Sheri Shih Hui

The Digi-Zine

Food Culture: Sustenance + {Re}supply

Huatke recipe by Sheri Shi Hui. Photo by Sheri Shih Hui.

(huatkue/fagao ) Experimenting with sourdough Taiwanese huat kue. The traditional Taiwanese version is made of indica rice milk, yeast, water, and sugar. Steam until the rice mixture is fully cooked and risen. I made them in plain, blueberry, brown sugar walnut, carob, and banana flavors.
My Process: Soak the rice overnight. Blend the rice and water into a purée. Add sourdough and sugar into the thick rice milk. Mix with flour until super thick. Ferment for 2-3 hrs. Put in small cups and steam 30 minutes in power boil heat.

Rice Recipes to Share from Taiwan

Sheri shares homestyle dining, Taiwanese style, to celebrate an agricultural ceremony, while living in the US during a pandemic. Read about her work with Eagle Street Rooftop Farm and the ensuing cultural exchange that got Sheri so excited about adopting sustainable food initiatives when she returns to Taiwan.

You’ve shared lots of recipes in your social media, that you made during quarantine, what is your usual line of work and how does working with food compliment your other processes?

Sheri: I’m a multidisciplinary artist and designer. I studied fashion in school, but later went in a different direction and started mixing art, science and technology. I used digital fabrication to produce my garments. I was investigating materials and fabrication processes and found biomaterials I could use that were from food products. I produced fabrics from gelatin, glycerin, agar agar (algae), using molds to shape my significant designs. I became interested in food, agriculture and the environment, so I looked into New York organizations, and ended up doing an apprenticeship with Eagle Street Rooftop Farm. I learned how to put together a rooftop farm and grow food. We also visited several rooftop farms and gardens in NYC, so they were like educational trips for me.

I met lots of friends at the farm who basically came from everywhere. Some were master’s students, college students, cooks, writers, all people who took interest in food, even though they were from different fields. So [talking to them] opened up my understanding of food and related agriculture issues. After the program, I went to Indonesia and discovered food awareness in that country, and that’s where food came together for me. I already planned to study food and food security issues before the quarantine but the quarantine just gave me more time to do this and publish my findings.

It’s funny how people care so much about food at this time, and they are truly interested in what I do. I started making my own bread, but I didn’t know that it was sourdough bread. I found out about sourdough starter, and later connected my bread recipe to some of the trendy things that were happening with bread. This is what generated a lot of interest, which is kind of funny, the [pandemic] timing. I used sourdough starter in my sweet rice cake (huatkue) recipe and found out you can put sourdough starter in rice cake! It works! It’s the same [result]! Nowadays, people just use baking soda for this rice cake recipe, but I don’t like that, because it’s a chemical ingredient. In traditional recipes, they use yeast, and sourdough starter is a type of yeast. So I figured out sourdough starter works with rice flour [by experimenting].

Zine: Would you be interested in joining the food industry?

Sheri: I want to combine food, fermentation, gardening skills and current environmental issues. So I don’t plan on doing these projects commercially, but I’d like to do them in a sharing or exchange [manner]. You can share fermented food and spread good bacteria everywhere and it just grows. My concept is that people can just come to take sourdough starter or sauerkraut from me and grow it on their own, because you can just add ingredients and it will keep growing. I’m thinking, ‘If you give me yours, I can give you mine, as an exchange.’ Like seeds and having your own savings seeds. I’m making a lot of food experiments, and a lot of extra food actually comes out of them. That’s another thing I can share.

I know it’s a very different mindset, to open a “free” shop but it’s a very sustainable way to go. For example, using leftover or wasted food, either from supermarkets or independent farmers. If they don’t sell it or give it away, they have to dump it. One of the realizations I had when I worked on a farm last year was that a lot of produce from the farm was hard to sell because they weren’t connected to any chain stores. In fact, most of the produce we grew went into the compost bin, for reuse a year later. I thought people would take the food home, but the staff couldn’t store that much food either. Even though we were a small farm, we were already having such a big issue. What about the bigger farms? They’re probably facing even bigger food waste issues.

Farm fresh produce for sale at Archestratus bookstore. Photo by Sheri Hui.

In Taiwan, they already have a program called Community Kitchen. They market and collect the food that doesn’t sell and make different meals every day to share with people in the community. You can just go in and sit at the dining table and eat for free. They don’t limit. It’s been running for years. The chefs can prepare recipes their way and share with people. I think that’s really cool – for people who like to cook and share. They can volunteer to be a chef in the Community Kitchen. Most people who eat there are elderly, since they have difficulty cooking for themselves every day; others are travelers or tourists that come from different places.


Zine: You spotlight food outside mainstream food culture, but when you cook with friends it seems like a communal event. What are your thoughts on sharing the food that is traditional and commonplace to your home culture?

Sheri: I made those foods following the agricultural (nónglì), or lunar, calendar in Taiwan, [that determines] what you eat in spring and what you eat on different holidays. They’re mostly rice-based recipes, but they have meaningful holidays [attached to them], so I follow that timeline in creating food. I think it’s quite meaningful, even when you don’t live on a farm or know [about] farm life in rural areas. I practice this each season. So for Dragonboat Festival I made zhongzi. It’s interesting to reflect on the traditional heritage of food in America. I’m in a different country with different people – and introduce them to something [that comes from] a different kind of time [calendar].

Workshops and the zine are organized by Slow + Sustain through the volunteer efforts of our contributors. Funding comes from both the contributors and the public.

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