Local restaurant brings joy

Caitlynn Hauw, Final Focus Editor

Art by Katie Lew

In elementary school, I would bring PB & J sandwiches with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Gushers, and Strawberry Kiwi Caprisuns for lunch. My friend brought the food her mom packed her; fermented eggs, bok choy, rice, and “ethnically” seasoned meat. She was met by gags and plugged noses from our other friends. They’d run from the table to spare themselves the “stench.” 

At times, she would sit alone at the nut-free table, all because she decided to eat the meal her mom packed her. A meal packed in a glass container, with eggs plucked from the nests of the chickens her family raised, and metal utensils—a meal made with love.

When I think about it, diversity and representation matter in the media, in the workplace, in the classroom, but it also matters in our communities: specifically in the restaurants that surround us, to teach us tolerance and acceptance. 

A Chinese restaurant called Joyee’s Dumpling House recently opened a block away from my house. The smell wafting from inside carried me in on a cloud of xiao long bao. I thought that I was dreaming when I could hear the snapping of chopsticks, feel the steam emit from the perfectly round buns nestled in metal tins, and see the Asian waiters and cooks who reminded me of home. 

I wandered into the restaurant, bewildered at an Asian restaurant in my immediate neighborhood. An unshakable smile crossed my face as I took in the vibrant neon signs that lined the walls and I saw patrons eating their xiao long bao and dumplings with chopsticks. I quickly devoured 12 dumplings and realized the next time I came, one serving wouldn’t be enough. 

I couldn’t rid my mind of the walnut shrimp and pork and chive dumplings, so I went again the next week. This time, a little dumpling character standee greeted my friend and me. We posed in front of it because I wanted to savor this moment—a moment where I felt seen in my community. 

These past few years it’s been a joy indulging in the celebrations of Asian excellence like the movie “Parasite” winning an Oscar for Best Picture. However, it seems the richness and depth of the Asian culture has been resolved to the arts; K-pop group BTS’ beauty and grace on stage and off and anime characters that grace peoples’ profile pictures. 

I can hardly blame my peers because we’re trapped in a white suburbia that caters to white individuals. Adding locally-owned Asian restaurants won’t solve that problem, but it’ll help Asian Americans living here feel more comforted and make it easier for others to try something new. 

As new spaces open up for lease nearby, I encourage tenants to consider that clearly we don’t want a Great Clips, another yoga studio, or a mediocre ice cream place; we want establishments that reflect the diverse cultures in our community.  I understand rent prices in Torrey Highlands can drive away truly locally-owned Asian businesses—even Joyee’s Dumpling House is a chain of three restaurants—but it’s something to consider. 

I can’t describe how representation feels, but when I first visited Joyee’s I looked at the cashier and I beamed back at my sister. She asked me when we left what I was smiling about. It took me a minute—then I said, “This feels right.”