When Beijing's iconic Forbidden City opened its Corner Tower Cafe last December, it joined a trend among museums in China: combining art collections with food experiences.
The Forbidden City's cafe lets visitors drink coffee in a palace-like environment. It also opened the Corner Tower Restaurant, where people can eat hot pots like emperors and empresses of old.
Decorations inside the Corner Tower Café. /Photo from Corner Tower Café
The coffee cup sold at the Corner Tower Café. /Photo from Corner Tower Café
Other museums have been active in launching themed food items as well. For example, Sanxingdui Museum in Sichuan made mooncakes and biscuits based on its symbolic bronze mask.
Mooncakes and biscuits based on the symbolic bronze mask at Sanxingdui Museum. /Photo from Sanxingdui Museum
Guangdong Museum makes cakes based on its collections and the supply even failed to meet demand since its release last December.
Cake made by Guangdong Museum. /Photo from the Guangdong Museum Weibo account
However, not every single product is popular. Take the hotpot at the Corner Tower Restaurant as an example. Some complained that taste was less than satisfactory – especially given the fairly steep price tag, often over 200 yuan (around 30 U.S. dollars) per person. Among other disputes like fire hazards, the restaurant suspended all hot pot services shortly after its opening.
Corner Tower Restaurant /China News Service Photo
The cultural meaning of the food items has also been a subject of controversy.
Lollipops made by National Museum of China, with designs inspired by its porcelain collections. /Photo from the National Museum of China Weibo account
“We have witnessed plenty of museum-themed foods and many become very popular. But I don't think they did a good job in terms of spreading museum culture,” said Ji Yong, president of Shaanxi Animation Industry Platform Management Center.
“Personally I support this kind of creative way but we should avoid commercial stunts [and] just making use of the museum to make money,” Ji added in an interview with Chinese Business Gazette.