The Wonton Project: How a pandemic pop-up turned into a delicious way to fight AAPI hate

Ellen Yin tapped a childhood recipe to create her mission-driven ghost kitchen.

Instagram / @thewontonproject

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The Wonton Project is the latest food venture from Ellen Yin of Fork Restaurant — and the first that brings her into the kitchen.

Yin has opened several dining rooms in Philadelphia since starting nearly 25 years ago, and in addition to her Old City original, she currently runs High Street Philly and + bar. But she isn’t a chef by trade, and she usually partners with or hires other talent to craft 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 occurred to Yin that one thing she was able to personally cook was wontons.

She’d learned how to make them as a kid, standing side-by-side in the kitchen with her grandmother and mother, who was raised in Shanghai, where wontons are a classic comfort food.

“What is it that people want to eat during this time period?” Yin remembers thinking during the depths of the COVID lockdowns. “Everyone can relate to a dumpling.”

Dumplings are part of many cultures and regions, many of which were inspired by Chinese cuisine. The wonton, known for its thin wrapper and slight translucence, is thought to date back to the start of China’s Qing Dynasty in the mid-1600s.

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

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

Originally imagined as a temporary endeavor run out of High Street in Center City, the wontons were such a success that the ghost kitchen continues today. You can choose pick-up or delivery, and there’s a second location in University City, which expands the service area to West Philly. Together, Yin and her staff make more than 1,000 wontons each week, spending six hours hand-folding the fillings inside the squares of dough.

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

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

Watch the wonton magic happen in the CravePhilly episode below and on Curb Taxi screens around the city.

Want some more? Explore other CravePhilly stories.

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