Project / Tasting Asia
Task / Installation Exhibition
Client / Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Hong Kong SAR Government
and Penang State Museum & Art Gallery, Malaysia
Year / 2002 Hong Kong, 2003 Malaysia, 2014 Hong Kong
Overall Concept and Exhibition Design / Kan & Lau Design Consultants

A project by the Design Alliance (tDA)

 

Tasting Asia was a reflection of Asian attitudes towards food; and an early experimental collaboration between graphic designers and fine artists from Asia, as well as Prof. Leung Ping-kwan (whose pen name was Yesi), a renowned Hong Kong poet and intellectual.

A popular traditional dish was selected from each of the eight participating Asian countries as the inspiration for graphic designers to create their make-believe packaging, and for artists to come up with a conceptual work that fit on a small tabletop during the exhibition. 

The exhibition booths were replicas of the designers’ packaging, and they also doubled up as a storage space for the table, table-cloth, lighting fixtures and the artist’s work (some artists used the table-cloth itself as a canvas for their work). The booths were designed for easy setup, packing, and transporting—all that was needed was to place everything in the box, close it up, and ship.

All eight member countries of The Design Alliance*—Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam—participated in the exhibition.

*The Design Alliance was renamed The Design Alliance Asia (tDA Asia) in 2011.
As of January 2018, tDA Asia is represented in 13 countries/regions.

 

TASTING ASIA—HONG KONG

Foyer, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, 27 October—10 November 2002
New Vision Arts Festival

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TASTING ASIA—PENANG

Pinang Gallery, Dewan Sri Pinang, 2—28 June 2003
Penang YTL Arts Festival

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EXHIBITION CATALOGUE

The exhibition ‘catalogue’ took the form of a shrink-wrapped ‘variety pack’ box set (similar to a breakfast cereal mini box set)—ironically, a western product, but which is popular in modern Asian households (Will there be an Asian version of this concept?). Each box contains a leaflet with information about the food, its recipe, an introduction the artist/graphic designer, and the respective poem by Prof. Leung.

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THE POEMS

Yesi (Leung Ping-kwan) passed away on 5 January 2013. In January 2014, a major exhibition of his life and work titled ‘Leung Ping-kwan (1949—2013), A Retrospective’ was held at the Hong Kong Central Library as homage to the prominent cultural figure.

I was asked to contribute to this exhibition, but unfortunately, missed the submission deadline.
— William Harald-Wong

I was informed by Mr Oscar Ho, the lead curator for Prof. Leong’s Retrospective exhibition, that the full set of Tasting Asia will be exhibited under the ‘Foodscape’ section, alongside with over a hundred artworks from Hong Kong and abroad.

Here, I reproduce Prof. Leung's poems written for Tasting Asia as a tribute to his immense talent. I imagine it must have been difficult for him to write for some of the food, such as Malaysia’s nasi lemak, having had little to no familiarity with them. After all, even though you may encounter these foods somewhere in Hong Kong, they may not have the original, authentic flavours as the ones found in the home countries (which may also differ from district to district). But a poet overcomes all.


malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR

William Harald-Wong & Associates
Designer / William Harald-Wong & Yuri Aizawa
Photographer (design elements) / William Harald-Wong
Artist & Photographer (field work) / Ena Hadzir (Spacekraft)

 

Food: Nasi lemak

Nasi lemak is quintessential Malaysian—originally a Malay dish, but greatly appreciated by people from every other ethnicity as a kind of comfort food. It is essentially made up of rice cooked with coconut milk and served with hard-boiled or fried egg, peanuts, ikan bilis (sun-dried anchovies), sambal tumis (chili paste, shallot, and tamarind juice); but you can also add a variety of side dishes, such as vegetables, prawns, squid, fish, and chicken.

Malaysians typically consume nasi lemak for breakfast, although it can also be eaten during lunch, tea break, dinner, or midnight supper; either at a humble roadside stall, restaurant or in a 5-star luxury hotel.

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椰醬飯

吃了永不會飢餓
吃了永不會憂傷

插秧的人愈來愈少了
種稻的人愈來愈少了

城市發展出不同的口味
米飯永遠中和我們的辛酸

吃了感到充實
吃了就有氣力

隨著季節播種
隨著季節收割的人
愈來愈少了

城市發展出不同的憂傷
米飯是我們失去的點滴

隨著季節去打穀
隨著季節去曬穀磨

穀的人愈來愈少了
舂米的人愈來愈少了

城市帶給你七色的疤痕
米飯給你白色的安慰

吃了永不會悲傷
吃了永不會激憤

吃了永不會迷路
吃了永不會失落

Nasi lemak

Never feeling hungry when you eat it
Never feeling sad

Fewer and fewer people grow rice
Fewer and fewer work in the fields

The city develops different tastes
Yet rice always neutralizes our pain

Feeling full when you eat it
Feeling strong when you have it

Fewer and fewer people sow seeds in Spring
Fewer and fewer harvest in Autumn*

The city develops different melancholies
Rice has become the bits and pieces you lost

Fewer and fewer people grind the grains
Fewer and fewer people husk rice

The city gives you scars in seven colors
The rice gives you consolation in white

Never feeling grief when you eat it
Never feeling wrath

Never feeling lost when you have it
Never gone astray

 

 

 

*Nature and its cycles is an intrinsic part of Chinese thought and philosophy. The changing seasons represents the cycle of life—things sprout and begin to grow (spring), bloom (summer), and reach completeness (late summer). Then, they begin to dry and wither (autumn), rest (winter), and the cycle restarts all over again. This essential idea remains even though Malaysia only have the dry and wet seasons. The Chinese in hot, tropical Malaysia is also keenly attuned to the concept of changing seasons as they celebrate occasions such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and Winter Solstice.


Hong Kong

Kan & Lau Design Consultants
Designer & Artist / Kan Tai-keung & Freeman Lau Siu Hong

 

Food: Poon tsoi (Basin feast)

The poon tsoi is a dining tradition practised in the wai tau villages (walled villages) in the New Territories of Hong Kong, where people of lower statuses (e.g. farmers, fishermen, servants and helpers, etc.) are not allowed to dine in the main hall during banquets thrown for special occasions. Instead, they are served in the front yard, with assorted goodies arranged in big wooden basins. 

Another story of the poon tsoi’s origin revolves around Wen Tian-xiang, a well-respected general of the Song Dynasty, and his troops, who arrived in the Xinan County after fleeing from the Yuan army. They had to depend on the locals for food: dry eel fillet, dry squid, radishes, soya sticks, red bean curd, and pork. The ingredients were then piled into wooden basins borrowed from the fishermen—thus starting the tradition of poon tsoi.

Today, poon tsoi has become a signature dish of the wai tau villages. Assorted delicacies are arranged layer by layer in the basin, and each basin is intended to feed twelve people.

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盆菜

應該有燒米鴨和煎海蝦放在上位
階級的次序層層分得清楚
撩撥的筷子卻逐漸顛倒了
圍頭五味雞與粗俗的豬皮
狼狽的宋朝將軍兵敗後逃到此地
一個大木盆裡吃漁民貯藏的餘糧
圍坐灘頭進食無復昔日的鐘鳴鼎食
遠離京畿的輝煌且試鄉民的野味

無法虛排在高處只能隨時日的消耗下陷
不管願不願意亦難不蘸底層的顏色
吃久了你無法隔絕北菇與排魷的交流
關係顛倒互相沾染影響了在上的潔癖
誰也無法阻止肉汁自然流下的去向
最底下的籮蔔以清甜吸收了一切濃香

Poon tsoi

There should be roast rice-duck and pan-fried prawns on top
Order of the classes are clearly laid out in layers
But the poking chopsticks gradually reverse
the lofty five-spice chicken and the lowly pigskin
The Sung army once sought shelter here after defeat
wolfed down the fishermen’s reserves from big wooden basins
dined on the beach in crude circles, with no elegence of the past
Away from the capital, they tried wild flavors of the rural folks.

Unable to stay on top, they collapse with gradual consumption
No escape from touching bottom colors, whether you like it or not,
no way to block exchanges between humble mushrooms and rare squids
Reversed relationships taint each other and affect the purity on top
Nobody can stop the meat juice from trickling down, and let
the bottom-most turnip absorb all the flavors in all its sweetness.


indonesia

JAKARTA

BD+A Design
Designer / Irvan A. Noe’man
Photographer / Artli Ali
Artist / Hadhi Siswanto

 

Food: Rice and santan (coconut milk)

Despite being the fourth most populated country in the world, and home to 250 ethnic groups, Indonesians are united by their staple food: rice. When cooked with santan, it results in various delicious dishes, such as the nasi kuning (yellow rice)—typically eaten during special events such as birthdays and selamatan (ceremonial meals).

Other dishes made of rice and santan include koyabu and putu mayang, eaten by Moslem Indonesians at the breaking of their fast during the puasa (fasting) month.

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黃飯

印度帶來了香料和咖喱
阿拉伯人的串燒變成沙爹
荷籣人覬覦豆蔻和茴香
中國人背著豆鼓和菜籽
逃難鼓油遠道而來定居在這裡變甜
餐桌的海岸線上無數小島
大家都沒法把香料殖民
黃薑染黃了的我手指頭
香蘭葉總有濃郁的香氣
辣椒火爆拒絕向任何人低頭
火山溶若那麼熾烈
大海岩那種嶙峋,只有——
米飯是我們共通的言語
米飯是我們安慰的母親
米飯包容不同的顏色
米飯燙貼腸胃裡舊日的傷痕

Rice and santan

India brought over spices and curry
Arabian Shish Kebab became satay
The Dutch seized the nutmeg and cumin
The Chinese came with black beans and vegetable seeds
The soy sauce landed here from afar became sweet
Numerous islands line the coastline on the dining table
Nobody can colonize spices
Turmeric dyes my fingers yellow
Pandan leaves always have a strong fragrance
The fiery chili pepper refuses to bow to anyone
Hot as volcanic lava
Rugged as ocean rock. Only
Rice is our common language
Rice is our consoling mother
Rice encompasses all colors
Rice soothes the old wounds in the stomach

 


LAOS

VIENTIANE

Bluegrass Design Group
Designer / Praseuth Banchongphakdy
Artist / Kongphat Luangrath

 

Food: Larb (Sticky rice with meat)

Larb was originally a word used by Lao people to mean receiving something from an endeavour (e.g. hunting, fishing, or doing business). If someone is able to get a good haul from their hunt or at sea, or is successful at business, they are said to have larb.

This word later became the name of Lao’s favourite dish by virtue of the fact that people like to celebrate their successes and winnings by eating the tastiest food. As such, larb is always served at happy occasions such as winnings, weddings, and other receptions.

Larb is made of minced meat or fish, and a variety of ingredients/spices such as ground roasted rice, roasted egg plant, garlic and onion, shallots, hom huead, hom haw, fresh coriander, galanga, ginger, dried chili pepper, and fermented fish and salt (spices differ depending on whether the larb is made of meat or fish). It is traditionally eaten with sticky rice, and can be served raw or cooked.

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老撾菜肉飯

刀在砧板上細切的聲音
呼喚我們期待溫暖的晚飯
肉在琢磨中遂漸成熟蔬
菜撕裂了變得更完整
香草的苦辣帶出魚的鮮美
糯米有它溫柔的魅力
把所有日常的破碎黏合
預備一道菜所花的時間
點點滴滴收穫它的美味

Larb

Sound of the cleaver drumming on the chopping board
calls forth our expectations for a warm supper
The meat slowly matures under the beatings
Shredded vegetables become more complete
Glutinous rice has its tender charm
holding together all the daily shattering
Time spent in preparing a dish
slowly accumulates into an exquisite flavor

 

 


Singapore

Immortal Design
Designer / Maylene Seah
Photographer & Artist / Ken Seet

 

Food: Chicken rice

Singapore’s international, multicultural society has contributed to the diversity of the island state’s culinary offerings, earning it a reputation for being a food paradise. However, the humble Hainanese chicken rice is a local dish that continues to capture hearts with its juicy chicken, fragrant rice cooked with chicken stock, and chili-garlic dip.

Other ethnic groups living in Singapore also have their own versions of the chicken rice, such as the Malay nasi ayam (deep-fried chicken with rice) and the Indian briyani (yellow rice) with curry chicken.

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新加坡的海南雞飯

我可有最好的祕方
用沸水把雞浸熟
在異鄉重造故鄉的鮮嫩
安慰飄洋過海的父母?

我可有最好的祕方
調製最美味的醬油和薑茸
調節食物和語言裡的禁忌
適應新的餐桌的規矩?

我可有最好的祕方
拿雞湯煮出軟硬適中的熱飯
測試油膩的分寸在異地睦鄰
黏合一個城市裡多元的胃口?

Chicken rice

Do I have the best recipe
to cook chicken in steaming water
remake tenderness in a foreign land
console parents who drifted over the oceans?

Do I have the best recipe
to make the best sauce and chili-lime dip
reconcile the taboos of food and language
readjust to the rules of the new dinner table?

Do I have the best recipe
to cook rice in chicken broth with the right texture
make it less oily to please new neighbors
accommodate to the city’s diverse appetite?

 


SOUTH Korea

SEOUL

Ahn Graphics

 

Food: Bibimbap (Stone-grilled rice)

Bibimbap is a popular Korean rice dish with mixed ingredients and gochujang (hot pepper paste), known for its taste and nutritional value. Research indicates that the bibimbap was created based on the conventions of the yin-yang and Five Element Theory, thus resulting in a dish that features vegetables of various colours to strengthen different parts of the body.

There are many regional variations of the bibimbap, although the most famous variation is the Jeonju bibimbap. It is typically topped with soy bean sprout namul (seasoned vegetable dish), Hwangpo-muk (yellow mung bean jelly) from buckwheat jelly, gochujang, jeopjang (femented soy sauce), and seasoned raw meat.

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石鍋拌飯

許許多多的蔬菜
各有各的美麗和驕橫
甚麼樣的一雙手搖響風鈴草
把它掛成一串頸上炫耀的小調
把青瓜切成半個月亮
把月亮蘸點麻油
溫柔地給生菜按摩
讓它發出胡弓的旋律
把冬菇變成十只長鼓
敲出秋天蘆葦間的蕭殺
芽菜姊妹排好又在動亂中拆散
長竹笛合奏黎明的爽涼
讓紅菜頭翻出絃間的祕密
把大家的臉龐染紅
美麗底下有隱藏的悲涼
這麼多的蔬菜交纏的歌舞
在炙熱的石盆上錯折成形
把白飯攪拌成斑駁的七彩

Bibimbap

That many vegetables
each in its own pride and beauty
What hands shake the bellflower?
string them into a tune to put around one’s neck
Cut the cucumber into half-moons
dipping them in sesame oil
Massage the lettuce tenderly
let it play a melody of the haegum violin
Transform the mushrooms into ten long drums
beating through the weeds of autumn chill
Arrange the bean sprouts disheveled in tumults
long daegum flutes orchestrating in the crisp of dawn
Let the beets tell the secrets of their hearts
and dye all the faces red
Each with its own woe beneath the beauty
that many vegetables in a dance entangled
Falling into shape in a heated stone basin
change our rice into a song of mixed colours

 


THAILAND

BANGKOK

Pink Blue Black & Orange Co Ltd
Designer / Siam Attariya
Artist / C. Nakpawan

 

Food: Tom yam kung (hot, spicy, and sour shrimp soup)

Thai cuisine is famous for its exquisite flavours, garnishing, and nutrition—attributed to the liberal use of herbs in their dishes. Not only do they enhance the flavour, colour, and aroma of the food, the herbs are also beneficial to digestion and the gastrointestinal system.

Thailand’s tom yam kung—a combination of fresh shrimps, mushrooms, and aromatic Thai herbs—is well known for its subtle hot and sour taste, and is one of the most palatable and healthy Thai dishes.

The Thai society treats their meals as a form of socialisation, encouraging relationship and care among family members; and as an opportunity to teach children appropriate manners and behaviour.

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冬蔭功湯

最辣的是辣椒
最辣的是清水

最辣是她的嘴巴
最辣是你的耳塞

最辣是他們的發佈
最辣是你們的報導

最辣是她的身體
最辣是他的凝睇

最辣是他們的法紀
最辣是我們的顧忌

最辣是她的氣味
最辣是你的大鼻

最辣是他的熱吻
最辣是她的冷漠

最辣是他的裸體
最辣是她的整齊

最辣是他的眼睛
最辣是她的心情

最辣是她的梨渦
最辣是你的無助

最辣是你的言語
最辣是你的無言

Tom yam kung

The hottest is pepper
The hottest is water

The hottest are her lips
The hottest are your ear-plugs

The hottest are their official announcements
The hottest are your gossip columns

The hottest is her body
The hottest is his gaze

The hottest are their basic law
The hottest is our self-censorship

The hottest is her smell
The hottest is your big nose

The hottest is her passion
The hottest is your indifference

The hottest is your nakedness
The hottest is her eternal neatness

The hottest are his eyes
The hottest are her moods

The hottest is her dimple
The hottest is when you are vulnerable

The hottest is your language
The hottest is your silence

 


VIETNAM

HO CHI MINH CITY

The Studio of Pius Eugene
Designer / Pius Eugene
Artist / Trần Thanh Xuân

 

Food: Oc hap la gung (Stuffed snails in ginger leaves)

Cuisine in Vietnam differs vastly between north, south, and central regions, but they are united in their consumption of rice and noodles. Vietnamese meals are also not complete without fresh vegetables and herbs.

Another favourite food among the Vietnamese is the oc hap la gung—the best said to be in Hanoi. While stuffed snails in ginger leaves seem to be the most popular, snails can also be cooked with green banana, pork skin, soya curb, and perilla leaves; or with other ingredients to suit different occasions or weather conditions.

Snails are fat, meaty, and tasty only in October, hence the name ‘Snails in October in Hanoi’.

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釀田螺

把我從水田撿起
把我拿出來切碎了
加上冬菇、瘦肉和洋蔥
加上鹽
魚露和胡椒
加上一片奇怪的薑葉
為了再放回去
我原來的殼中
令我更加美味

把我拿出來
使我遠離了
我的地理和歷史
加上異鄉的顏色
加上外來的滋味
給我增值
付出了昂貴的代價
為了把我放到
我不知道的
將來

Oc hap la gung

I was picked up from the water field
taken out
minced
added dried mushrooms, lean meat and onion
added salt
fish sauce and pepper
added a blade of strange ginger leaf
to be put back
into my shell
to make me more tasty

I was taken out
removed from
my own geography and history
given exotic colors
foreign flavors
added value
paid high prices
just to place me
into my unknown
future


THE DESIGN ALLIANCE ASIA (tDA Asia)

Tasting Asia was The Design Alliance’s first group project. It was a test-bed for collaboration among our associates from eight Asian countries, overcoming language barriers—English is not the mother tongue or the first language for many of our associates—and logistical issues. 

Some associates were already internationally renowned (South Korea, Hong Kong), while other associates (Laos, Vietnam) were just making their mark as designers in their respective countries—Tasting Asia may have been their first collaborative design project beyond their national borders.

The final installation of Tasting Asia may not be perfect, but what was important was the beginning of a professional relationship among our associates, which has strengthened over the years leading up to the present day. Tasting Asia (and subsequent collaborations) fostered a keen curiosity and a deeper understanding of Asia’s diverse cultures.

Ten years later, this close working partnership enabled tDA Asia to win one of Asia’s most prestigious award for its research project Colours of Asia.

 

LINKS