Vegan Foods

Vegan Dim Sum Spot Jade Rabbit Shuts Down to Become a Meal Kit Company

In 2017, Cyrus Ichiza convinced countless Portlanders to reevaluate their relationship with fake meats with the launch of his groundbreaking vegan Asian restaurant Ichiza Kitchen. Made from non-GMO fermented soy protein, Ichiza’s fake meats were essential to dishes like Filipino adobo stew; the tapioca bouncing shrimp and shu mai tapioca eggs mimicked the look, flavors and textures of the traditional version. While some chefs view meat substitutes as something “bad” to avoid, Ichiza fully embraces fake meats as they have been rooted in Asian culture for centuries.

” I do not think so [those who avoid meat substitutes] are blindly racist, but they don’t realize that these comments hurt us. It’s sort of elitist,” he says. “Really, it’s about the texture that goes into the food.”

During the pandemic, Ichiza has transformed her famous vegan restaurant – formerly known as Ichiza Kitchen – again and again. Over the past two years, the chef launched a Charleston-style brunch pop-up as a pandemic hub, moved the restaurant to Killingsworth, then rebranded Jade Rabbit with a move into a commissioner’s kitchen. But this spring, Jade Rabbit — Portland’s only all-vegan dim sum house — closed its doors.

In an Instagram post on April 21, Ichiza announced that Jade Rabbit would be closing due to rising food and supply costs, ongoing risk of exposure to COVID-19, and difficulties serving take-out food. and deliver. Instead of leaving the food world, Ichiza transformed her business into something more adaptable to the current culinary climate: Jade Rabbit became a meal kit company, with handmade bawan bunnies (food dumplings street food), shu mai and chili oil wontons for customers. to warm up at home. For Ichiza, making her food accessible to a wider population allows her to further her goal of championing her own multicultural identity and birthright to cooking through delicious vegan cuisine.

Cyrus Ichiza holding a rabbit-shaped bawan dumpling steamer
Waz Wu / EPDX

Born in Guam, Ichiza spent his childhood traveling the islands between the convents of Taiwan and the Philippines before landing in northern California, where his step-grandfather was stationed. Ichiza, whose mother is Filipino and whose father is Chamorro Chinese, faced the complexities of a multicultural identity from an early age. “I wasn’t Filipino enough to hang out with the cool Filipino kids. I never learned Tagalog,” he says. Meanwhile, her German step-grandfather had a different perspective: “He didn’t have a Filipino grandson. He had an American grandson,” Ichiza explains. The chef’s connection to Filipino culture was through the cooking of his grandmother Lola Fely – the same grandmother who helped open Ichiza Kitchen.

When Ichiza was living in Charleston, South Carolina, he unofficially audited her boyfriend’s culinary school curriculum. There he rooted himself as a queer activist in Charleston’s food community. “I was the drag queen cooking for everyone at 2 a.m.,” he says. Ichiza was best known for her cookies, which later became a staple of Brunch PDX. While he found an ally in Charleston, Ichiza says it took years to unpack the ingrained racism he suffered. “I have often been mistaken for a Mexican,” he says. The chef yearned to be seen for his Filipino-Chinese-Chamorro heritage.

After Charleston, Ichiza arrives in San Francisco. He says that decision was incredibly reaffirming: Not only did he connect with kindred spirits in the Bay Area’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community, but he also met his mentor, the woman who founded Layonna Vegetarian Health Food, Oakland. Learning the art of hand-making dim sum connected Ichiza to her Chinese roots; although dim sum is commonly associated with Cantonese cuisine, many dim sum dishes originated in China before making their way to Hong Kong.

Between watching “Auntie Layonna” veganize dishes with fake Taiwanese meats and impressing non-vegans with the food he cooked whenever he traveled, the inspiration to open a vegan restaurant was born. The chef saw his calling in it.

“If you can get a meat eater to think, ‘I would be vegan if all vegan food was like this,’ that’s a win,” Ichiza says. “I’m supposed to do this!” Yes, it is my destiny!

Ichiza moved to Portland in 2015, then opened Ichiza Kitchen in Goose Hollow in 2017 with then-partner Ryan Wythe. At first, diners could enjoy kimchi-tofu gyoza, vegan pork and shrimp pancit, Lanzhou “beef” noodle soup, and traditional Mao Xie “Hairy Crab” oolong tea set under hanging lanterns. in the intimate bistro with lo-fi beats. background. The chef celebrated his multicultural heritage with specials for Philippine History Month and Lunar New Year.

A vegetarian since the age of 15, Ichiza became vegan when he opened the restaurant, in solidarity with its mission to raise awareness of veganism through food. Ichiza says that while he doesn’t want to devalue animal rights activists who spread images of slaughterhouses, taking a direct approach to exposing violence against animals, he thinks the delicious vegan food is what encourages people to pause and re-evaluate their choices – especially when it comes to the environmental impact of a meat-based diet. “My passion is to help fix the environment through veganism,” he says.

A photo of a steamer containing four Jade Rabbit vegan siu mai dumplings topped with tapioca egg

Jade Rabbit’s vegan siu mai topped with tapioca roe
Waz Wu / EPDX

When the pandemic hit, Ichiza kept the business going with takeout and delivery — even doing the deliveries himself. It was a necessary pivot, but he felt it didn’t do the cooking justice, as dim sum is supposed to be served freshly steamed. In 2021, Ichiza renamed the restaurant Jade Rabbit – named after a character from Mid-Autumn Festival mythology who lives on the moon and serves herb dumplings. Instead of the traditional oversized meatball shape, Ichiza fashioned her bawan into bunnies as a tribute to the noble character in Chinese folklore. The chef then added other flavors, like Filipino halo-halo bunnies, and began exploring how it could fit into something beyond the restaurant.

This spring, Ichiza put that plan into motion, closing the restaurant and transferring Jade Rabbit entirely to a packaged goods business with nationwide shipping. He sees the change as an opportunity to reach a wider audience and meet years of customer demand, while continuing his mission to serve vegan Asian cuisine. Jade Rabbit 2.o offers dim sum, such as cheung fun and shu mai, as well as a handful of standout entrees from Ichiza Kitchen, such as mapo tofu and slow-cooked 13-herb noodle soup. Dishes come with traditional reheating instructions using steam, microwave or stovetop.

Meanwhile, the Ichiza Kitchen name will live on in the form of pop-ups. Aimsir Distilling’s Emerald Room pop-ups offer dim sum and bowls accompanied by spirits and cocktails like lychee martini. After two years of takeout and delivery, the chef says it feels good to be serving food on real plates again. Those who miss Ichiza’s dining experience of snacking through a variety of dim sum served on ceramic plates can watch Instagram for pop-up ads.

Although the restaurant has closed, its legacy of expressing Ichiza’s multicultural identity and maintaining the traditions of Asian cuisine will continue. Jade Rabbit has made its mark as Portland’s only all-vegan dim sum house; now, with vegan dim sum and fake meats available to ship nationwide, Ichiza can make its mark far beyond Portland.

“Not everyone will change in the same way,” he says, “but delicious food is what gets people considering — not converting — to veganism.”