Last year saw the debut of the Luckyrice Festival, the first large-scale Asian food festival in New York. It was about time! The event sold out with over 6,500 guests attending tastings and chef demos from big-name chefs, as well as local culinary celebrities like Masaharu Morimoto and Michael "Bao" Huynh. Metromix was there for all the fish sauce and Japanese whiskey we could handle. What a blast.
This year, the festival is bigger, stretching from four days to a full week from May 2 to 8. Festival founder Danielle Chang gives us the full scoop.
What does the name Luckyrice symbolize?
I wanted to come up with a name that made people think about Asian culture and food and that would appeal to everyone. I used "rice" because it's the foundation of all Asian food. Think of Japanese sushi, Chinese congee, Vietnamese pho, Thai pad Thai. Even sake is rice. Instead of saying "Hello, how are you," in China when people great each other they say chyr fan le ma, which translates to "Have you eaten your rice yet?" Then the word "luck" came about because Asians, including myself, are very superstitious. So, that is how we put those two together.
What new and returning events are slated for this year's festival?
We are bringing back all the major marquee events from last year like the Night Market and the Grand Feast hosted by Kelly Choi at the Mandarin Oriental. Our Opening Cocktails is going to be at the Bowery Hotel again, but this year Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, the tastemakers behind Opening Ceremony, will host it. We are going to bring a fashion element too, so that will be fun.
We are also bringing a series of dinners—off-the-menu collaborations between the culinary council and some chefs from Asia. Also, we are doing a dinner at the James Beard House focusing on the cuisine of Macao, which is becoming the entertainment capital of Asia.
From bahn mi, dumplings and ramen to the cheap Chinese many of us grew up with, why do you think Americans are so obsessed with Asian food?
I think Americans, especially New Yorkers, are obsessed with exploring Asian cultures. Period. It's become such a part of our daily life, especially in terms of food. I always say, if you are what you eat, then we are all part Asian. They have been saying Vietnamese pho is the new comfort soup. You can find California rolls in every market, and ramen has become our new pasta.
What is the next bit Asian trend to hit NYC?
Korean is getting popular. People aren't shying away from things like kimchi, fermented fish sauces or a lot of the foods that are so central to those cuisines. For a long time, Asian food in America was all put into a couple categories, but now people are exploring the different nuances of the cuisines.
Do you cook Asian food at home? If so, where do you get some of the harder-to-find ingredients like Schezuan peppercorns, rice wine and lotus root?
I love to cook, and because I live between Soho and Chinatown, I go to the Deluxe Food Market and other local mom-and-pop shops on Mott Street. I just pick up whatever is fresh.
What do you do when not organizing Luckyrice?
I also run a Chinese school called Xiao Bao Chinese, for kids 5 and under—I have been running it four or five years now in partnership with the Museum of Chinese in America. I think it's connected to Luckyrice too, since it's about bringing Asian culture to American. What is so interesting to me is that most of the kids that come to the school are non-Chinese. It's just that people are so interested in consuming Asian culture.
Your top NYC spots for dim sum, sushi, Vietnamese, Thai and late-night...
I love dim sum—it's like my Sunday ritual and usually I go to Dim Sum GoGo. Chinatown Brasserie also has amazing dim sum, and I think Joe Ng is one of the best dim sum chefs in the city. Also, Szechuan Gourmet, where I always get the mapo tofu. For Thai, it's Kin Shop, and for sushi I like Blue Ribbon and Jewel Bako. I also love all of Michael Bao Huynh's Vietnamese places. And, I don't always eat Asian food, so late night I go to La Esquina.
Photo by Gabi Porter