Grandma’s stir-fry, grandpa’s egg rolls, mom’s mapo tofu: At a Bok Choy pop-up, the dishes may rotate but no matter what you get, you’ll most likely be tasting some of the Yee family’s recipes. Only something’s different about them: Those dishes have all gone vegan.
“Chinese food—and Asian food in general—has a longstanding history of being vegetarian and vegan,” chef and co-founder Jen Yee says. “Soy and cooking with dried mushrooms bring a lot of flavor, and I think that Chinese food—when you look at what people eat at home—is usually a lot of vegetables and they flavor it with just a little bit with meat. And we live in California and the produce is beautiful—why not do it?”
One of L.A.’s newest pop-ups gives Chinese classics and family recipes the vegan treatment, and you can taste it next week. If you’ve been plugged in to the West Coast’s most lauded openings of the last few years, you might already be familiar with Bok Choy’s chef-founders, Jen Yee and Jeff Vance. Yee’s baked goods can be found at Konbi in Echo Park, where she makes their famous croissants as pastry chef, and in Chinatown coffeehouse Endorffeine, while Vance, a Seattle kitchen vet, also spent time at Konbi but made his mark up north launching No Anchor, a Beard Award semifinalist for “Best New Restaurant.”
Together they’re building set menus that allow them to get creative with some of their favorite dishes, as well as adapt some of the recipes Yee’s family developed settling into restaurant life in Columbus, Ohio. After emigrating from Hong Kong, Yee’s grandparents took over a restaurant by the name of Golden Phoenix, and her father and his four siblings grew up stir-frying, roasting and ferrying Chinese-American dishes to a mid-’80s clientele still beginning to explore the cuisine. Now those recipes are inspiring Yee and Vance for yet another audience, and with a new take.
Their plum sauce? A Golden Phoenix classic. The egg rolls, which you’ll be able to taste on Tuesday? The original recipe called for pork and pork crackling, but Yee and Vance—who is vegan himself—experiment with mushrooms to coax out those earthy and salty flavors. The stir-fry served at their first pop-up utilized eight vegetables, a nod to Yee’s grandmother’s dish and the lucky number eight, while the mapo tofu is more of a Vance creation but includes peas and carrots—less traditional, but the way Yee’s mom has always made it.
The pair launched their Bok Choy pop-ups in January, first at Steep, and now they’re making their way to the other end of Chinatown for a set takeout menu that includes mapo tofu, rice and two egg rolls for $16.
The pop-up is cropping up during a new wave of Chinese and Chinese-American cooking: Mom-inspired recipes at Woon; cheesy bao, crackly-skinned porchetta, and Impossible Foods vegan dumplings at Rice Box; and, most recently, the Cantonese-classics–focused Pearl River Deli, which is hosting next week’s Bok Choy appearance. An all-vegan concept is relatively new within the space, but there’s more than enough room for it and, and, given the breadth of Chinese cuisine, there’s no shortage of inspiration for Vance and Yee.
“In America we view Asian food as Pan-Asian, and Pan-Chinese food is more specific, but not really,” Yee says. “China is just as diverse as America in terms of regional cooking.”
Bok Choy pops up next Tuesday, May 26, at 5pm. Find the pop-up serving takeout set dinners from within Pearl River Deli, which is located in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza at 727 N Broadway.
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