Philadelphia’s Wonton Project: How a Ghost Kitchen Fights Asian Hate

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The Wonton Project is the latest food project from Ellen Yin of Fork Restaurant – and the first to bring her into the kitchen.

Yin has opened several dining halls in Philadelphia since its inception nearly 25 years ago, and in addition to her Old City original, she currently operates High Street Philly and + bar. But she is not a chef by profession, and she usually collaborates with or hires other talents to make menus and manage the cooking. When COVID hit, that changed.

While brainstorming potential ways to make use of her restaurants when they were forced to close, it dawned on Yin that one thing she was personally capable of cooking was wontons.

She had learned to make them as a child, and she stood side by side in the kitchen with her grandmother and mother, who grew up in Shanghai, where wontons are a classic comfort food.

“What are the people going to eat during this period?” Yin remembers to think in the depths of COVID lockdowns. “Everyone can relate to a dumpling.”

Dumplings are part of many cultures and regions, many of which are inspired by Chinese cuisine. Wontonen, known for its thin wrapping and light translucency, is thought to date back to the beginning of China’s Qing dynasty in the mid-17th century.

Armed with his mother’s original recipe and call-to-action hashtag #doughsomething, Yin Wonton launched the project as a pop-up delivery only.

As the concept took shape, Yin realized she could also use the efforts to combat anti-Asian hatred and discrimination against Asian-American or Pacific islanders, which escalated during the pandemic. Each month, 5% of the Wonton Project proceeds are donated to Asian Americans United, SEAMAAC, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and other organizations.

Originally imagined as a temporary endeavor running off High Street in Center City, wontons were such a success that the ghost kitchen continues today. You can choose pickup or delivery, and there is another location in University City that expands the service area to West Philly. Together, Yin and her staff make more than 1,000 wontons each week and spend six hours hand-folding the filling inside the dough squares.

The Wonton Project offers its signature dish prepared in two ways: steamed and served in broth, as is most traditional; or fried and served with a dipping sauce.

You can get the original taste of pork and shrimp or a vegetarian version with tofu and vegetables. They come in half a dozen for $ 8, or a whole dozen for $ 15 with add-ons like shiitakes or greens. Also available are sides of cold sesame noodles and chilled tofu with chili sauce.

Watch the wonton magic happen in the CravePhilly section below and on Curb Taxi screens around town.

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