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November 1, 2020

Strictly Dumpling Talks Food, Fitness, and Identity


Smiling even before the Zoom room filled, Mike Chen was excited to talk about his experiences as he patiently waited out Seoul’s two-week quarantine.

Courtesy of UChicago Taiwanese American Student Association

With over 3 million subscribers on YouTube, Mike Chen is an established celebrity in YouTube’s massive food community. Those who watch his videos know his greatest appeal lies in the positive energy he exudes no matter where he is or what food he is trying. That contagious positive energy shone brightly when UChicago’s Taiwanese American Student Association (TASA) called him for an online interview from his Seoul hotel room, even though it was 5 a.m. for him. Smiling even before the Zoom room filled, Chen was excited to talk about his experiences as he patiently waited out Seoul’s two-week quarantine. 

Unfazed by the pressure of 40+ college students eagerly waiting for his speech, Chen displayed no qualms about making himself the butt of a joke to ease the tension. He began with a funny story about how dry he found Cheerios as a kid, which led him down a deeper rabbit hole regarding how he had trouble finding his identity growing up in a community in the Midwest with little Asian representation. Eventually, he began to embrace his Asian heritage, stating, “You can’t feel fulfilled until you know who you are.” Encouraging the event attendees to go on study abroad trips and to explore as much of the world as they could while in college, Chen shared his thirst for adventure with every person in the Zoom room and gifted them all with a sneak peek into how his exploring made him the person he is today.  

Afterward, Chen took questions from the eager student audience, including one popular question asking him about his legendary YouTube tag: Strictly Dumpling. Hilariously, Chen shared how the name had come about rather unintentionally as he had nothing to eat but dumplings for a lengthy period of time. Eating packs of 100 dumplings for 10 dollars became a daily routine until he “started looking like a dumpling” himself. 

The questions ranged from serious queries about Chen’s career path to light-hearted jokes about his workout routine. Chen revealed that before his channel he had filmed weddings and worked for nonprofits. He shared a funny story about how his ex-girlfriend’s mom had opposed Chen as a suitable partner and how this had driven him to get hired at Morgan Stanley. He had also been recruited by the FBI in college, but had given up on that path after his gap year post-college. With so many choices, Chen eventually committed to making YouTube videos because the food vlogs he uploaded for fun had received increasingly more views and grew popular enough to support him full-time.

In response to a question about staying fit while eating so much, Chen shared his workout routine with his audience, revealing that he runs a 5K every day and brings his pull-up bar on trips abroad in an effort to keep healthy. This somehow led to an unexpected—but definitely not unwelcome—gun show, eliciting screams of joy from Chen’s female (and some male) fans due to his toned figure. 

The final few questions consisted of rapid-fire tidbits of information about Chen that further opened the door to his world. Chen prefers sleeping on his left side because it helps him digest better. While he normally travels alone, he sometimes takes his cameraman Ben with him to help film. The last meal he would eat before death is decidedly hotpot. The easiest meal to cook—in his opinion—is shredded potatoes. The best dish in Chicago is 100 percent Johnnie’s Beef’s famous Italian sandwich. Lastly, Chen invited his fans to email him in case they wanted to share a favorite food or reach him otherwise. With such witty banter and open dialogue, Chen truly made every fan in that Zoom room fall head-over-heels in love with him again.

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