Chapter 1 / Sharing Stories
Chinese food as a form of resistance with @thegodofcookery, Clarence Kwan
Words: Courtney Chew
Interview: Clarence Kwan of @thegodofcookery
Photos: Courtesy of Clarence Kwan @thegodofcookery
Scrolling through @thegodofcookery instagram, you’re met with grid upon grid of delicious, classic and nostalgic Chinese dishes. But, the account is so much more than that. Wrapped into each post are moments of protest, advocacy, education, and honesty, calling out social injustices with truly no-bullshit-from-the-heart-words.
Clarence Kwan is a fellow Chinese Canadian behind the well-known account; a visual platform for activism in support of BIPOC and marginalized communities and the Chinese diaspora through what he knows best – food.
For him, food and drink is one of the most powerful ways to connect and bridge people and cultures, and we couldn’t agree more. His recent project, Chinese Protest Recipes, came out in 2020 as his way of solidarity and protest in support of BLM. Since the launch his recipe books have found themselves around the world, and has helped raise over $35,000 for Color of Change.
We are big fans of the work he is doing, the awareness he is bringing to important conversations on racism and discrimination, and how he is using his voice and his platform to bring the global community together to listen, learn, unlearn, and take action.
Today is Chinese New Year and also the celebration of the new Lunar calendar, one of the most meaningful holidays in Asia, where traditionally, families come together over lots of incredible food to ring in a year of prosperity, good health, and good luck. This year is the year of the Metal Ox — a year to bring stability, strength, harmony, and reward to hard work.
Although CNY will be quite different than previous, as a way to celebrate and bring us together, we asked Clarence to do a rapid fire Q+A with us to chat about Chinese Protest Recipes, cross-culture allyship, and what it means to him to be Chinese.
We also asked him to share an easy-to-prepare special (and one of my personal faves) CNY dish that you can make yourself, to bring a little piece of family to you and help start this new year right for those of us that can’t be close to loved ones right now.
Hope you enjoy. Happy Lunar New Year and Gung Hay Fat Choy to you and your family.
Courtney Chew: What inspired Chinese Protest Recipe, being an incredible protest, resource, and conversation starter in support of BLM, through Chinese Food specifically?
CK: I had a food IG dedicated to Cantonese food. Like many people, I couldn’t stay silent after the death of George Floyd. I wanted to use my platform, however small, to speak out against white supremacy. I used the food world as a lens to talk about these very difficult issues.
CC: What's a Chinese dish that holds a special meaning or a memory for you?
CK: White cut chicken. It reminds me of every special occasion, it reminds me of my grandmother who loved simple, clean food. It reminds me of my mom who makes like three chickens for every holiday. It’s humble but very special when done right.
CC: What is one Chinese dish that you think is underrepresented or does not get the respect that it deserves?
CK: Any steamed seafood fish done in Cantonese style. The timing, freshness and balance required takes years to perfect, and it’s usually underrepresented because your average person can’t handle heads and bones. A good steamed bass with sweet soy and scallion oil can be ethereal.
CC: What is one misconception around Chinese food that should change?
CK: Every myth that has existed about Chinese food, from time. All of it is wrong. It’s all got to go.
CC: In addition to your '9-5' you work part-time at a Chinese Restaurant -- what does it mean to you to be a part of Chinese food culture and the community contributing to honouring and keeping it alive?
CK: It’s been one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I’ve ever had. It’s almost like adult Chinese school, with amazing staff lunches. It’s given me a newfound appreciation for what hard work means. I feel honoured every weekend to be able to join a Chinese restaurant family. It’s a very special thing that is very hard to describe.
CC: Person (alive or spirit) that you admire?
CK: Every unknown cook of color, working in a suburban strip mall. These are masters who get no shine and no recognition, that are doing God's work, 7 days a week.
CC: What do you wish Chinese Protest Recipe will motivate in the community?
CK: I hope it will inspire a bigger awareness of the world that we live in, and the forces that have been normalized in the food system. If people are thinking and talking about the book, that’s a great first step.
CC: What’s something positive, negative, memorable, or interesting that has come up for you through your journey with Chinese Protest Recipes and @thegodofcookery platform?
CK: The amount of support has been overwhelming. I see the pride in our East and South East Asian communities. I see allies become more aware and engage with their discomfort. I see a lot of people willing to do the work, myself included. It gives me hope.
CC: In one word, what does it mean to you to be Chinese?
CC: What do you hope for the world, 2021 and beyond?
CK: Turning talk into action, taking accountability and taking steps towards building new systems at every level.
I hope [Chinese Protest Recipes] will inspire a bigger awareness of the world that we live in, and the forces that have been normalized in the food system. If people are thinking and talking about the book, that’s a great first step.
CC: Lastly — What is a quick and easy recipe that you love to make to celebrate the Lunar New Year with family, especially for those that can’t be with family right now?
CK: My family is from the south of China, so I didn’t grow up eating noodles for the New Year, but I love it as a newer tradition; long noodles for a long life! Here’s a quick recipe for E-Fu noodles:
Pack of dried E-Fu noodles
Dried shiitake mushrooms
Blanch dried e-fu noodles quickly, drain and set aside. Soak, reconstitute mushrooms and slice. Chop chives and scallions into 1 inch pieces.
Head oil in a large nonstick pan. Fry mushrooms. Add stock and season with oyster sauce, soy, sugar, MSG. There should be enough stock to generously coat the noodles. Add noodles and stir on high heat, allowing the noodles to soak up the sauce. Taste and adjust. Once noodles become dry, toss in chives and scallion. Fry until wilted and serve immediately.
For more recipes and the opportunity to continue learning and unlearning in support of BLM, please head to Clarence’s Instagram to pick up your copy (and give him a follow while you're there!). All proceeds are donated to Color of Change.