Vegetarian dim jade rabbit closes in to become a meal set act

In 2017, Cyrus Ichiza convinced countless Portlanders to reevaluate their relationships with fake meat with the debut of his flagship Asian vegetarian restaurant Ichiza Kitchen. Made with non-GMO fermented soy protein, Ichiza mock meat was a must for dishes like Filipino adobo stew; The tapioca-based shrimp and tapioca roe in chow mai mimic the look, flavor and texture of the traditional version. While some chefs consider meat substitutes a “bad” thing to avoid, Ishiza fully embraces mock meat because it is rooted in Asian culture for centuries.

“I don “t think so [those who avoid meat substitutes] Blind racist, but they don’t realize these comments are hurtful to us. It’s elitist in a way. “Really, it’s about the texture that goes into the food.”

Over the course of the pandemic, Ichiza has changed its popular vegan restaurant — formerly known as Ichiza Kitchen — over and over again. Within the past two years, the chef has launched a Charleston-style pop-up as the focal destination for the pandemic, relocating the restaurant to Killingsworth, then renamed Jade Rabbit with the move to the Commissary Kitchen. But this spring, Jade Rabbit—Portland’s only fully vegetarian dim sum home—closed its doors.

In an Instagram post on April 21, Ichiza announced that Jade Rabbit will be closing due to an increase in food and supply costs, the ongoing risks of exposure to COVID-19, and catering challenges through takeout and delivery. Rather than go out of the world of food, Ichiza has changed his company to something more adaptable to the current culinary climate: Jade Rabbit has become a meal group company, with handcrafted bawan (Taiwanese street food dumplings) rabbits, shu mai, and chile oil wontons for customers To reheat the house. For Ichiza, making his food more accessible to a larger population allows him to continue to pursue his goal: defending his multicultural identity and his right to the kitchen through delicious vegetarian food.

Cyrus Ichiza holds a steamer pot of bunny rabbit
Waz Wu / EPDX

Born in Guam, Ichiza spent his childhood moving between monasteries in Taiwan and the Philippines before reaching Northern California, where his grandfather sat. Ichiza, whose mother is a Filipina and his father is a Chinese Chamorro, faced the complexities of a multicultural identity at a young age. “I wasn’t Filipino enough to hang out with the cool Filipino kids. I never learned Tagalog.” Meanwhile, his German grandfather had a different view: “He didn’t have a Filipino grandson. He had an American grandson,” says Ichiza. The chef’s connection to Filipino culture was through his grandmother’s cooking, Lola Philly—the same grandmother who helped open Ichiza’s Kitchen.

When Ishiza lived in Charleston, South Carolina, he informally revised his friend’s culinary school program. There, he set his roots as a queer activist in the Charleston food community. “I was the drag queen who cooks for everyone at two in the morning,” he says. Ichiza was best known for the biscuit, which later became a hot ingredient at Brunch PDX. While he found an ally in Charleston, Ichiza said it took years to dismantle the ingrained racism he experienced. “I’ve often been mistaken for a Mexican,” he says. The chef longed to be seen from his Filipino-Chinese-Chamorro heritage.

After Charleston, Ichiza landed in San Francisco. He says the move was incredibly reassuring: Not only did he connect with sister spirits in the Bay Area’s Asian-American and Pacific Islander community, he also met his mentor, the woman who founded the vegan grocery Layonna Vegetarian Health Food, in Oakland. He linked learning the art of making dim sum to its 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” vegan dishes with Taiwanese mock meat, and dazzling non-vegetarians with the food he cooked whenever he traveled, the inspiration was born to open a vegan restaurant. The chef saw it as his calling.

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

Ichiza moved to Portland in 2015, then opened Ichiza Kitchen in Goose Hollow in 2017 with his partner at the time, Ryan Wythe. In the early days, diners could enjoy kimchi-tofu gyoza, vegetarian pork, shrimp pancit, Lanzhou “beef” noodle soup, and serve traditional Mao Xie “Hairy Crab” oolong tea under lanterns hanging in the intimate bistro with a fiery fiesta. Lo-fi ringtones in the background. The chef celebrated his multicultural heritage with specials for Filipino History Month and Lunar New Year.

Ichiza has been a vegetarian since he was 15, and became a vegetarian when he opened the restaurant, in solidarity with his mission to raise awareness of vegetarianism through food. Ishiza says that while he doesn’t want to downplay the animal rights activists who circulate slaughterhouse footage, and take a straightforward approach to denouncing animal violence, he feels that delicious plant-based food is what encourages people to stop and re-evaluate their choices — especially in terms of impact Ecological meat-based diet. “My passion is to help fix the environment by taking a vegan approach,” he says.

Picture of a steamer carrying four vegetable siu mai dumplings and a jade rabbit covered in tapioca

Jade Rabbit Vegan Siu Mai With Tapioca Roe
Waz Wu / EPDX

When the pandemic hit, Ichiza kept his business based on takeout and delivery—he even personally did the delivery himself. It was a necessary centerpiece, but felt it didn’t do it justice in the kitchen, where fresh steamed dim sum is meant to be served. In 2021, Ichiza renamed the restaurant to Jade Rabbit — named after a character in Mid-Autumn Festival myths who lives on the moon and serves grassy dumplings. Instead of the traditional shape resembling huge meatballs, Ichiza coined the baan in rabbits as a tribute to a noble character in Chinese folklore. The chef later added other flavors, such as the Filipino halo rabbit, and began exploring how he could adapt to something outside of the restaurant.

This spring, Ichiza put that plan into action, shutting down the restaurant and completely transforming Jade Rabbit into a packaged merchandise company with nationwide shipping. The change is seen as an opportunity to reach a larger audience and meet customer demand for many years, while continuing its mission of serving vegetarian Asian cuisine. Jade Rabbit 2.o carries dim sum, such as Cheung fun and shu mai, as well as a handful of Ichiza Kitchen premium entrees, such as mapo tofu and 13-herb slow-cooker noodle soup. Dishes come with instructions for reheating with steam, microwave or traditional stovetop.

Meanwhile, Ichiza’s kitchen name will continue in the form of pop-ups. Pop-ups in Aimsir Distilling’s Emerald Room are lightly dimmed and bowls paired with spirit flights and cocktails such as the lychee martini. After two years of takeout and delivery, the chef says it’s good to be served on real plates again. Those who miss the experience of eating Ichiza by nibbling at the range of dim sum dishes served on earthenware plates can watch Instagram pop-ups.

Although the restaurant is closed, its legacy will continue to express Ichiza’s multicultural identity and preserve the traditions of Asian cooking. Jade Rabbit has made its mark as Portland’s only vegan dim sum home; Now, with vegan dim sum and mock meats available for nationwide shipping, Echiza can make its mark far beyond Portland.

“Not everyone will change in the same way, but it’s delicious food that gets people to think—not turn to—vegan,” he says.

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