Lunchable at the Library: Chinese Menus and San Francisco’s Chinatown

Chef Martin Yan Donates His Collection

Display case of Chinese cookbooks and menu items
A display of Chinese cookbooks and menus is on display at the UC Davis Library through Oct. 6. (Jo Miles)

Lunchable is a regular feature of UC Davis Arts Blog that recommends an art attraction that can be viewed during a lunch or other short break. 

As summer wanes and the fall quarter begins, the UC Davis Peter J. Shields Library will soon be buzzing with students, faculty and staff. Aside from studying and charging their electronics, visitors can partake of not only tons of art on the walls and in special alcoves, but exhibits in cases, usually off to the left of the entrance.

On display now through Oct. 6 is “Recipes to Remember; Chinese cookbooks and San Francisco Chinatown.” The UC Davis Library holds the second largest collection of English language Chinese cookbooks in the United States. The display might make you hungry and eager to go get some Chinese food, so you might want to eat first so you can enjoy the collection.

In the case carrying this display are colorful recipes, takeout menus and newspaper clippings. Many of these feature Martin Yan, a globally renowned Chinese-American chef, TV personality, active partner of the San Francisco Chinatown Community and UC Davis alumnus, as noted in one of the blurbs in the display case.

Recipes are about more than just food; They provide a way for us to share our family history and take a glimpse into generations of cultural traditions. This display lets you take part in that. Included in the signage on the left-hand side of the display case is a QR code that allows you to share your recipes with the community. Catch it before it’s gone; Oct. 6 is the last day to view this exhibit.

This exhibit, curated by graduate students Benjamin Fong and Tianyun Hua, helps to illustrate the present-day value of libraries’ special collections and archival materials and their contribution to public scholarship. There is a related podcast too, in partnership between the library and the UC Davis Humanities Institute.

Yan gives his collection to the library

Additionally, Yan recently gave his collection of nearly 3,000 cookbooks, his first wok, thousands of photographs and other media to the UC Davis Library. The materials are now available for students and researchers to study, adding new perspectives on Asian food and culture to the library’s world-class collections on food and wine.

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Arts Blog Editor: Karen Nikos-Rose,

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