Danielle Chang's 'Lucky Chow' Seeks the Roots of American Food Culture in China and South Korea
For Danielle Chang, the “cultural collision” of Asian culture and American culture is ever-present in New York City where she lives. As the founder of Lucky Rice, a consulting and events company with a cookbook and festival by the same name, Chang remembers starting her business in 2009 as way to document what she saw as a pivotal moment in American food. “When I started Lucky Rice it was based on the premise of people exploring Asian food and chefs selling $15 ramen,” she says on a recent weekday morning. “I thought that was so pivotal and I could see this love affair we have with authentic, regional Asian food.”
In the third season of Lucky Chow, Chang’s PBS series exploring Asian foodways in America, viewers see how chefs and entrepreneurs are creating and defining Asian-American food. But instead of looking at how Asia’s impact can be felt and seen in America, Chang is traveling to Asia to see how what’s happening there shapes culture around the world. “We’ve seen such an explosion of Asian foods,” she says. While the first two seasons of Lucky Chow delved into Asian-American history and showcasing the next generation of American entrepreneurs exploring the flavors of the region, this season is dedicated to showing what food culture is like in Asia today. “The motivation was to create a broader awareness of Asian culture,” Chang says. “I always wanted to tell these stories through feasts, through food, and show how the world is very global.”
This season we see Chang travel to China and South Korea to take a look at how traditions are changing there and how trends currently happening in America are actually rooted in Asian culture. “The premise of the show is always to come back here and see how Asian culture has influenced every facet of life in America,” Chang says. This season is no different but the show is starting at the source to show how food culture in Asia is moving at a rapid pace, with an impact that spreads far beyond restaurant kitchens. “We’re still talking about food but food as a barometer of culture,” Chang says. “Food as wellness, food as beauty, food as religion.”
That means meeting and interviewing a social media star in South Korea who posts ‘mukbang’ videos to learn about the origins of the genre. “[Mukbangs] were born because a lot of young professionals weren’t comfortable eating alone so they would eat with other people online,” Chang says. Viewers get to watch as Chang records her first ever mukbang with the first South Korean mukbanger to record an episode in English. “We actually ate Korean fried chicken,” Chang laughs.
But fans of the show won’t need to book at trip to China or South Korea to see how these trends are being interpreted. Lucky Chow will still feature chefs, restaurants and bars that speak to how Asian influence has spread around the globe. Chang visits New York cocktail spot Bar Freud in Greenwich Village for a special show with cocktail expert Albert Trummer. “Albert uses traditional Chinese medicines in his cocktails based on what guests tell him their ailments are,” she says. She also tastes bubble tea at Canal Street Market, an event space and food hall with stalls like Kuro-Obi ramen and Bosai Kakigori.
Although this season of Lucky Chow has different locations, the intent is still the same. “My biggest hope would be for people to understand the full scope of Asian culture in our world,” Chang says. That’s her ultimate goal with the show and her company and she hopes the result is two-fold. “I hope it creates more understanding and better-tasting food.”
Lucky Chow is currently airing Fridays on PBS stations. Check your local listings.