Thesis Studio 1 5 in 5

Keywords: Data Visualization / Food / Spice / Culture / History / Speculative

Day 1

FYI: In my opinion, the Chinese restaurant and Chinese cuisine in this scenario both refer to American Chinese restaurants and American Chinese cuisine, rather than the traditional Chinese cuisine that I grew up with.

“What are the reasons for Jewish New Yorkers eating at Chinese restaurants on Christmas?”

For Day 1, I would like to start with this question. Usually it may take at least 10 minutes to explain this question from different perspectives. For example, the history of Jewish and Chinese immigrants, the structure of Jewish,Chinese, and other European cuisine, the difference between American and Chinese holidays. So I summarize some possible reasons that I found through various materials on the internet and then make a set of infographic posters or data visualization to answer the question from three different perspectives.

1). The history of Jewish and Chinese Immigrants

The Wave: In the end of the 19th century and early 20 century – between 1880 and 1920 – Chinese, Jewish, and Italian immigrants all came to New York and settled on the Lower East Side.

Anti-Semitism and Chinese exclusion Acts: The various anti-Semitism activities that emerged in Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century(after 1881) contributed to a large number of Jews fleeing Europe to settle in the United States. Meanwhile, inside the United State, due to the Chinese exclusion acts, many Chinese Immigrants came to New York from California after the 1880s. Large number of Chinese immigrants went into restaurant and laundry business in order to find a way of living.

Decoration: Many Southern Italian neighborhoods and restaurants often displayed Christian images that certainly made many Jewishs feel uncomfortable. The decorations of Chinese restaurants were on the other side of it, they did not raise the tension of Jewish customers.

2). The structure of Jewish, Chinese and other European cuisine

Disguise: Even though, Chinese cuisine includes some forbidden ingredients for Judaism, including pork, shrimp, and lobster (“unclean animals”), however, the final presentation of those dishes was a perfect disguise, such as chopping and mincing seasoned pork,seafood, and vegetables as the stuff of egg rolls.

Dairy productions and Meat: One of the restrictions of Kosher food is never eating dairy products with meat. The combination of dairy products and meat was a common thing in European cuisine. On the other hand, traditional Chinese cooking does not use milk or cheese during the cooking process.

Similarity: Jewish diners could find some familiar ingredients or dishes in Chinese cuisine. Lots of dishes were seasoned with garlic, celery, and onions. Also, Jewish diners could find their cure-all dish: chicken soup(“Matzo Ball Soup”) in a Chinese restaurant. Besides that, Eastern European Jews prefered to drink tea without milk, just like Chinese custom coincidentally.

3). The difference between American and Chinese holidays

The only one: Some people might conclude that the reason behind why Jews eat at Chinese restaurants on Christmas is simply as: Chinese restaurants are the only place that opened on December 25th. 

Cultural Heritage: Chinese restaurants already became a place for Jewish families to socialize and to benter, to reinforce social and familial bonds. 


Tuchman, Gaye, and Harry Gene Levine. “New York Jews And Chinese Food: The Social Construction of an Ethnic Pattern.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 22, no. 3, Oct. 1993, pp. 382–407, doi:10.1177/089124193022003005.

Chandler, Adam. “Why American Jews Eat Chinese Food on Christmas.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 29 Aug. 2020, 

Plaut, Joshua Eli, and Joshua Plaut. A Kosher Christmas : ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish, Rutgers University Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central,

Miller, Hanna. “Identity Takeout: How American Jews made Chinese Food their Ethnic Cuisine.” The Journal of Popular Culture 39.3 (2006): 430-65. Web.

Asian vs Jewish population of NYC
According to kosher tradition, any food categorized as meat may never be served or eaten at the same meal as a dairy product. 
The Port Arthur Restaurant was established in 1897 and operated on New York’s Mott Street for more than 85 years.

Day 2

For day 2, I decided to make a simple visual guide for those people, who not familiar with traditional Chinese cooking but has interesting to learn about it, which was called “When to add seasonings in traditional Chinese cooking”. Those seasonings include: Szechuan pepper, Shaoxing wine*, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, dark vinegar, star anise, cinnamon, dried bay leave, dried red pepper, white pepper, fennel seed, sesame oil, douchi*, and doubanjiang*. (Shaoxing Wine*: yellow rice wine; Douchi*: dried, fermented and salted black soybean; Doubanjiang*: fermented board bean chili sauce).

According to the final visualization, I found the pattern in it.

  1. For most types of seasoning, when you add them in the early stage of cooking process, the taste will getting stronger. When you add them in the later stage of cooking process, the aroma will getting stronger.
  2. Spices in their original form usually were added in the beginning of cooking process (whole star anise, large stick of cinnamon, dried bay leave, etc.), since those spices need time to release the flavor. Those spices in powder form (or be grinded) were added in the end of cooking process, since they can quickly dissolved and release aroma.
  3. Even for the same seasoning, different timing means different functions. For example, when you add white pepper in the early stage, it helps with increasing the flavor. When you add it in the later stage, white pepper helps with increasing the aroma. This principle could be also applied to Dark vinegar and light soy sauce.

This (personal? maybe) guide is only for general purpose, the specific timing will be different when you cook diversified ingredients by various cooking techniques.

Day 3

Last week in our immigrant food future class, the instructor mentioned that Seed catalogs offered American farmers a choice of 300 varieties of corn in the early 1900s. In the past 5 years they only see about 10-12 varieties commercially available. In my opinion, this is a serious phenomenon that related to the importance of biodiversity and our community. From a cooking perspective, biodiversity means we can find more ingredients and more flavors to exploring. From a natural perspective, biodiversity is the corner-stone of maintaining proper functions of our ecosystem. From a cultural perspective, arising the awareness of endangered crops, plants, and fruits, helps to promote traditional farming knowledge and bring small-scale farming back to the track.

Luckily, I found this organization called “the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity“. And they had a project named “the Ark of Taste“. This project is a database of small-scale quality productions that facing extinction in the near future. So far, there are 5336 products, from 150 countries around the world, in the database.

The subject I picked for today is apple. The fruit that I feel familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The most common types of apple in the United State are 9 in total. But when I visited a nearby local farmer market during the weekends, I found a variety of apples that I never heard about before. Some of types are suit for making apple cider, some of types are suit for pickle. All of those products were grown at small-scale family-run farms. At that moment I realized that protection of the biodiversity is crucial.

I collected all types of endangered species of apple around the world by country. Here is the result (from A to Z):

  • Austria: 4 results
  • Belgium: 2 results
  • Bosnia, Bulgaria, Canada, Cuba, Czech Republic: 1 result
  • Denmark: 11 results
  • France: 7 results
  • Germany: 6 results
  • Hungary: 1 result
  • Ireland: 2 results
  • Italy: 34 results
  • Kazakhstan: 3 results
  • Netherlands: 1 result
  • New Zealand: 2 results
  • Norway: 6 results
  • Peru: 1 result
  • Lithuania: 1 result
  • Poland: 3 results
  • Russia: 1 result
  • South Korea: 1 result
  • Spain: 2 results
  • Sweden: 5 results
  • Switzerland: 2 results
  • Tunisia: 1 result
  • UK: 20 results
  • US: 14 results

Through the observation of the map, I found that all countries that has more diversified types of apple were located at the same circle of latitude. For example, Italy and United State, UK and France. By adding another dimension to the graph, the information that viewer can collect will be increased exponentially. For the next step, if I make a visualization graph based on GIS model, maybe I can find out how altitude of certain location , water resource, or nutrition level of soil, cause impacts on local agriculture.

Originally, my intension was making an earth model, but I found out that it was hard to align each cylinder to the specific vertex on a surface in three-dimensional space. And also it’s a time-consuming process to manually collect data and make visualization.

Day 4

In the end of Day 3, I realized that record all data manually was a timing-consuming process. So I start to look into more tools to help generating, sorting, and visualizing the data. I found this website called “MapBox“. It’s a website that allow users to upload their own datasets and custom the visual effect. It’s a unique and effective tool for me, to be honestly. (at least for prototype, but I have seen some professional projects were build on this product) The format of dataset I used here was XML file, and there also was a function of Google Maps called “My Map”. You can add markers and routes on the map, and then exported as XML file. All the information of locations and routes will be converted to a HTML-ish format. For example, the name of business, the description, and the longitude and latitude, etc. After uploading the dataset into the website, you can assign different visual style into each property.

In my prototype, I marked couple “fusion” restaurant (the word “fusion” is gradually getting cliché and abused these days, I will explain this at Day 5) in the Midtown and Lower Manhattan. The outline’s opacity indicates the price. The darker blue circle means the most expensive, and vice versa. Locations without a outline are unknown price range.

I definitely will look into more tools, such as API, JS library(Chart.Js/Three.Js), and Python, for effectively collect and organize data.

Day 5

“These are cultures, not fusions.”

–  Mina Newman

04:27 ~ 05:27

 As one of the most diverse and multi-cultured cities in the US, NYC has a great amount of restaurants that own its unique dining and food cultures. Sen Sakana, a restaurant focused on Nikkei food — Japanese Peruvian cuisine — is among one of the other NYC restaurants who showed its specialty in fusion cuisine. In this video chef Mina Newman introduced a few of her signature dishes and also the historical background of Nikkei food. As she mentioned, Nikkei food was born after Japanese immigrants came to Peru. Because of a lack of food resources, the early Japanese immigrants combined local ingredients and Japanese cooking methods. At the same time, she was also a little uncomfortable when people over-simplify her restaurant as a “fusion restaurant”. “These are cultures, not fusions”, said she. From my own understanding, the fusion dishes may be just a simple combination of characteristics of two different cuisines for us as “outsiders”, but for a chefs, these so called “fusion dishes” are something they have been consumed since they were born, and it is the environment in which she grew up and her childhood memories that shaped and formulated the way of cooking. For chef Mina, these dishes are not two separated things that to be combined together, but a complete system rooted in the depth of her life. These dishes are her identity and culture rather than just cooking dashi with seafood from the Peruvian coast by accident.

The story of chef Mina reminds me of my first time eating general tso’s chicken and chop suey. At the beginning, as a Chinese who was born and raised in China for over 20 years, I was very confused about the taste of American Chinese food and I even thought they are not tasteful. Back then, I placed authenticity in such an important position over anything else, through which these Americanized Chinese food is too far away from the traditional Chinese cuisine in my opinion. Now after years as I stayed in the US and continuously study food culture, I started to transform my mindsets on these dishes that are being “localized”. The American Chinese dishes should not be considered as one of the “branches” among all other kinds of traditional 

Chinese cuisine, because this “branch” has already grown strong and become a separated and well-formulated unique food system. Sadly, until now, there are still many people who emphasize authenticity when they first try fusion cuisine, and criticize the dishes whenever the taste is different from their own memories. But the truth is, these fusion dishes are also authentic: they are authentic among those who grow up in the multiracial and multicultural background communities.

“Chow” Making the Chinese American Restaurant
Nov 2019, Museum of Food and Drink, Brooklyn
Menu of Mon Lay Won, an Chinese restaurant in New York City 1910

Additionally, the formulation of fusion cuisine has burdened the history of a group of immigrant communities. One of the examples could be found among the early waves of Chinese immigrants in the US. Originally, the sauce of General Tso’s Chicken was salty and spicy rather than the sweet and sour that we saw today, and the cooking method was also similar to the traditional Chinese food. The early Chinese immigration process was full of difficulties due to language barriers, lack of cultural adjustment and even racial discrimination back then. Most of the Chinese immigrants can only make a living by operating small businesses such as restaurants and laundry houses. In the mid-19th century, The main customer group was still white people, as a way of surviving in the US, the Chinese restaurant owners kept adjusting their food recipes in order to satisfy the taste buds of local American customers in order to make profits. Then the dishes from Chinese restaurants have gradually become what they are now (a lot of fried, mainly sweet and sour). For Chinese immigrants, these dishes are successful trials: More local people start to eat in Chinese restaurants, which helps the Chinese to earn money and live in a better life. Isn’t this all the results of “not being authentic”?

In summary, we should think twice before making any judgement on fusion cuisines. In fact,  it should be respected as it carries the uniqueness of histories and cultures, difficulties and hardworking adjustment processes among generations of immigrant communities from all over the world. Moreover, the future of fusion cuisine is yet to be determined, as today’s globalized market made it much easier for the immigrant communities to find their home ingredients that were imported from their own countries. Now the exploration of local ingredients, to my perspective, is gradually becoming a process of creation rather than simply the adaptation.

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