Colorful Chinese dish
Courtesy @chinese_plating

An Instagram Account Captures the Breadth and Beauty of Chinese Cuisine

@chinese_plating, run by Dieter Mackenbach, offers a beautiful buffet of images of resplendent Chinese meals from the 20th century.
By Kathryn O’Shea-Evans
August 11, 2021
2 minute read

Anyone whose eyes are bigger than their stomach will get a thrill out of the visually beguiling vittles on Instagram account @chinese_plating, run by Dieter Mackenbach, a Los Angeles–based researcher and educator. Most of the throwback images he posts of plated food—including produce cut into petals and shaped into exultant spring flowers, or an atoll made from a stack of crispy fried trotter tips—he captures from vintage magazines.

But for Mackenbach, these plates are more than their looks. They allude to “a different time in China, when the economy was just starting to open up and China was rapidly transitioning from a dining culture of scarcity to excess,” Mackenbach says. “This is really reflected in the detailed ornamentation and showy nature of the dishes,” some of which were fabricated for culinary competitions—not your average weeknight take-out. “For too long, Chinese food has had the reputation of being unhealthy, cheap, and even unsafe outside of China,” he says. “These stereotypes are evidently based on racist and xenophobic notions that the foods of ethnic minorities are impure or polluting. Even today, you see the same discourses deployed by clean-eating advocates and chefs attempting to ‘elevate’ ‘ethnic foods.’ Yet my experiences eating, not just in the People’s Republic of China, but throughout overseas Chinese communities around Asia, have taught me otherwise. Chinese food is remarkably nutritious, sophisticated, and playful.”

Currently occupied by other commitments, Mackenbach is hoping to return to posting new images daily soon, and perhaps eventually curate an exhibition of the work at an East Asian library—sure to be both delicious and eye-catchingly beautiful.