Syracuse’s South Side closed down. A new one wouldn’t open for decades, and the nearest grocery store was two miles away, which made it extremely difficult for the area’s residents to access healthy food. Photographer Michael Santiago was studying in Syracuse in 2017, around the same time the community learned that after five years of planning, a Price Rite supermarket would be built and would be hiring directly from that community, bringing 150 jobs to the area.“I wanted to work on a project that showed there were people who loved their community and worked hard for it,” Santiago said. He covered this community for two years as a part of his final thesis for graduate school at S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University.Santiago was part of the staff at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 for photographing the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue; he is now a staff photographer with Getty Images. “One of the things that I learned working at the newspaper was how to be a journalist, not just a photographer. I fell in love with working on news, traveling and covering national news and the most important topics,” he said.We spoke with Michael about the project and his photographs of the Price Rite supermarket, racism, and why investment is important.

Michael M. Santiago

Michael M. Santiago

Michael M. Santiago

You worked on this series for two years. When did you know that it was something you wanted to continue working on?My goal from the start was to try and change the narrative that people in Black communities don’t care about their communities. That’s a narrative that always seems to come up when people are protesting a Black life being taken by a police officer. One thing I heard over and over again was that if Black people cared about their communities they would show it, or “What about Black-on-Black crime?” These are racist statements that people tend to say to deflect from a systemic issue, and I knew that they did not reflect reality.There are tons of folks who do everything they can to make their communities safe for everyone, and they work tirelessly to make that happen. But sometimes people from the outside who don’t go into those neighborhoods don’t see that. At first the project revolved solely around gun violence, but it grew into speaking about poverty because from being in the community and doing research, you can’t speak about one without the other. In certain places like Syracuse, when there isn’t any significant local or federal investment in the community, or [there’s] a lack of jobs where people can dig their way out of their situation, people unfortunately turn to other means to make money.I was around for the announcement of the supermarket coming, the hiring process, the training, and the grand opening. There was so much excitement for this to open up. The South Side was a food desert for about 40 years, so this was the first time that people didn’t have to drive for miles to get food, and healthy food at that. Most folks in the neighborhood don’t own cars, so they had to either take buses or get rides to go food shopping, which limits how much and how often you can go. And it wasn’t even just the neighborhood finally getting a place they can food shop, but it was a place that brought jobs to the area. They hired 150 people from the community. That’s huge. When I talk about investing in a community, that’s a perfect example of that. The excitement of the grand opening that people showed is something that will always stick out to me.A lot of my work was out of the Southwest Community Center. I was there the first time Price Rite held a meeting and announced that everyone working there was going to come from the community. I was there for that first announcement through the hiring process, through interviewing and training and the grand opening. I also went back a year afterwards to talk to someone who had been hired, and see a year later how she was thriving.

Michael M. Santiago

Michael M. Santiago

What was your connection to this community?I am an outsider to this community. I’m not from Syracuse. I was in the city because I was going to school. If I was from there, this project in my opinion could have been extremely different. I am, however, Black and a man, and that is who this project is mostly focused on. I’m sure that my identity played a role in my access and empathy when working because there are some universal experiences we could relate to each other with.What’s a favorite from this series?It’s hard to say which set of images are my favorite because they all mean so much to me. But with that being said, the set of images that I enjoyed making were the ones surrounding the supermarket. Here was a company that was investing in the community, giving people access to food and raising people up out of poverty. I had shown the work to a few editors; one of the things they always said was “I want to see people struggling,” the people who couldn’t go to the stores. I wanted this to be positive and about the positive changes.What’s one thing that you want people to take away from it?What I hope that people take away from this is that people do care about their community and there are folks who work extremely hard to make their communities safe and livable. I could have taken a different approach with this project and focused more on the violence, shown images that people see over and over again, but in my opinion these are stereotypical images and don’t truly reflect the community of Syracuse that I became familiar with. And one thing that I always say is that in order for people to truly understand that Black lives matter, they have to see images of Black lives actually mattering.

Michael M. Santiago

Michael M. Santiago

Michael M. Santiago

The woman who you followed up with, how had her life changed?She [LaTonya Mims], had money in her pocket, she was able to have that sense of purpose. It felt prideful for her to have full-time employment and for her to work in her community where she grew up her entire life.I lost touch with most of the Price Rite workers, but I still speak with people who are working out in the community. In COVID, people are still doing their jobs. Helen and Mothers Against Gun Violence, she is still out there helping people grieve. Clifford Ryan is still out there with his sign, he’s just out there with his mask and a small group of people he’s recruited to walk with him.Working in New York, unfortunately you still see issues around hunger happening. COVID is going to play a big role in what happens going forward. A lot of people lost their jobs, and going back to essential workers, they tend to be low income, and they are the ones who are the most affected. A lot of people [whose] breadwinners are not around and now they need to fend for themselves. COVID has exacerbated the issue; I don’t think we’ve seen the full impact yet of what COVID has done to these communities.

Michael M. Santiago

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