The interior of Ming Kitchen (Photo/CGTN)
When people discuss popular foods online, what is the first thing that springs to your mind? As today's living standards improve, the pursuit of delicious food goes beyond the taste buds. In recent years, sensational food that is as visually appealing as it is tasty is making waves online, and carving out a piece of the market.
But will this kind of food become a new trend in the food industry? How far will it go in the future?
Mudflow cakes, also known as "nishiliu cakes" in Chinese, have gone viral on many platforms like Instagram or Douyin. When we first entered Ming Kitchen in Beijing's bustling Sanlitun area, we were excited by many exquisite cakes and drinks on offer.
The cream cheese on top of the mudflow cakes drops like lava when people cut it slowly, which makes it one of the most eye-catching desserts available. “At first, the mudflow cakes drew my eyes online; I felt curious and came here to have a try,” customer Chen Long told CGTN, adding that a store's prices and atmosphere are key factors determining whether or not she returns.
Mudflow cakes are a must-try item at Ming Kitchen. (Photo/CGTN)
Ming Kitchen owner Wu Mingxuan also mentioned that since they are unable to compete with the reputations of big brands, they have to win customers with visually stimulating food.
Another eye-catching and creative product at Ming Kitchen (Photo/CGTN)
However, some consumers are no longer satisfied simply by the bizarre appearance of the food itself, they want more of an experience. Therefore, some popular stores are marketing their products as "packages," with intriguing interior designs and themes that take customers on a journey into an unknown world.
Dramatic lights that change colors and a white minimalist interior give the feeling of a laboratory environment. (Photo/CGTN)
Blank Lab, located on Sanlitun's China Red Street, is a typical example. The moment you step inside this inconspicuous store, you will feel as if you've just been transported into a futuristic laboratory by a time machine. The fluorescent lighting throughout the entire shop keeps changing colors, leading you into a mysterious experimental zone that appears to be straight out of the latest sci-fi thriller. Blank Lab became an instant destination for youngsters to have their pictures taken and posted on various social media platforms like Instagram or WeChat.
"Experimental Subject No.2" in Blank Lab (Photo/CGTN)
To match with the lab theme, all cocktails on the menu are named after experimental subject numbers and use laboratory flasks as containers. The bubbling pink drink in the flask with a billowing cloud of smoke is one of the most popular cocktails ? "Experimental Subject No.3." It contains vodka, yogurt and watermelon juice, and is popular among the female clientele.
Another dessert that is as tasty as it is visually stimulating is the mousse cake in the shape of a steamed bun. Once the waiter pours water onto the dish, because of the dry ice underneath, the dessert is surrounded by rising smoke just like a magic show.
Mousse cake in the shape of steamed bun (Photo/CGTN)
But if the food isn't enough, the waiters/waitresses are all dressed in white lab coats. Different kinds of experimental equipment are scattered throughout the store and there is even a big board with complicated chemical equations scribbled on it to simulate the real environment of a lab.
A bartender in a white lab coat makes a cocktail. (Photo/CGTN)
Jimmy Wu, a photographer for 10 years in the advertising industry, is one of the store's owners and designers. He wanted to create a store that could self-market by creating a perfect and cool spot for taking pictures for social media, and in the meantime, save a lot on advertising fees. So he came up with the idea of Blank Lab because it is like a space with infinite potential.
"I knew of stores like this on Douyin," said customer Tian Xiaoxi, 22. "Because the food looks fancy and the interior decoration is perfect for taking photos, I wanna give the novel things a try."
The interior decoration in Blank Lab (Photo/CGTN)
However, Wu expressed his concern for sensational stores like this. "The biggest problem with these popular food stores is that most of their customers are one-off customers. That means they only come here once to show that they've visited the place, but there is a small chance that they'll come for the second time," said Wu. "It's like a pop-up store."
To make sure that his pop-up store will keep flashing among targeted consumers, he emphasized that the most important thing is to keep updating its appealing elements and menus, so that it can stay attractive constantly.
Blank Lab cocktails (Photo/CGTN)
As for the future potential of this type of cuisine, Tong Ling, secretary general of the China Cuisine Association, suggested that as the consumption demand upgrades, sensational foods that are visually alluring will attract more youngsters, whose ages are usually under 30.
"The popular, visually creative food online matches the public's consumption psychology, and the reasonable price would also be important for the youngsters," she said. "But the quality of the food is what really matters if it wants to keep its popularity and stand out in the future market."