Chinatown Sweets and Pastries 華埠甜蜜蜜

This exhibit celebrates sweet stories and memories of San Francisco Chinatown’s candies, baked goods and desserts.


Film by Emma Marie Chiang with assistance from Martin Peter Bustamante

Produced by Chinatown Community Development Center



January 24th, 2019 - Sunday, February 24th, 2019.


About the show

Chinatown Sweets and Pastries 華埠 : 甜蜜蜜, showcases the role that Chinatown’s sweets and pastries play for residents in their daily lives and on special occasions through the work of five artists: Emma Marie Chiang 蔣智明 with assistance from Martin Peter Bustamante; Tiffany Hsieh 謝沛婷 and Brandon Ly 李芳傑; and Vida K. 

This exhibit focuses on some of San Francisco Chinatown’s most vibrant and unique culinary traditions, featuring AA Bakery 永興餅家, Dragon Papa 龍鬚, Garden Bakery 嘉頓餅家, iCafe 幸福餅家, Ming Ming Trading Company 永永食物市, and New Asia 新亞洲大酒樓. These places sell everything from dragon’s beard candy and egg tarts, to red bean buns, candied fruit, and sweet soup dumplings, eaten on Chinese holidays.

These foods are more than just sustenance or some sugary indulgence for the soul – these foods help provide Chinese Americans with strong sense of identity and community built around shared meals and a little bit of sweetness.  

Starting in the mid-19th century, Chinese immigrants began creating businesses primarily serving other Chinese immigrants. During the Chinese exclusion era, Eastern Bakery, now the oldest bakery in Chinatown, created their own fillings before imported products became widely available when trade normalized with China in the 1970s. More than Chinese food for Chinese people, Chinatown was also home to Western sweets where Chinese Americans could eat American desserts in their own neighborhood, free from the worry of harassment by others. Today, these businesses have expanded to serve customers from all walks of life, whether they be Chinatown residents popping in for a quick snack, or visiting tourists on the prowl for something new.

Chinatown’s sweets and pastries shops play an important role for residents as gathering places in their daily lives as well, helping to keep Chinese traditions alive on holidays and special occasions. iCafe 幸福餅家, a 43-year-old business operated by Nobo Chiu 趙浩源 and Hannah Zhang 張曉燕for the last five years, features a wide range of baked goods, including specialty items available only during the holidays. Hannah Zhang shares, “My hope is that the Hong Kong style pastries we make is an expression of the heart and brings joy to customers. When Chinatown residents taste our pastries, I hope the experience will make them feel at home here through familiar tastes that reminds them of home in China where they come from.”

Today, Chinatown bakeries and stores are a vital launching pad, employing newly arrived immigrants who make delicious and familiar fare without the command of English necessary to succeed at other jobs.  Owner of AA Bakery 永興餅家, Henry Chen recalls, “The previous owner of AA Bakery mentored me. After he left, I took over the business and, through the years, have taken joy in mentoring other young immigrant workers who’ve since learned the craft and opened their own bakeries. This is what makes Chinatown so vital, the ability to pass on cultural traditions through local business. It all starts in Chinatown as a home base.” Local businesses connect families with the tastes of their upbringings, fostering pride in their Chinese American identities.

The exhibit features the work of five artists who have captured the spirit of San Francisco’s Chinatown as a site of vibrant and unique culinary traditions. The photographs and film are the work of Emma Marie Chiang 蔣智明 with assistance from Martin Peter Bustamante. Emma Marie Chiang shares, “Flaky supple layers of dan tat, shiny golden moon cakes, and coconut dusted mango mochi are just a few of the Chinatown Sweets and Pastries that entice the eye and lure mouth-watering patrons inside the nostalgic Chinatown bakeries featured in this exhibit. My hope is that this exhibit bridges generational and cultural barriers and helps Chinese-American families, immigrants, and visitors learn about the significance of these Chinatown Sweets and Pastries."

Tiffany Hsieh 謝沛婷 and Brandon Ly 李芳傑 created the exhibition’s graphics and lighted sign installation inspired by the fortune cookies, longevity peach buns, and boba tea that you can find in the neighborhood. They state, “As visual people, we're molded by our upbringings and the imagery we constantly surround ourselves with. Making these pieces allowed us to pay tribute to some of the most iconic yet overlooked parts of our community here in Chinatown.”

Vida K gathered poignant stories from community members which visitors can hear. She says "I'm honored to have facilitated discussion and conversation at 41 Ross with community members around our food history. This sparks the question: what foods and its stories we consume today will evolve, be lost, remembered, or cherished in the next decade?" 

Chinatown Sweets and Pastries 華埠 : 甜蜜蜜will be on view from Thursday, January 24 through Sunday, February 24, 2019. This exhibit is in association with Spotlight Chinatown, a neighborhood marketing program supported in part by the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) and San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA). The 41 Ross gallery is generously supported by The Kresge Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

This exhibit is in association with Spotlight Chinatown, a program by the Chinatown Community Development Center, supporting Chinatown commerce and community. The program is supported by the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (SFMTA), and Chinese Chamber of Commerce. This exhibit is generously supported by The Kresge Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). 41 Ross is run through a partnership between Chinatown Community Development Center and the Chinese Culture Center.   

Photos by Emma Marie Chiang


Emma Marie Chiang is an independent visual storyteller and proud San Francisco native. Emma focuses on documenting stories of displaced communities and cares about the rights of marginalized people. She believes storytelling has the power to plant seeds of curiosity, dialogue, inclusion, reconciliation and hope between individuals and communities. She received her B.A. in photojournalism, and minor in Holistic Health at San Francisco State University, Spring 2016. She has interned at the San Francisco Business Times, San Francisco Examiner, SF Weekly and participated in the Missouri Photo Workshop, Cuba68. Her work has been featured online and in print for various publications such as the AP, SF Chronicle, SF Gate, BuzzFeed News,, El Tecolote, San Francisco State Magazine, among others. 

Tiffany Hsieh and Brandon Ly the team behind Black Bean Grocery, an art and design practice that draws from their collective immigrant heritages. Through their artworks, apparel, and home goods, they are highlighting a cultural blend of the traditional and the modern in the everyday - an approach they affectionately call ‘Made in Asian America.’

Vida K. was raised by a Toisan matriarch and the streets of Chinatown. She is an artist and educator. Her education comes from growing up in her family’s corner store, her work with youth in San Francisco, and elders who mentor her growth. As a visual storyteller, her work centers her communities’ stories alongside a legacy of cultural workers, whose labor keeps her communities thriving. Her art practice is inspired by movements led by women of color for racial, gender, and economic justice. Vida’s work addresses the complexities and intersections of survival, healing, and memory. She uses illustration, photography, and mixed media as tools for storytelling and is a member of Appendix, an artist collective of multi-ethnic API womxn artists in the Bay. Vida believes storytelling is one of the most fundamental ways to decolonize her communities’ hearts and minds for collective liberation.

Photos from the exhibit

Featured Bakeries