PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANNA WU PHOTOGRAPHY
On December 4, TaiwaneseAmerican.org founder Ho Chie Tsai gathered round Taiwanese American foodies, media personalities, and community builders for a special “ja ban bae” (呷飽未 / 吃飽沒) tasting menu at Emeryville’s Good to Eat Dumplings. Formerly an acclaimed and deeply beloved pop-up (SF Chronicle refers to owners Tony Tung and Angie Lin as “dumpling stars“), Good to Eat opened its first permanent location at 1298 65th Street earlier this year.
In August, they were profiled by the New York Times as “warm hosts who take every question from diners as an opportunity to deepen the conversation about Taiwan and its culture.” In a room full of enamored Taiwanese Americans who have made such conversations a central part of their lives and pursuits (both personal and professional), Tung and Lin didn’t have to start from scratch.
Around the table, diners and hosts delved into thoughtful discussions about the importance of integrity-forward sourcing: the first dish, Taiwan Golden Kimchi, features pickled Napa cabbage sourced from Radical Family Farms, founded by a Korean Chinese-Taiwanese family; and among the guests was Lillian Lin, co-founder of Yun Hai, who also debuted their permanent storefront this year in Brooklyn to offer goods directly from artisans, farms, and soy sauce breweries in Taiwan.
The “ja ban bae” tasting menu was developed as a “gastronomic journey through the picturesque mountain villages and the bustling city alleys of Taiwan.” As it is oft and exhaustively chronicled, “the complexity of Taiwanese identity makes it both unique and hard to delineate” – both on census documents and in categorizing cuisines. Like its people, Taiwanese dishes brighten and bloom when afforded context: each intersection of ingredients represents a unique lineage; each pairing a negotiation, concession, or understanding between individuals and histories.
Taiwanese Home Cooking FB group founders Leslie Lai and Vince Huang were also in attendance and shared how this much-debated identity crisis can become an administrative philosophy: what is a home-cooked Taiwanese dish, and what makes it Taiwanese? In agreement, Hearts in Taiwan podcasters (and cousins!) Angela Yu and Annie Wang chimed in; they had interviewed another member of Taiwanese Home Cooking just a few weeks ago for their “Taiwanese Home Cooking with Joy Huang” episode.
Sitting nearby, guest Frankie Gaw had turned an iteration of this very question into a dazzling debut; Gaw had briefly interrupted his own cookbook tour for “First Generation: Recipes from My Taiwanese-American Home” to attend the dinner: “I wanted to write a cookbook to celebrate the first-generation Asian American experience. To reflect on an identity that reflects the resilience of the immigrant spirit through recipes and stories. Dishes like Lap Cheong Corn Dogs, Honey-Mustard Glazed Taiwanese Popcorn Chicken, Stir-Fried Rice Cakes with Bolognese, Cincinnati Chili with Hand Pulled Noodles, Bao Egg and Soy Glazed Bacon Sandwich, and Lionshead Big Mac exemplify the creations born out of growing up with feet in two worlds.”
The meal ended with an off-the-menu personal delivery by Kimberly Yang of Formosa Chocolates, who brought a Taiwanese American trifecta of bonbons: rose lychee, Kavalan Whiskey, and a delicate Kintsugi-inspired confection infused with another Taiwanese American enterprise, Formosa Coffee.
Guests were also given goodie bags with other tokens of and from each other: Taiwan Head Brewers craft beer toted straight from Taiwan by Taiwan Bento’s Willy Wang; TWRL plant-based milk tea from co-founder Olivia Chen (who proudly recently renamed their “Original” flavor to “Taiwan style black milk tea”); postcards with early illustrations from author-illustrator Julia Kuo; tea samples from Dae Tea, a fifth-generation tea business telling their story in the United States for the first time; and Yunhai Shop’s nyonya sauce, produced by Ewe and Yishan of Mama Nyonya, a husband and wife team based in Central Taiwan.
In a relatively small community like ours, these connections are both meaningful and mighty — not just business transactions but mutual offers of hope and encouragement.
Back row, left to right:
Willy Wang (Taiwan Bento) / Vince Huang (Taiwanese Home Cooking FB group) / Peter Chu (Taiwanese American Professionals-SF) / Lillian Lin (Yun Hai Shop) / Stephanie Lin (Emmy Award-winning KRON 4 news anchor/journalist) / Olivia Chen (TWRL co-founder) / Frankie Gaw (FIRST GENERATION, blogger & cookbook author) / Alex Chyu (event co-host)
Middle row, left to right:
Elizabeth Wang (TaiwaneseAmerican.org Board of Directors) / Kimberly Yang (Formosa Chocolates) / Leona Chen (TaiwaneseAmerican.org Editor-in-Chief) / Annie Wang & Angela Yu (Hearts in Taiwan) / Leslie Lai (Taiwanese Home Cooking FB group) / Angie Lin (Good to Eat co-founder)
Front row, left to right:
Alan Cheng (Hong Kong activist) / Anna Wu (event co-host & photographer, TaiwaneseAmerican.org Executive Director) / Ho Chie Tsai (TaiwaneseAmerican.org founder, Taiwanese American Foundation president) / Tony Tung (Good to Eat co-founder) / Kristina Lin (TaiwaneseAmerican.org Executive Admin) / Grace Hwang Lynch (TW food culture writer, Kòo-Sū storyteller project lead)
Plan your next visit to Good to Eat Dumplings here.