Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America

Video: Exhibition introduction by Museum of Chinese in America

Exhibition Dates: October 06, 2016 – September 10, 2017
Exhibition Location: Museum of Chinese in America
215 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013


Exhibition Overview

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)’s Fall 2016 exhibition, Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America, challenges how Chinese food is defined and interpreted through the personal stories of more than 30 revered Chinese and Asian American chefs—from Michelin ranked to generational home cooks.

“Chinese food is a cornerstone of American culture, and it has brought so many different generations and ethnicities together. Since the beginning of Chinese immigration to the U.S., Chinese eateries have served as the foundation of a new life in a new place. By opening the door to their kitchens, Chinese people became integral parts of their communities. This groundbreaking exhibit presents all the complexity of Chinese cuisines and Chinese life in America,” shared MOCA President, Nancy Yao Maasbach.

Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy invites the audience into a conversation about the meaning of Chinese food as a platform for experimentation, a test of authenticity, a means of immigrant survival, and a microcosm of Chinese culture. Following on the success of MOCA’s 2004 exhibit Have You Eaten Yet?, this new exhibit dives deep into individual journeys, exploring how food represents a cultural form of expression and identity heavily influenced by life experiences and geographical landscapes.

The exhibit weaves together the complex stories through a dynamic video installation featuring pioneering chefs such as Cecilia Chiang, Ken Hom, Anita Lo, Ming Tsai, and Martin Yan; new restaurateurs like Peter Chang, Vivian Ku, and Danny Bowien; and persevering home cooks like Biying Ni, Yvette Lee and Ho-chin Yang.

Each chef and 18 different regional cooking styles are represented through unique ceramic sculptures presented on a monumental dining room table. Through these interpretative pieces, the visitor absorbs each chef’s cooking style and experience through their narratives, inspirations, and memories.

In Chinese, the saying Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy (酸甜苦辣) refers simultaneously to the delicate balance of flavors that define Chinese cooking and the vicissitudes of life. The tapestry of tales that emerge is rich with immigration experiences, food memories, favorite dishes, and cooking inspirations that define the culinary—and personal—identities of these chefs, drawing visitors into a conversation about how food defines Chinese in America and themselves individually.

“Food is at the heart of Chinese culture, and in America the very definition of Chinese food is constantly contested in home and restaurant kitchens across the country,” said Herb Tam, Curator and Director of Exhibitions at MOCA. “This exhibition is really an elaborate dinner table conversation with some of our most exciting chefs about how we define Chinese food and how Chinese food defines us.”



About Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) aims to engage audiences in an ongoing and historical dialogue, in which people of all backgrounds are able to see American history through a critical perspective, to reflect on their own experiences, and to make meaningful connections between: the past and the present, the global and the local, themselves and others.