Oriental Grocery Favorite 



Nov 28 2018


Brooklyn, NY

Stephanie H. Shih is a Brooklyn-based ceramist who explores Asian American identity through clay interpretations of grocery items. The ceramicist has created life-size painted clay Sriracha bottles, Pocky cartons, soy sauce gallons, and instant ramen as part of a series Shih conceived in 2018 called Oriental Grocery, to explore nostalgic foods of the Chinese American diaspora. Shih had been working as a copywriter but started throwing clay as a form of therapy to manage a chronic pain issue. A year later, her ceramics practice had become a full-time endeavor.

The project began with hand-folded dumplings; rolled and pleated like the real thing but crafted in creamy porcelain. From there, she moved on to Chinkiang black vinegar, the acidic component in a traditional Chinese dumpling sauce. Posting an image of the yellow-labeled bottle on Instagram immediately struck a chord. “People within the Chinese American diaspora responded to it so strongly because it’s a pretty iconic ingredient within our cuisine,” Shih recalls. “Black vinegar was the piece that really got me thinking about this idea of shared experience and shared nostalgia.”

In the three years since she started working on Oriental Grocery, Shih has cultivated an avid audience. She draws on her followers’ memories to crowdsource ingredients central to the Asian American culinary identity, with an emphasis on what she calls “everyday foods.” In July, she’ll open a solo show at Stanley’s in Los Angeles focused on Western groceries that have taken on significance in East Asian cuisines as a result of colonization and military presence, like Spam, Libby’s corned beef, and Vienna Sausages.

In an interview with Bon Appétit, Shih said, "I want my activism and my art… to be one entity. I think this recent surge in mutual aid and activism and donating money is really great, but the only way to sustain our communities is to make those practices part of our everyday lives. I use my art throughout the year to raise money for causes and my audience now knows that’s a really important part of my practice, they know that I don’t really separate the two."

Her work hopes to address Asian-American cultural identity, community, food insecurity, and racism.

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How does this project help?

Timeframe For change


I think the project is visible and though the objects are simple, they speak to a sense of nostalgia experienced by the Asian-American diaspora. I'm not sure that the project has had much of an impact in alleviating racial tensions or creating a definite sense of cultural identity, but the work is part of a larger movement.