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Fuel protest and find escape via L.A.’s food zine trove

Photos of the zine Chinese Protest Recipes by Clarence Kwan.
Photos of the zine Chinese Protest Recipes by Clarence Kwan.
(Ken Concepcion)

On Valentine’s Day, during a weekend when millions of people worldwide were also celebrating Lunar New Year, Los Angeles’ sole cookbook shop, Now Serving, posted an Instagram pic of its zine collection’s newest addition: Chinese Protest Recipes, a project created by Torontonian Clarence Kwan to support Black Lives Matter.

Kwan is the executive creative director at a Black-led, New York-based communications agency that focuses on social change. On weekends he butchers pigs while mastering Chinese-style barbecue at East Court & Mike’s BBQ in an area of Toronto known as Chinatown North. He grew up in and around restaurants.

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“Since this uprising began, I’ve been using my platform to help raise awareness about white supremacy in food,” Kwan writes in the zine’s introduction. “I couldn’t stay quiet anymore, this racial pandemic has shed light on so many issues that BIPOC deal with every single day. I’ve been protesting through the one thing I know: Chinese food.”

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Recipes — shrimp in lobster sauce, sweet and sour pork, fried rice, Dungeness crab scented with fried garlic, ginger and scallion — come with lists of ingredients without measurements and succinct instructions. “I encourage everyone to cook intuitively, rather than blindly following a strict recipe. This is how my ancestors cooked; it’s all by taste, common sense and good judgment.”

Headnotes mingle cooking notes with anti-racist directives: “Talk to your Asian families about anti-Black behavior and attitudes. When Black people win, we all win. This dish is pure comfort food, the gravy should be bold and silky. The shrimp should be bouncy and crunchy, not overcooked. Enjoy with steamed rice only!”

Now Serving, run by married owners Michelle Mungcal and Ken Concepcion, received 30 copies of Kwan’s booklet to sell. The price was $60, with 100% of the proceeds going to Color of Change, a nonprofit dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

Instagram story feeds from local food media filled with reposts about the zine; it sold out in two days. While Now Serving waits for restocks, Chinese Protest Recipes can also be ordered directly from Kwan via links on his Insta account, @thegodofcookery. You can also download the zine for free; Kwan encourages people to donate what they can to Color of Change in the U.S. or Black Women in Motion in Canada.

I was too late to buy a copy from Mungcal and Concepcion this round, but the flurry around Chinese Protest Recipes nudged me to more closely pore over Now Serving’s selection of independent, small-production print magazines and self-published zines. The retail shop in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza has been closed during the pandemic; the online store provides plenty of details about each publication. Mungcal and Concepcion ship nationally, and locals can pick up purchases every day but Tuesday and Wednesday.

Independent food magazines available at Now Serving in Chinatown's Far East Plaza. Photo by Bill Addison.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Lunar New Year celebrations continue for 15 days. I stayed in the spirit and bought another new arrival at the shop: the 12-page Gong Zine Fa Cai, written by Kimberly Chou and illustrated by Charlene Kaye. The name is a play on “gong xi fa cai,” the Mandarin greeting that offers wishes for prosperity in the New Year. Its pages include Chou’s reflections on her Taiwanese aunties and uncles gathered to make dumplings (here, too, is a call for intuitive cooking: “Dough is a feeling, not a recipe.”) and New Year horoscopes. I was born in the Year of the Rat. Chou advises us rodents to lean into optimism in 2021 and open up to those close to us.

Browsing deeper online brought me to Peddler, a journal founded in 2017 that documents the “multi-cultures of food, venturing near and far, and into the homes and kitchens of everyday cooks for their most personal rendition of family recipes and stories.” The autumn/winter 2020 edition of the magazine, organized around the notion of “Immigrant,” contains editor in chief Hetty McKinnon’s explorations of the foodways of Macao; a lyrical meditation by Lara Lee on Indonesian identity and the three stages of cooking rendang; and a love letter to Malaysian pandan chiffon cake by Audrey Payne. Some haunting images of solitary corners of Hong Kong accompany McKinnon’s essay on macaroni soup. They make me long to travel.

Tea, as a drink and a subject, became an obsession in 2014 when, as Eater’s national critic, I had opportunities to visit the geekiest, most deeply immersive tea shops around the country. It’s a subject I’ve not much written too much about; some food writer friends put it in my head that it’s a boring topic and I’ve yet to jump over that block.

Maybe Eighty Degrees — a print-only magazine whose tag is “the culture of tea” — will inspire me. I’d never zeroed in on it before on Now Serving’s site; this weekend I’m digging into three issues’ worth of stories. Features cover a Nepali tea garden run by two brothers who grew up in India’s Darjeeling district, hidden tea shops in Myanmar, emerging tea growers in South Africa and the Republic of Georgia and the evolving form of chanoyu, the Japanese tea ceremony.

It took me 10 minutes to drive to Now Serving this week to grab these magazine-escapes. It feels good to get away.

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OUR STORIES

— I spend much of my energy as a critic these days reporting on the incredible breadth of pop-ups created by chefs outside traditional restaurant spaces. Emily Wilson has a great piece on the realities behind the movement: “One thing is consistent in the pop-up community: Every day is a scramble.”

— And speaking of Far Away: Ben Mims has a Sicilian riff on romanesco using ingredients (pine nuts, golden raisins, saffron) that channel the island’s history of trade with North Africa.

Jean Trinh reports on Kara Still and Carmen Dianne, two entrepreneurs who are helping L.A. residents connect with Black businesses through a mobile food truck and farmers market.

— The headline of Jenn Harris’s piece this week says it all: The girl with the food tattoos.

— For this week’s What We’re Into video, Brian Park comforts us with pho at Súp Noodle Bar in Buena Park.

— Finally, Ray Garcia’s lamented Broken Spanish returns as a pop-up beginning Feb. 25 at NeueHouse Hollywood — and other news of the week from Stephanie Breijo.

 A view of Sydney Kramer's tattoos by tattoo artist Emily Kay.
A view of Sydney Kramer’s tattoos, including a lime wedge and broccolini, by tattoo artist Emily Kay.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)


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