Mother Shanghai publishes a “cookbook for our age” complete with saliva-inspired brush

Created by the team during two months of lockdown, the recipe collection takes inspiration from Chinese ration books and propaganda with a dash of contemporary colours and chaos.

29 April 2020


Many people in lockdown are becoming keener and more resourceful chefs, including the creative team at Mother Shanghai, who have turned their collective culinary efforts into a free-to-download book called Gotta Cook. Inspired by ration books and propaganda, with a specially made “saliva-inspired” brush, not to mention neon-toned illustrations of the team and ingredients involved, the publication is a record of the team’s two months in lockdown.

The team says cooking became their “collective salvation during isolation,” sharing recipes for fun at first, until the idea for a book came about. Only when the creatives started designing Gotta Cook did they realise “how much this felt like a survival guide because of how limited our resources (and skills) were.” Hence, looking to ration books for visual cues. “It was something we could borrow from and make our own ," they explain, “contemporary colours reflecting our primal urge to break free from the confines of our homes. Hunger, frustration, fear, hunger, and hunger. All of our emotions exploded into one book: Ration books gone wild.”

In terms of the typography, the team settled on Rongel, a sans serif that also served as a “recall to the old-time printing press, with an anti-modern twist”. This was texturised to look like the hand-printed government ration books, “flaws included”. The same treatment was given to the Chinese type, too.

In the backgrounds of the pages are illustrations: caricatures of the team/chefs and their “unique physical features, down to our tiny idiosyncrasies,” used as a sign-off to each recipe. There’s also drawings of the ingredients used in each recipe such as quail eggs, perilla leaves, pork ribs and frozen wontons dotted around the pages.

Asked to explain the “saliva-brush” further, the team get a little more abstract: “The creative team was seriously hungry when they made this. Long, tedious hours of being locked in their house and searching for the right brush eventually evolved into pouring hunger and frustration into this end result. It’s as true to form as it gets. You could call it a very passive aggressive stroke of genius.”

Overall the project was cathartic and bonding for the team, isolated together in their hunger and newfound kitchen habits. “We felt the need to make something that truly reflected what was going on in our heads: Chaos. We didn’t have the luxury of selecting our best recipes, these were one-and-done submissions because… well, because we had no idea when we would ever be able to leave our homes again. Sound dramatic? We wish. The reality was, we were mentally and physically trapped and you can feel that anxiety splattered on every page. There’s nothing pretty about these times and that’s why we wanted to bookmark this particular moment in history with something that has nothing pretty to say. And as far as our biggest lesson? An air fryer is a great investment.”

Gotta Cook features 14 recipes (one for each day of quarantine) and is free to download and will be printed once Shanghai printers reopen.

GalleryMother Shanghai: Gotta Cook

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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