An Evening At Allandale

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An Evening At Allandale

We are busy excitedly preparing for our third annual dinner at Allandale Farms, presented by the Mei Mei Dinner Club team. While we’re busy planning our menu and preparing all the necessary ingredients we wanted to give everybody a bit of history and backstory about our relationship with one of our favorite local farms. 

Allandale Farm, with a grounds of approximately 130 acres resting between Brookline and Boston, was originally purchased by William Fletcher Weld in the mid 1800s. Since then five generations of the family have lived and worked on the farm, using it to sustain both the family and staff who helped to work the land. Due to rising property taxes and an increase in the price of heating oil the family commercialized the farm in order to ensure the land would stay in the family. Luckily changes in tax law in the 1970s meant Allandale and other smaller family farms would be taxed at a rate lower than the residential property rates, allowing them to continue to farm the land as opposed to being forced to sell it off to eager developers. The farm continued to grow and commercial operations expanded as the years went on. The property eventually ceased being the primary residence for the family as some of the siblings moved away from Boston but the siblings all agreed that they wanted the farm to remain intact, and to not receive any personal income from the farm. Today Allandale continues to produce high quality food for the community, and to use their own words, “practices that prioritize the long term health of our land, employees, and customers.” 

Our connection the farm began with the Li family purchasing pumpkins and Christmas trees at Allandale as young children and continued with Mei Mei’s official opening as a food truck in 2012. As long as we as Mei Mei have existed we have been purchasing some variety of produce from the nearby farm. We purchase a variety of produce from the farm depending on the season but primarily we use large amounts of Allandales potatoes in our longtime restaurant staple, the pierogi dumplings.  Our relationship with the good folks over at Allandale grew over the years and eventually led to our first farm dinner just three years ago. Initially a small gathering of family and friends seated on blankets outside, the dinner has grown into a ticketed event with tables and chairs set up in one of the several greenhouses on the grounds. 

With a staff filled with over achievers we’re continually seeking to one up ourselves and this upcoming Dinner Club meal at Allandale Farm is no exception. We’ve sold out all of our previous dinners at Allandale and expect to do the same this year so make sure to get your tickets in advance. We look forward to seeing you at one of our favourite yearly events. 






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A Cordial Invitation

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A Cordial Invitation

We’ve recently expanded our cocktail menu 0ptions here at Mei Mei and wanted to give you a little BTS (behind the scenes) look at what goes into creating a new drink for the menu. How do we make a drink but keep it line with everything we do at Mei Mei, as in how do we make it delicious, interesting, and as locally sourced as possible? What do we already sell or produce that could work well in a cocktail? We’ve added 3 new cocktails to the menu, but for the purpose of this post we’ll stick to the origin story of our “Purple Rain.” 

To start, we don’t have a full bar license so any alcoholic beverage we serve must fall under our more restrictive “cordials” license. So what constitutes a cordial you ask? Damn good question, it turns out the answer is murkier than most mixed drinks. The legal definition, while a thrilling read, isn’t actually all that clarifying, defining a cordial as, 

All alcoholic beverages manufactured or produced by mixing or redistilling neutral spirits, brandy, gin, or other distilled spirits with or over fruits, flowers, plants or pure juices therefrom, or other natural flavoring materials, or with extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials and containing no less than two and one-half percent sugar by weight. 

Super clear and easy to understand right? Not so much, but after consulting with the folks over at Bully Boy Distillers in Boston we discovered they created 3 different spirits that fit under our cordials license. Their Hub Punch specifically piqued our interest. The cordial, originating at the Hub Hotel in New York,  was brought to Boston in the late 1800s by C.H. Graves & Sons whose bottled version quickly became a local staple. However with no full bottles of the original Hub Punch still in existence, Bully Boy had to recreate and reimagine the recipe with a combination of “historical context and a lot of experimentation.” It’s a delicious modern take on old time local favorite. 

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Cordial acquired, it was time to fill out the rest of our glass. Our eyes turned to our taps, and specifically to the Ginger Kombucha from Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland Maine. The Hub Punch pairs quite well with ginger, but instead of purchasing an entirely new product like Ginger Ale or Ginger beer just for this singular cocktail, we began experimenting with different ratios of Hub Punch and the Ginger Kombucha we already have on tap. 

After some (read a lot) of fiddling with the ratio we finally settled on the recipe we felt had the best balance of refreshing and slightly sweet. The Hub punch already has deep red almost purple color to it,  and it’s camera ready for the age of instagramers. 

Enter: Beet Juice

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Beet juice is one of the most powerful natural dyes (ever seen a chefs apron after they finish prepping some beets?) and also a byproduct of our Beets By Mei small plate and Beetnik sandwich.  It has such an intense coloring that we only need a few drops per drink. The rest of our excess beet juice goes to our thirsty mid-shift cooks who love consuming the versatile vegetable. A couple drops of that beet juice added for coloring into the Ginger Kombucha and Hub Punch and there you have it folks, the newest member of our menu, Purple Rain. 

Bully Boy Hub Punch, ginger kombucha, beet juice raindrops

Bully Boy Hub Punch, ginger kombucha, beet juice raindrops

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Harvest Moon Curry

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Harvest Moon Curry

HARVEST MOON CURRY

(VEGAN, VEGETARIAN, GLUTEN FREE, DAIRY FREE)

Our cold weather curry features root vegetables and poblano chile for a touch more spice. We roast the veggies to get crispy browned sides, but you can also steam or boil them. This hearty and satisfying vegan curry will keep you warm on a wintry day, and it also welcomes meat such as shredded chicken, pulled pork, or cooked ground beef. Serve over steamed rice or a whole grain and garnish with microgreens, pea shoots, or the herbs of your choice (we like Mei Mei’s special Cabbage Pickles or Fried Shallots - both recipes can be found in our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook).


INGREDIENTS

ROASTED VEGETABLES

1 pound (450 g) root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, or parsnips, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 tablespoon (13 g) olive oil

Kosher salt

CURRY SAUCE

1/4 cup (52 g) neutral oil, such as canola

1/3 cup (85 g) red curry paste, or curry past of your choice

1 clove garlic, minced

One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, minced

2 tablespoons (20 g) diced poblano chile

1/2 medium onion, minced

Two 13.5-ounce (400 g) cans unsweetened coconut milk

2 tablespoons (30 g) soy sauce (substitute tamari if gluten-free)

1 tablespoon (20 g) maple syrup

1 tablespoon (15 g) ketchup

1 teaspoon (5 g) rice vinegar

Kosher salt

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INSTRUCTIONS

ROAST THE VEGETABLES

Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).

Scatter the vegetable chunks onto a baking sheet and drizzle with the oil. Toss with your hands to coat and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt. Roast until the largest pieces can be easily pierced by a fork, about 30 minutes.

MAKE THE SAUCE

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, chile, and onion and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the coconut milk, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavors get to know each other. Remove from the heat and stir in the soy sauce, maple syrup, ketchup, and vinegar. Season with salt. At this point, the sauce can be cooled and refrigerated if you’re not planning to eat it soon.

Add the cooked root vegetables, taste for seasoning, then serve over rice with the garnishes of your choice.


Serves 4 to 6 over steamed rice.

Click here to buy our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook to try out more delicious recipes!

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Beekeeper's Salad

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Beekeeper's Salad

BEEKEEPER’S SALAD

(VEGETARIAN, GLUTEN FREE)

This salad features the work of some hyper-local food producers in our city of Boston: bees. Bees can be a thriving part of urban agriculture as well as a vital part of the food system—their work pollinating crops is essential for much of the food we eat as well as the food that feeds other animals in the food chain. This salad is both a celebration of bees and a study in contrasts, with the sweetness of honey against spicy, peppery greens and lightly bittersweet pops of bee pollen, all tossed with a cool, creamy yogurt dressing. There will be more dressing than you need for this salad; it tastes great on all things green and will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.


INSTRUCTIONS

YOGURT DRESSING INGREDIENTS (MAKES 1 CUP)

2/3 cup (150 g) plain whole yogurt

1/3 cup (80 g) buttermilk

2 teaspoons (10 g) fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt

SALAD INGREDIENTS

4 ounces (about 8 cups loosely packed) arugula, watercress, or other peppery greens

1/4 cup (25 g) crushed pecans or almonds

2 ounces (57 g) Manchego or aged cheddar cheese, shaved or thinly sliced

Leaves from a few sprigs of mint, chopped or torn

About 1 teaspoon (7 g) honey

About 1 teaspoon (8 g) bee pollen

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INSTRUCTIONS

YOGURT INSTRUCTIONS

Whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl. The thickness may vary slightly depending on your brand of yogurt—aim for a creamy, tangy dressing that’s thin enough to pour.

SALAD INSTRUCTIONS

Put the greens in a large bowl and pour 1/4 cup of the dressing on top. Using your hands, carefully scoop and flip the greens until they are fully coated in the dressing. As our sous chef Emily says: gently, gently, gently.

Transfer the greens to a wide, shallow bowl and sprinkle with the nuts, then scatter the cheese and mint across the top. Delicately drizzle the honey on top in a very thin stream—the idea is to let the honey bead up on the herbs like dew on plants in the morning. Dust with the bee pollen and serve immediately.


Serves 4 as a side dish.

Click here to buy our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook to try out more delicious recipes!

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Three Sisters Dumplings

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Three Sisters Dumplings

THREE SISTERS DUMPLINGS

(VEGAN, VEGETARIAN)

These dumplings are named for the indigenous agricultural tradition of growing corn, beans, and squash together, primarily known from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) nations. The plants thrive in this symbiotic relationship, also known as interplanting—the corn provides a stalk for the beans, the beans fix nitrogen to help fertilize the soil, and the squash shades the ground, reducing weed growth and preserving moisture. These dumplings nod to indigenous agriculture and the indigenous peoples of the Northeast region and underscore the importance of farming that is holistic and supports a healthy soil and ecosystem.


Note: We make this with a whole butternut squash. Once a cup has been set aside for the dumplings (usually about one-quarter of a 2-pound/900-g squash), we recommend checking out Mei and Irene Li’s Food Waste Feast website to find cool ways to use the remaining squash. If using precut chunks, the recipe requires about 1/2 pound squash; toss in olive oil and lightly sprinkle with salt before roasting for 25 to 30 minutes.

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Ingredients

BUTTERNUT SQUASH MASH

1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds/900 g)

1 tablespoon (2 g) kosher salt

1/4 cup (60 g) water

OTHER INGREDIENTS

3/4 cup (130 g) cooked black beans; if canned, drained and rinsed

3/4 cup (120 g) corn kernels, fresh or frozen and thawed

Leaves from 2 to 3 thyme sprigs

2 cloves garlic; minced

2 tablespoons (26 g) extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 tablespoon (1 g) kosher salt

1 recipe Hot Water Dough (see Hot Water Dough blog post) or 24 store-bought dumpling wrappers

Neutral oil, such as canola, for cooking

Soy Aioli or Soy Vinegar Dipping Sauce, for serving (both recipes can be found in our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook)

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Instructions

MAKE THE SQUASH

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C)

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the top and bottom off the squash, then stand it upright and slice it lengthwise down the middle. Scoop out and discard the seeds, then place the two halves cut-side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the salt. Pour the water into the base of the pan, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 45 minutes, or until you can easily slide a fork into the largest part of the squash. Cool, then scoop out 1 cup (200 g) of the flesh and reserve the rest for other uses. Stored in an airtight container, it will keep in the fridge for 3 to 5 days.

MAKE THE FILLING

Combine the beans, corn, thyme, and garlic in a medium bowl. Add the reserved 1 cup squash, the oil, and salt and mix thoroughly. Taste for seasoning, then follow the instructions for rolling and cooling dumplings (see Dumpling Making blog post).

Serve with the soy aioli or the soy vinegar dressing sauce as a vegan option.


Makes about 24 dumplings.

Click here to buy our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook to try out more delicious recipes!

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Sesame Ssam Jang Brisket Lettuce Wraps

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Sesame Ssam Jang Brisket Lettuce Wraps

SEASAME SSAM JANG BRISKET LETTUCE WRAPS

(DAIRY FREE)

Our badass ex-neuroscientist sous chef Emily developed this recipe, our take on the Korean dipping sauce ssamjang, which means “sauce for wraps.” Made from a fermented soybean paste called doenjang (similar to miso) and the more familiar chili paste gochujang, it’s spicy, sweet, salty, and in-your-face. Taste it and you’ll marvel at the funkiness and depth of flavor; I often find myself sneaking spoonfuls while preparing this recipe, like a kid with a bowl of brownie batter.

Ssamjang is often served with grilled beef or pork; once we happened to have an enticingly fatty cut of brisket around and fell for that. We braise it with beer and nestle it into a pile of onions that slowly cook into a jammy tangle at the bottom of your pot. After hours in the oven, the meat emerges tender and triumphant, the sauce thick and potent, and it’s all clamoring to be joined by something light, bright, and crunchy and enfolded in a refreshing lettuce hug.


INGREDIENTS

BRISKET INGREDEINTS

1⁄3 cup (90 g) doenjang or miso

1⁄3 cup (70 g) toasted sesame oil

1⁄4 cup (80 g) gochujang

2 tablespoons (40 g) honey

1 tablespoon (15 g) Chinese sesame paste or tahini

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons (26 g) neutral oil, such as canola

One 3-pound (1.3 kg) beef brisket

3 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 cup (200 g) beer

INGREDIENTS FOR SERVING

Lettuce, for wrapping (we like Bibb or Butter lettuce)

Kimchi or another pickle of your choice (we like Mei Mei’s special Cabbage Pickles or Apple-Scallion Salad - both recipes can be found in our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook)

Sriracha Sauce or another sauce of your choice (we like Mei Mei’s signature Soy Aioli - recipe can be found in our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook)

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INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).

Mix the miso, sesame oil, gochujang, honey, sesame paste, and garlic in a small bowl. Heat the neutral oil in a Dutch oven or a large heavy-bottomed pot for which you have a lid over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the brisket and sear on both sides until well browned, about 5 minutes per side.

Using sturdy tongs or a large fork, carefully transfer the brisket to a large plate or platter. Add the onions and beer to the pot, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook the onions for about 10 minutes, until they are browned and softened. Turn off the heat, then place the brisket on top of the onions along with any juices from the plate.

Take the wooden spoon and smear the paste all over the top of the brisket. Cover the pot, place it in the oven, and cook, basting every so often, for 3 to 4 hours. Add more beer as needed (or even better, drink the rest of it). Pull the pot out of the oven, slice the beef against the grain, and return to the pot to soak up any juices. Let cool slightly and lay on a platter alongside lettuce, pickles, and sauce for people to assemble their own lettuce wraps.


Serves 6 to 8, with some white rice.

Click here to buy our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook to try out more delicious recipes!

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Scallion Pancakes

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Scallion Pancakes

SCALLION PANCAKES

(VEGAN, VEGETARIAN, AND DAIRY FREE)

If you’ve ever had these flaky fried discs dotted with slivers of green onions, you know they can be seriously addictive. When you have perfected the quick and easy scallion pancake recipe to the point that it only takes you an hour or less to make, it’s dangerous business. We give you this scallion pancake recipe with a warning: with great power comes great responsibility. After trying these pancakes, the mere sizzle of the pan or scent of freshly chopped scallions may cause you to relinquish control, churning out pancake after pancake and consuming every bite. Cook at your own risk…


Ingredients

1 recipe Hot Water Dough (see Hot Water Dough blog post) rested

1/4 cup (52 g) toasted sesame oil

1 1/3 cups (80 g) thinly sliced scallions

Neutral oil, such as canola, for cooking

Kosher salt

Soy Vinegar Dippings Sauce, for serving

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Instructions

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MAKE THE PANCAKES

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Take one piece and cover the rest with a damp cloth. Roll the piece into a ball, flatten it slightly, then use a rolling pin to flatten it into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. Use a brush (or your fingers) to cover the dough circle with 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil, then sprinkle with 1/3 cup of the scallions.

Roll up the circle into a snake (see photos above for a visual guide), then twist the snake into a snail-like spiral and tuck the end underneath. Flatten slightly with your hand, then use the rolling pin to roll out again into an 8-inch circle. Stop here, or, if you want more flaky layers, repeat the snake and snail steps and roll out again. Be gentle, as scallions may burst out of the dough as you continue. Repeat with the remaining dough to make 4 pancakes.

COOK THE PANCAKES

Heat a thin layer of neutral oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Don’t skimp on the oil; ample oil is part of the charm of this dish. Carefully slide the pancake into the pan and fry on each side until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Sprinkle lightly with salt and place on a paper towel to cool. Repeat with the remaining pancakes. Cut into wedges and serve with soy vinegar dipping sauce. Try not to burn your tongue.


Makes 4 pancakes.

Click here to buy our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook to try out more delicious recipes!

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Dumpling Making

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Dumpling Making

DUMPLING MAKING

Each of the dumpling recipes at Mei Mei makes about 24 dumplings, depending on the size of your wrappers and how you fold them. If the filling includes raw meat, fry or microwave a tablespoon of filling to test for seasoning before you start folding. It’ll make dinner for four people with sides, or for one or two with lots of leftovers. All the recipes can easily be doubled, tripled, or more, so you have some to eat, some to freeze, and some to send home with your friends. We firmly believe in spreading the dumpling love.


MAKE THE DUMPLING WRAPPERS

Using a sharp knife or dough cutter, slice the ball of Hot Water Dough (see Hot Water Dough blog post) into four equal pieces. Set one aside on a cutting board and cover the remaining pieces with a damp towel so they don’t dry out. Roll the dough ball with your hands to form a roughly 6-inch-long “snake” (see photos below for a visual guide). Cut the snake into six equal pieces. Turn each piece onto its side and flatten with your hand slightly, then use a dowel or rolling pin to flatten into circles 2 to 3 millimeters thick and about 3 inches in diameter.

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Folded empanada dumplings.

Folded empanada dumplings.

FOLD THE DUMPLINGS

When we teach dumpling classes at our restaurant, we demonstrate the classic pleated, crescent-shaped style along with the pyramid (see Cumin Lamb Dumplings blog post) and the folded empanada (which turns into the tortellini - see photo to the right), but we encourage you to play around!

For the classic pleat (see photo below), hold a wrapper in your left hand and place a spoonful of filling into the center with your right hand. Depending on how large you’ve rolled your wrappers, this is usually about 3/4 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon. Leave some space: tempting as it is to overstuff, the filling will squirt messily and make the folding process more difficult.

Fold the wrapper in half into a taco shape and, starting from the right side, pinch the wrapper shut. (If you’re using store-bough wrappers, set up a small bowl of water to help seal the wrappers. Dip a finger into the water and smear it around the edge of each wrapper before you fold so the dough sticks when you pinch it shut.) After each pinch, fold the side farthest from you into a pleat toward the pinched end and press it back together. The side closest to you should remain smooth and will gradually curve toward you into a crescent shape.

Continue to pleat and pinch until the entire dumpling is sealed, aiming for 5 or 6 pleats per dumpling or more if you want to get fancy. As you fold, place the dumplings onto a large plate or baking sheet in rows with a little space between each one. Cook them right away, or place the sheet into the freezer so they can freeze without squishing each other. Once frozen, transfer the dumplings into plastic bags for storage.


COOK THE DUMPLINGS

At home, we always use a pan-searing/steaming technique, which results in a nice crispy seat on the bottom of the dumpling and a chewy steamed top. This technique works with raw or frozen dumplings and only uses one pan. Fewer dishes = more time to eat dumplings.

Find a large skillet (nonstick works well here) for which you have a lid. Coat the bottom of the skillet with a layer of neutral oil (about 2 tablespoons) and heat over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and shimmery, carefully fill the pan with a single layer of dumplings (non-pleated side down), leaving a bit of room between each one. Cook for 2 to 4 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown—you can pick one up to check.

Turn the heat to medium and grab the lid and about 1/4 cup water. Shielding yourself with the lid, pour the water into the hot pan—it will steam and sizzle, so be careful there isn’t too much oil in the pan to spatter all over the place. Cover the pan and let the steam cook the top of the dumplings, 4 to 6 minutes, or 8 to 10 minutes if cooking from frozen.

Once the water has evaporated, the wrappers should be slightly translucent and the filling fully cooked. If not, add a splash of water and cover again for a minute or two. You can test for doneness by breaking open a dumpling or using your instant-read thermometer. Turn the heat up slightly, and the remaining oil in the bottom of the pan will re-crisp the bottom of the dumplings. Depending on your heat, water, and oil levels, you may need to add more water or oil, but you’ll get the hang of it after practice, we promise.

Classic pleat fold dumplings.

Classic pleat fold dumplings.

A FEW NOTES

Traditionally, pan-seared dumplings are only fried on the bottom, but I often flip the dumplings over for an additional sear. It adds more crunch and flavor and can help if you’re using premade wrappers, which sometimes are dry around the edges. We deep-fry many of our dumplings at the restaurant for a crackly, golden exterior. For a healthier and easy-to-cook alternative, our mom loves dumplings steamed or boiled in water or broth. As cultures all around the world have learned, food wrapped in dough is fantastic cooked in a multitude of ways. Have fun with it and experiment with your own fillings, folds, and cooking techniques. As the saying (that we definitely made up) goes: the world is your dumpling.


HELPFUL STEPS AND EQUIPMENT FOR DUMPLING FEASTS

  • If you’re making your own dough, set out multiple sets of rolling pins and cutting boards.

  • If you’re using premade wrappers (we like Twin Marquis brand), set out small shallow bowls of water and wet paper towels to keep the wrappers moist.

  • Prepare large bowls of dumpling fillings—consider a selection of meat, vegetarian, and vegan options, depending on your guests.

  • Set up a sauce bar with small bowls for everyone to make their own dipping sauce—we like to include soy sauce, black vinegar, an infused oil, hot sauce, and a homemade aioli.

  • Set up a skillet for a pan-searing and/or a steamer setup or pot of boiling water for steaming or boiling dumplings. We typically cook about half the dumplings and freeze the remaining.

  • Make sure you have flat trays that fit in your freezer for all the uncooked dumplings—line up raw dumplings on top with a bit of space in between each one. Once frozen, place into labeled plastic bags for your guests to take home.


Click here to buy our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook to try out more delicious recipes!

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Hot Water Dough

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Hot Water Dough

HOT WATER DOUGH

(VEGAN, VEGETARIAN, AND DAIRY FREE)

We use this basic dough for our childhood favorites of scallion pancakes and dumplings. It’s a fun and forgiving dough for kids to work with, although parental sous chefs should probably be in charge of the hot water steps.


INGREDIENTS

2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon (1 g) Kosher salt

1 cup (240 g) water, boiled and let cool for about 1 minute

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INSTRUCTIONS

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir in 3/4 cup (180 g) of the hot water until a ball is formed and all the flour is incorporated. If the flour in the bottom of the bowl is not sticking to the ball, slowly drizzle in more water 1 teaspoon at a time and continue to stir.

When all the flour has come together into a ball and the dough is cool enough to handle, place on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. If necessary, add a sprinkle of flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or work surface. Place back in the bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and leave to rest for 30 to 60 minutes so the gluten can relax and the dough is easier to shape. When making in advance, the dough can rest in the fridge a day or two wrapped in lightly oiled plastic wrap. Bring to room temperature before using.


Makes enough dough for for one dumpling recipe (about 24 dumplings) or one Scallion Pancake recipe (about 4 pancakes)

Click here to buy our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook to try out more delicious recipes!

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Cumin Lamb Dumplings with Mint Yogurt

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Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook: Cumin Lamb Dumplings with Mint Yogurt

CUMIN LAMB DUMPLINGS WITH MINT YOGURT

We love how this dish showcases local lamb with some of its best friends across global cuisines. We season the lamb briskly with cumin, a nod to the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang and the lamb and cumin stir-fries of the Uyghur people. Adding to the sensory experience are the aromatic tingles of Sichuan peppercorn and fiery breath of chili that together characterize Sichuan cooking. We veer away from China with a cooling sauce that salutes the traditional English pairing of lamb with mint while celebrating the Mediterranean love affair of lamb and yoghurt.


INGREDIENTS

DUMPLING INGREDIENTS

1 heaping teaspoon (2 g) Sichuan peppercorns

2 teaspoons (5 g) cumin seeds

1 small dried red chile or 1 teaspoon chili flakes (2 g), or more if desired

10 ounces (285 g) ground lamb

1/4 small onion, diced

1 teaspoon (5 g) fish sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons (22 g) soy sauce

Kosher salt

1 recipe Hot Water Dough (see Hot Water Dough blog post) or 24 store-bought dumpling wrappers

Neutral oil, such as canola, for cooking

MINT YOGURT INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup (about 12 sprigs) fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 cup (227 g) plain whole Greek yogurt, or strained yogurt

1 clove garlic, finely minced or grated

Kosher salt

Pyramid fold dumplings.

Pyramid fold dumplings.

INSTRUCTIONS

DUMPLING INSTRUCTIONS

Combine the Sichuan peppercorns, cumin seeds, and chile in a small skillet over medium heat. Toast until fragrant, about 2 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Let cool, then grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Combine the lamb, onion, fish sauce, and soy sauce in a large bowl, add the ground spices, and mix thoroughly. Fry a small piece in a pan to check for seasonings; you may not need additional salt as the fish sauce and soy sauce will help season the mixture. Follow the instructions for rolling and cooking dumplings (see Dumpling Making blog post). Serve with the mint yogurt for dipping.

MINT YOGURT INSTRUCTIONS

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and add a good pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed, then let sit for at least 15 minutes or up to overnight in the refrigerator before serving.


Makes about 24 dumplings

Click here to buy our Double Awesome Chinese Food Cookbook to try out more delicious recipes!

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Kissing 2018 Goodbye - Mei Mei Moments

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Notes from the Farm: Following Sustainable Food from an Urban Farm to Mei Mei's Kitchen

A spotlight on Mei Mei supplier Urban Farming Institute (UFI) by Jennifer Chen, a Mei Mei intern who has spent time both volunteering at UFI and working at Mei Mei.


Bobby Walker of Urban Farming Institute (UFI) and Jennifer Chen - UFI volunteer & Mei Mei intern. photo credit:  @gracestills

Bobby Walker of Urban Farming Institute (UFI) and Jennifer Chen - UFI volunteer & Mei Mei intern. photo credit: @gracestills

From a young age, I loved to garden and connect to the earth through food.

My family had a small vegetable garden next to our house where we grew sunflowers, Chinese spinach, chives, and a bunch of other yummy things that we could easily cut and throw into our cooking pots. There is something special about watching something grow from the start over weeks and months, and there is something magical about harvesting what comes out the other end. That’s why I reached out to Urban Farming Institute (UFI) and Mei Mei to learn more about their businesses. For the past two years, I have volunteered at UFI with Bobby Walker, UFI’s Farm Training Manager, and more recently I interned with Mei Mei. 

Mei Mei prioritizes creating dishes with local and yummy ingredients. But that’s not just it - they also make sure they know the people behind the produce, and create close connections with farmers that make the food at Mei Mei even more meaningful. The Urban Farming Institute of Boston, also known as UFI, is one place Mei Mei proudly sources from. The famed ‘Magical Kale Salad’ (gives salads a good rep) is made of kale often sourced and grown right next door in farms in Roxbury by UFI farmers.

Mei Mei's Magical Kale Salad

Mei Mei's Magical Kale Salad

"Mei Mei is not a normal restaurant"

In my whopping three weeks interning this past summer at Mei Mei, I got a look at the restaurant industry — where fruits and vegetables go to become delicious dishes. Mei Mei is not a normal restaurant: it’s a family owned, local business that works tooth and nail to be better, to improve the current industry by creating connections between farmer and chefs so that the food that’s served is not only yummy, but ethical — in every sense.

As an outsider who has now seen glimpses from both ends — farm to restaurant table, I see how disconnected we can be to our foods in our day-to-day lives. But after three weeks at Mei Mei, I’ve seen a celebration of the magic of local and organic foods opposed to foods grown through conventional agricultural methods.

photo credit:  @gracestills

photo credit: @gracestills

UFI was born in 2012 when the interests for a better food system and communal experiences in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan were combined. UFI tackles the biggest problems of social, food, and environmental justice: food availability.

So they did something about it.

In these 6 short years, UFI has brought its global vision of a just food system to reality, creating relationships between residents in Boston neighborhoods and farmers for healthier urban spaces and healthier people.

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UFI isn’t just a network of farms. Everything they do is in accordance with what the residents of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan want. At one of my visits to UFI sites, I learned about the history of their headquarters, which sits on the Fowler Clark Epstein Farm circa 1786. The land was originally a farm that spanned many acres. Over the years, when passed from one family to the next, the farmland shrunk. When the farmland passed over into the hands of the city, original plans were to build a few more condos. But the residents surrounding the space protested. Pat Spence, the executive director of UFI, who lives nearby, caught wind.

Photo source: urbanfarminginstitute.org

Photo source: urbanfarminginstitute.org

UFI is made up of real people. More importantly, UFI is made up of the people who will be affected by decisions about land access and food. Because UFI has the residents’ best interests in mind, it is conscious of what problems need to be addressed. Since its start in 2014, UFI has developed the first urban farm under Boston’s new zoning amendment, and founded (and co-sponsored) 3 statewide urban farming conferences that have attracted 400 participants each year from Boston as well as across state lines. UFI has increased access to food and knowledge about food to incredible lengths, and the fruits of their labor are clear and true.

Because UFI is conscious of what is needed in their communities, they have such a large array of opportunities. They provide farmer training to residents who live in Massachusetts urban areas. Bobby Walker, the Farmer Training Manager, works primarily with rookie and upcoming farmers. UFI provides this service to people not only to promote urban farming as a commercial sector that creates green collar jobs, but also to engage communities to work toward healthier and more locally based food systems. UFI provides the real skills needed to become successful small plot urban farmers to the residents of Boston neighborhoods. UFI has so far graduated 5 cohorts of urban farmers and will continue do so in the years to come. Among the graduates of UFI’s training program, 80% work in farm and food related business in the Boston region.

One of the other things UFI does is reclaim land and transform it to land appropriate for growing food. Even as small as ¼ an acre of land can provide a steady stream of produce for residents in the local city. This system helps to reduces Mei Mei’s overall carbon footprint because of how local the food is. Mei Mei is only 15 minutes away from UFI’s headquarters and sprawl of farms. UFI has become a leader of creating a new model for food systems in urban areas, and the team at Mei Mei share this vision of a supporting a better food system. Along with other restaurants like Mei Mei, UFI also sells its produce at farm stands. You can find UFI produce every week on Thursdays from 1-5pm at the Bowdoin Geneva Farm Stand and Fridays from 3-7pm at the Mattapan Farm Stand at UFI Headquarters. You can also learn more about UFI at www.urbanfarminginstitute.org

When I think about the three weeks I spent at Mei Mei and 2 years I’ve known UFI, I first think about the challenges of owning a sustainable and ethical restaurant or a farm in a city. But I’ve also seen that farmers and restaurant owners like UFI and Mei Mei can work hard together to make their common vision, a greener and more responsible food system, become a reality.


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About the Author:

Jennifer Chen

is a Mei Mei blog contributor and a 2018 summer intern. She spent her time mostly at Mei Mei contributing to its Open Book Curriculum and writing for its online blog. Jenn is a senior at Milton Academy interested in environmental science and making the Earth more livable, and was super honored to have seen a working, more sustainable business model. If asked, she would say her favorite foods at Mei Mei are the dumplings, especially the vegan-friendly Three Sisters!

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All Ingredients are Not Created Equal: How and why we choose real and responsible food

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All Ingredients are Not Created Equal: How and why we choose real and responsible food

Part three of a three-part series by Emma James, a Mei Mei intern who spent a month interviewing our staff, guests and suppliers on our people, food & culture. 

What’s a restaurant without food? More specifically, what is Mei Mei without responsibly-sourced, quality ingredients?

From the start, Mei Mei has prided itself on using better ingredients, not just in taste and in quality, but also in terms of food justice. Irene Li, co-founder and littlest mei mei of the restaurant explains that food justice “ties into environmental justice... people need access to fresh and nutritious food, and it has to do with urban planning, distribution, and the industrial food system.”

Pierogi Dumplings, Roasted Honey Carrots, and Sweet Corn Fritters (with soy aioli) -- yum!

Pierogi Dumplings, Roasted Honey Carrots, and Sweet Corn Fritters (with soy aioli) -- yum!

The restaurant works directly with local family farms and local food aggregators to get ingredients. When Mei Mei business manager Caden Salvata started in July 2012, Mei Mei worked with Farm Fresh Rhode Island, a non-profit “hub for local food.” Caden knew Farm Fresh from his co-op days in Providence - they were established then, and now they’re the biggest player in Boston. Since that food hub boomed, “all the big vendors, more traditional broadline distributors, have come on board and have forayed into the sustainable regional food industry,” some of which Mei Mei also works with, such as woman-owned food distributor Dole & Bailey.

But just because Mei Mei collaborates with food aggregators that promise smoother farm-to-table logistics than farmer’s markets, it’s still not easy. Food and Beverage Director Peter Schantz manages all Mei Mei food ordering for day-to-day restaurant needs as well as in-house and off-site events. Peter explains that “stuff grown in Massachusetts is a lot more expensive than stuff you can get from the broad range purveyors. It’s so much cheaper to grow things in Chile, Mexico and California and ship it wherever than it is to own enough land to produce a reasonable amount of vegetables in Massachusetts.” While other restaurants might pay less than fifty cents per pound of onions, Peter reports that Mei Mei is “paying anywhere from a dollar-forty to two dollars-fifty cents per pound,” a price that ensures reducing food waste is another part of the Mei Mei way: making the most of ingredients by, for example, using kale leaves in salads and saving the stems for pesto that goes on The Double Awesome sandwich. 

Some of our local food suppliers! (Caroline from Kitchen Garden, Heather Standford from The Piggery, and Allandale Farm)

Some of our local food suppliers! (Caroline from Kitchen Garden, Heather Standford from The Piggery, and Allandale Farm)

Caroline Pam, co-owner of Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland, Massachusetts, a fifty-acre certified-organic vegetable farm she started with her husband in 2006, supplies Mei Mei with vegetables and Kitchen Garden’s famous sriracha through Market Mobile, a distribution system under Farm Fresh Rhode Island. Mei Mei first crossed their path back in 2012, when Irene drove out to pick up Mei Mei’s first order. Caroline has a “love of food and cooking” that led her to start a then-one-acre plot, which high-quality organic growing “evolved to meet growing demand from wholesale buyers”; Kitchen Garden is currently growing kale, head lettuce, radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, scallions, onions, cabbages, broccoli, brussels sprouts, eggplants, summer squash, cucumbers, Asian greens, tomatoes, tomatillos, and “a stupid amount, like 150 varieties, of peppers,” from which they make their famous sriracha that Mei Mei holds so dear, as well as salsas and soon, more food products that people “know that is grown and produced with care.” Caroline describes her and her husband as “passionate cooks [who] love working with people who are really interested in great food and a real diversity of culinary and global inspirations,” because “appreciating food of other cultures is the door to people connecting.” (Caroline had to get off the phone to continue bunching kale.)

 

"To have fresh and nutritious food to eat is definitely part of environmental justice, it has to do with urban planning, distribution, and the industrial food system." - Irene Li, CO-FOUNDER and OWNER of MEI MEI RESTAURANT

Our policy on meat is that it all must be “pasture-raised and regional,” which Peter explains means Mei Mei pays three to five times more than for conventional or even organic. Peter highlights that “organic” refers to responsible feed and medication for the animals, but does not necessarily mean responsible living conditions.

Mei Mei's Beef and Brocc scallion pancake sandwich!

Mei Mei's Beef and Brocc scallion pancake sandwich!

Heather Standford, owner of The Piggery, a 70-acre pig farm in Trumansburg, New York, supplies Mei Mei with our ham and bacon. Allandale Farm in Jamaica Plain sells Mei Mei vegetables wholesale, including scallions and peppers, and also hosts community dinners that Mei Mei has collaborated on, where Chelsea McNiff, one of Allandale’s two Farmstand Managers and their CSA Coordinator, says “guests get to enjoy some amazing food that Mei Mei uses our produce in.” Chelsea, who comes from a restaurant family, finds it “really impressive and admirable when chefs can create a menu that’s based on what’s available seasonally and when restaurants support local little farms like ours,” and she’s “so glad we can work as a team together.”

 

“Appreciating food of other cultures is the door to people connecting.” -Caroline Pam, Kitchen Garden Farm

 

But even though the food truck might be off the road for vending, Mei Mei is still on the move. While in the beginning, using only one aggregator, Mei Mei needed the flexibility of having four different, ever-changing menus, but, to Peter, the central question evolved towards “what choices do we make to be a consistent, growing-quality company that provides for our employees versus sticking to extremely strict moral guidelines of ‘only local, only seasonal?’” Now, as Mei Mei takes action towards making the food industry a better place, they decided to develop one, super awesome menu across all branches of the business. Simplifying allowed Mei Mei to make the best possible tasting dishes they can, and ensure that, with the use of their main aggregators, Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Dole & Bailey, as well as Hudson Valley Harvest and more, chefs never “86” (a restaurant term used for running out of an ingredient).

Chefs Peter (left) and Emily (right) holding some fun ingredients!

Chefs Peter (left) and Emily (right) holding some fun ingredients!

As we worked to condense our many dishes into one central Mei Mei menu, we had to make the best noms possible. Emily Ko, Mei Mei’s sous-chef for six years, found herself surprised with “how fulfilling it was to make fewer things but make them really carefully,” but knew the food “need[ed] to be very specific from the prep, sourcing, and pricepoint standpoint, and something you can serve at a restaurant that looks good.” Emily says she’s “really interested in the logistical, engineering challenge to figure out all of that,” because she “care[s] more about the quality than the fanciness of it.”

Mei Mei's Parsnip Fries and The Beatnik, a vegetarian scallion pancake sanwich

Mei Mei's Parsnip Fries and The Beatnik, a vegetarian scallion pancake sanwich

When unveiling the first version of the new menu, it was just that --  a first version. Logen Zimmerman, the operations manager for the School of Visual Arts at Boston University, is among Mei Mei’s most dedicated guests, so we knew he’d have good feedback to offer at a taste-testing session: he shared his love for the Beetnik, the Gabby, both types of fritters, the Javelin Fries, and shares that he “wants to try it all, but [he] wants to balance it and combo things.”

In choosing which beverages to sell, we consider with the same care. Our wines and teas are all local to New England, and we sell Spindrift Seltzer, a really cool brand that’s made in Boston and uses real ingredients, not just sneaky “natural flavors” that most seltzer brands legally don’t have to disclose --   “to that extent,” Irene said, “we identify with that mission a lot, which is, ‘the standards are low, you deserve better, here’s an alternative for you.’”

When your order’s up on the counter, you can get just a little taste of all this work that so many people put so much work into. And of course, when you’re done, what do we do with extra food, drink, or sauce? It’s simple -- we compost! The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the amount of uneaten food from homes and restaurants is valued at $390 per consumer, more than 30 percent of our country’s food supply; because Mei Mei Restaurant is just a stop in our big food system, it’s our duty to ensure the planet will be a growable, breathable, livable space for everyone.

Press on Spindrift from  Boston Magazine .

Press on Spindrift from Boston Magazine.

"It's really impressive and admirable when restaurants support local little farms like ours." -Chelsea McNiff, Allandale Farm

 

If Emily hadn’t been here at the restaurant, she shared, she “would’ve heard someone like Irene’s food mission and been like, ‘that’s very cool, but I don’t know if it’ll work,’” and shared that “it’s heartening to know that [this work] is possible.”


Emma James, a Mei Mei blog contributor and student interested in journalism and environmental law and equity, recently graduated from Milton Academy in nearby Milton, Mass, and soon sets sail for Columbia University in NYC. Her favorite Mei Mei dishes are the Double Awesome (of course), the Beef and Brocc, the Roasted Honey Carrots, and the Black Bean Broccoli!

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Friendliness, Quality Eats, and Accessibility: the guest experience.

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Friendliness, Quality Eats, and Accessibility: the guest experience.

Part two of a three-part series by Emma James, a Mei Mei intern who spent a month interviewing our staff, guests and suppliers on our people, food & culture. 


From the beginning, it’s been about making people happy.

Liza Stone (right) with front of house staff Aaron Parayno (middle) and catering manager Olivia Dwan (left) enjoying lunch!

Liza Stone (right) with front of house staff Aaron Parayno (middle) and catering manager Olivia Dwan (left) enjoying lunch!

Liza Stone, Mei Mei’s front-of-house manager, describes the common characteristic among staff as “very gracious, generous, warm, casual, sincere,” adding that “we wouldn’t hire someone if we didn’t see it naturally in the interview.” The staff at Mei Mei keeps these happy spirits alive not only through smiles and good vibes, but also through a “Surprise and Delight” budget, which enables staff to send free food and drinks to guests to give them a joyful experience! Mei Mei has a “treat card” that staff members can give to a friend who hasn’t yet visited the restaurant, so when they do stop by, the servers know to send them something on the house. The tradition comes from the siblings’ mom, “one of our biggest advocates,” according to Irene Li, co-founder and owner at the restaurant, who would give her friends a Mei Mei business card, and write “drinks on me,” and sign her name on it. Since “word-of-mouth is the most powerful way for us to get ourselves out there" says Irene,  "[the treat card] provides a personal connection between a guest that’s coming in and the restaurant.” It stuck! Even little things, like Mei Mei’s all-gender bathrooms work hard to make any guest feel 100% comfortable and at home.


Irene's Grandparents were Chinese immigrants to the US who also opened a restaurant

Irene's Grandparents were Chinese immigrants to the US who also opened a restaurant

Irene, big brother Andy, and his son Jackson

Irene, big brother Andy, and his son Jackson

“When you grow up in a Chinese family, respect for your elders is super important, and I think a lot of that translates to hospitality." -Irene Li, Co-Founder

Irene says hospitality “really has to do with making the guest feel comfortable, and making sure that you are on their side, that you can advocate for them and anticipate their needs so that they can have a worry-free experience because you’re taking care of everything for them.” Some of this understanding she attributed to her family’s heritage, because “when you grow up in a Chinese family, respect for your elders is super important, and I think a lot of that translates.”

Customer needs can range from dietary to emotional, even to things the restaurant doesn’t even have. Irene shared that Mei Mei has plenty of dishes distinctly marked “vegetarian,” “vegan,” “gluten-free,” but “we pretty much always provide any modification to whatever any guest wants, [because] the philosophy is, if we can do it and it is reasonable, then we should do it.”  At a recent dumpling class, Irene ran over to the corner store to buy almond milk, even though the restaurant doesn’t keep milk alternatives in stock, because “the idea that you can provide a guest with something they want, even if its not making you money and even if you’re not selling it to them, is really important, the extra mile we want to go for people.” And more than food accessibility, in terms of quality and dietary needs, and a pervasive spirit of belonging, our front-of-house staff members speak a wide variety of languages -- Filipino, French, Creole, Chinese, and Spanish -- which effectively removes nearly any obstacle to good food and good vibes.

"...you don’t even realize you’re eating fancy because it’s at a price point you can afford.” - Emily Ko, FORMER MEI MEI sous-chef

The “Mei Mei customer” is anyone! For Emily Ko, Mei Mei’s sous-chef from April 2012 until the end of May 2018, “the most interesting part is taking this sourcing concept that’s often in the realm of really fancy, expensive restaurants, and making it accessible on a daily basis to all kinds of people.” Although she very recently made a big move to the West Coast with her partner, Emily “really hope[s] to see Mei Mei continue to be a part of the community that is very democratic in its reach and can turn what can be kind of a highbrow principle into an everyday lunch where maybe you don’t even realize you’re eating fancy [because] it’s at a price point you can afford.” Mei Mei’s mission to balance accessibility and quality supports food justice for growers and eaters, and everybody in between!

Mei Mei Regulars Logen, Brent, and Mikael (left to right) enjoying a meal

Mei Mei Regulars Logen, Brent, and Mikael (left to right) enjoying a meal

The restaurant's location in Boston University’s South Campus attracts plenty of students, professors, and scholars. Logen Zimmerman, the Operations Manager for the School of Visual Arts at Boston University, likes “having really high quality food and service in a more casual dining atmosphere,” where “it doesn’t feel pretentious [and] chefs care about what they’re doing, they put a lot of TLC (tender love and care) into it.” From Mei Mei’s Instagram and email newsletters, he follows the “really attractive company policies in terms of transparency and profit-sharing, which seems ethically-responsible,” and Mei Mei's work to “support neighborhood and area farms.” Logen, who lives in nearby Brookline, “see[s] this place as an anchor of the neighborhood, because when Mei Mei moved in, it made South Campus more of a destination for life and vitality.”

When the restaurant opened up, another customer, BU PhD student and MIT Lincoln Lab researcher Brent Parham “started coming for lunch and never stopped.” Over a few months, Brent went through the entire menu and sent pictures of each dish to his now-fiance whenever she couldn’t come, and now Mei Mei’s catering their wedding in the fall! Mei Mei meals “hit [his] taste buds right,” especially because Mei Mei will invite regulars to special menu tasting events to help provide feedback on new menu items.

Of course, some of the most dedicated members of the Mei Mei family have been with us since back at the truck’s humble beginnings. Mikael Bristow, who works as Operations Director for the Junior League of Boston and serves as treasurer for the Fenways Garden Society, first met the Mei Mei food truck back in 2012 when hungry at lunchtime near the Boston Public Library. “It was love at first Double Awesome!” Mikael remembers that “Irene would recognize me and would ring me by name,” and the “friendliness, fantastic service, [and] amazing food was like seeing friends,” a “personal and beloved” culture from the family business she thinks Mei Mei has “brought to the restaurant and comes through.”

Catering Manager Olivia prepping for a big event, and Mei Mei fans showing off their successful dumpling class creations!

Catering Manager Olivia prepping for a big event, and Mei Mei fans showing off their successful dumpling class creations!

And if you can’t make it by the restaurant, Mei Mei also loves bringing cheer to all sorts of fun events, like weddings, business gatherings, parties, even dumpling classes! Catering Manager Olivia Dwan is confident that even outside the brick-and-mortar, Mei Mei “can definitely transfer that culture and what we’re all about in our staff and food to any event, they can really see the Mei Mei vibe.”

The Mei Mei truck serving up some joy at a wedding!

The Mei Mei truck serving up some joy at a wedding!


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Emma James

is a Mei Mei blog contributor interested in journalism and environmental law and equity. She recently graduated from Milton Academy in nearby Milton, Mass, and soon sets sail for Columbia University in NYC. Her favorite Mei Mei dishes are the Double Awesome, the Beef & Brocc, the Roasted Honey Carrots, and the Black Bean Broccoli!

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Education, Feedback, Rewards: shaking up food industry labor norms.

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Education, Feedback, Rewards: shaking up food industry labor norms.

Part 1 of a three-part series by Emma James, a Mei Mei intern who spent the past month interviewing our staff, guests and suppliers on our people, food & culture. 


From the beginning, Mei Mei’s first ambitious goal has been to support sustainable, responsible food-growing practices, but more recently, Mei Mei has been looking at human welfare in the food industry itself.

Emily Ko, Mei Mei’s sous-chef for six years, having just recently departed for California, pointed out that “people will go to a fancy restaurant and ask, ‘how was this cow raised before it became my burger?’ but nobody really asks, ‘how’s the dishwasher treated, what are they being paid, and what kind of crazy hours are they working?’” Business Manager Caden Salvata, who’s been with Mei Mei since July 2012, described a philosophical shift over the past few years, “yes, animal welfare is important, yes, the environment is important, but also, this is an industry that’s notoriously [challenging] for its employees, and human welfare is also something we should be striving towards.”

Mei Mei cooks Celine, Charles, and Matt (left to right) hard at work in the kitchen!

Mei Mei cooks Celine, Charles, and Matt (left to right) hard at work in the kitchen!

The living hourly wage for a single adult supporting him or herself in Boston is $14.11 as of today, but minimum wage is $11.00, and for tipped employees, as are common in the restaurant industry, the hourly minimum is $3.75. Restaurants often pay “back of house” positions, such as dishwashers, bussers, and even chefs, minimum wage with long, late hours, and rely on tips to pay “front of house” server positions -- a practice wrought with discrimination, harassment, and worker exploitation. The work, in the front and behind the scenes alike, is physically taxing and stressful, and restaurants often hire workers part-time or temporarily to avoid covering benefits. Furthermore, because the turnover rate in the industry is so high, overworked and underpaid employees usually face the my-way-or-the-highway norm, and in turn, might (and often, deserve to) hold embittered attitudes towards the work.

Mei Mei has approached this immensely-flawed industry with the focal question, “How do we make staff care because we care?” as co-founder and owner Irene Li shared in her keynote speech at an event called “Food For Thought” early in May this year. She described the Open-Book Management system at Mei Mei, introduced April 2017 in collaboration with ReThink Restaurants, in three key steps: educate all staff members in restaurant finance, speak openly about and solicit feedback on Mei Mei’s P&L (“profit and loss” statement), and reward staff with profit sharing and other team-challenge incentives. This progressive strategy helps retain staff, pay them better, and create a “culture to work hard and use our brains and be rewarded for it.” In even more recent, exciting news, Mei Mei will begin offering health insurance to staff who work at least 30 hours per week. 

Irene speaking at the Toast "Food For Thought" event in May 2018

Irene speaking at the Toast "Food For Thought" event in May 2018

Aidan Dunbar, a full-time front-of-house server, describes himself as a “curious, nerdy dude,” but admits that “finances were never really [his] strong suit,” so he found the curriculum “fascinating,” and “like[s] working at the kind of place that would invest in its employees.” Aidan recalled when he’d just started, nearly a year ago, and was asked for feedback “immediately,” and initially replied, “I don’t know how to improve a business,” but reflected that he now “knows how to make suggestions that aren’t ridiculous,” and is encouraged to. He appreciates that management at Mei Mei is “open and transparent about how things are done, and showing me the whole picture, which makes everything just much clearer.”

Aidan about to enjoy some delicious Mei Mei food

Aidan about to enjoy some delicious Mei Mei food

Open-Book Management, groundbreaking for the industry, further supports Mei Mei’s culture of openness, honesty, feedback, and teamwork. Caden, a self-declared “champion of self-evaluation and reflection,” led a series of team challenges where staff played a direct role in improving the company. The first was to hit a 2% revenue increase in alcohol sales, the second was to cut down on COGS - “cost of goods sold,” a term that refers to the cost of ingredients as well as disposables needed to serve food - and the third, to get sixteen Yelp reviews above 4.25 stars within a four-week period. Not only did staff members brainstorm and apply strategic and creative ideas, but they were also rewarded with bonuses: for example, during the COGS challenge, all the money that the teams saved for the restaurant in that financial period of four weeks was given back to the staff who participated in the challenge.

Caden presenting to the team at the monthly all staff Open Book Management financial review

Caden presenting to the team at the monthly all staff Open Book Management financial review

Mei Mei’s emphasis on personal responsibility, teamwork, and feedback extends as far as its employee performance review program, which involves a “360-degree review,” a system of anonymous feedback from everyone in the company, supervisor or supervisee.

The Mei Mei profit sharing model divides the profit surpassing a predetermined threshold among staff members according to hours spent working, regardless of position, and “will help to give some extra compensation to our most full-time and dedicated employees, some of whom wouldn’t necessarily see some of those benefits,” Emily shared. In addition, Mei Mei recently transitioned to biweekly tip-pooling the front-of-house tips, in an effort to treat server labor hours more equally, and eventually eliminate the need for tipping altogether.

Staff at the monthly all staff Open Book Management financial review

Staff at the monthly all staff Open Book Management financial review

Moving forward, Irene spoke of her hope that “everyone can do everything” in the restaurant, from working directly with guests to helping with prep to checking the books. Although more employee training costs the restaurant more upfront, Mei Mei hopes this increased flexibility will further solidify mutual appreciation and broader thinking among the staff, as well as keep the job interesting! It’s ambitious, but the Mei Mei sense of teamwork and mutual-respect “originally comes from this being a family business, where we all care about each other and we know each other as people first and coworkers second, and we all want each other to succeed,” Irene shared. “Pretty much anyone in the restaurant will drop what they’re doing if you have something that needs to be finished urgently and you can’t do it.” Furthermore, because Mei Mei is a “really democratic organization where we’re not requiring you to have two years of experience,” Irene said, “ to be a great employee, you need the right tools and resources and training, and if you’re not doing your job, it probably means that we [the managers] are not doing our job.”

Mei Mei’s truly putting their money where their mouth is: “better food, better jobs.”


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Emma James

is a Mei Mei blog contributor interested in journalism and environmental law and equity. She recently graduated from Milton Academy in nearby Milton, Mass, and soon sets sail for Columbia University in NYC. Her favorite Mei Mei dishes are the Double Awesome, the Beef & Brocc, the Roasted Honey Carrots, and the Black Bean Broccoli!

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It's Time To Celebrate #DoubleAwesomeLove - You Could Win a Month's Worth of Double Awesomes!

Guys. Get this. Do you want to win FREE DOUBLE AWESOMES FOR A MONTH?!?!?

Our most famous sandwich, the Double Awesome, turns SIX YEARS OLD this month. How crazy is that! So to celebrate, we are choosing one lucky person to win free Double Awesomes for a whole month. Yup, you read that right. Here's the deal: you repost this photo on Instagram this weekend. Sweepstakes close Sunday night at midnight EST, then we'll pick a winner on Monday!

double awesome love

You have to be following us, and you have to mention @meimeiboston and #DoubleAwesomeLove in the post. A few other bits of housekeeping, in case you're curious about the terms of all the delicious eggy cheesy goodness you're going to be eating:

  • You get 1 Double Awesome during one visit per day for 30 consecutive days. OMG!
  • We're talking one regular Double Awesome, eggs any way you like, but with no meat (you're welcome to add it on for the regular add-on price if you want)
  • This reward is non-transferable, meaning you can't send your sister or bestie or friend in to get your Double Awesome. You can consider sharing with them though, if they're being nice :)
  • The 30 days starts on Tuesday, April 16th. Remember, we're closed Mondays but the Double Awesome is now available from open to close every other day of the week!
  • Lastly, you can only claim if you come in - no delivery via GrubHub or Postmates or anyone. You're welcome to call and put your order in for takeout though, as long as you come in to get it yourself. 
  • To redeem your Double Awesomes, we'll snap a photo of you with your first sandwich to post on social. Then every time you come in, just pull up that photo, show it to our counter staff, and the Double Awesome is yours! 
  • P.S. This contest is not affiliated with Instagram.

Ok everyone, good luck... start your regrams NOW!

 

 

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A 💌 from Irene: The next five years

Hello Mei Mei family! We’ve got some big changes coming up, so here’s the littlest Mei Mei to tell you all about them. Drumroll please…

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The last year has been one of huge transitions and growth for Mei Mei, and for our family. We opened our books to our team and launched profit sharing with Rethink Restaurants. Andy opened The Beer Mobile. Mei moved to ATL and just finished writing the Mei Mei cookbook, which will be published by Roost Books in early 2019! I’m taking over operations from the sibling team, and getting married in May. We also renewed our lease on our Park Drive space. As I write this, it’s been almost five years since we first signed on to our cozy spot on BU’s South Campus. Hard to believe. As we look towards the future, towards future expansion and deeper community building work, we’re making some more changes to how things work in our business.


As our guests, you’ll notice two major changes:


1. We’ve created a brand new restaurant menu that will be served counter-service style all day.

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Our space will be as bright and cheery as ever, and as always, our ingredients will be among the best and most ethical you can find. We’re sad to say goodbye to dinner service as we’ve known it, but we’re excited to have a consistently casual service that can accommodate more diners with different diets and budgets. We’re also refocusing on vegetables, smaller plates, and scallion pancake sandwiches, and we know you’ll find something you love. We believe that food, done right, can and should nourish, inspire, and connect us, and we know this menu is yet another step in that direction.

Of course, we’ll also have our new menu, which includes several old favorites. Starting Tuesday, March 20, 2018, you’ll be able to enjoy your Double Awesome with a side of Curried Sweet Potatoes or a trio of Bluefish Fritters with smoked paprika aioli. Or, you can try one of our new scallion pancake sandwiches, from the rich and meaty Beef & Brocc to the hearty vegan Gabby. (Come in for dinner to bid adieu to our Kimchi Fried Rice, Cumin Lamb Dumplings, and Handmade Mantou. Who knows, they may pop back up, reincarnated as specials!)

Our catering menu will undergo an equally exciting change. I for one am thrilled at the prospect of being able to get scallion pancake sandwiches straight to your homes and offices (and to offer them as salads too)! Starting Tuesday, March 27, 2018, you’ll be able to get that and much, much more.

It's hard to say goodbye. Let us make it easier.

Place your next catering order before Saturday, March 17, 2018 to receive a FREE Maple Sesame Noodle Salad before it comes off the menu. Limit 1 per guest, $300 min order.


2. After six years, our food truck will retire from vending on the streets of Boston to support our growing restaurant and catering business.

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Like our colleagues at Clover, a couple years ago, we stopped relying on the food truck vending schedule as a profit engine (PUN!). Instead, we focused on using it for marketing, wedding catering, and training up new staff members. As the winters seem to get worse and the food truck community grows, we’re bowing out of the Boston and Cambridge programs so that we can focus on the restaurant and open up spots for new food truck entrepreneurs. On the bright side, we’ll have more availability to take on private events, so invite us to your workplace party or wedding! We’re excited to grow our food truck catering business and have used open book to engage our whole team around these goals.

We are so grateful to all of you who have supported us through the good and bad times, from our first year on the road to our Kickstarter to the bustling summer lunches at Dewey Square. We’ve got some fun new bits and bobs up our sleeves - a loyalty program, a smidge of restaurant remodeling, new biodynamic wines, and so on.

We'll still cater weddings, throw private events in the restaurant, and teach dumpling classes. We'll still serve pasture-raised meat only. We'll still have bright yellow chairs. And we'll still be working to fill this industry with better ingredients and better jobs.

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Questions? Comments?

Feel free to email me irene(at)meimeiboston.com. Thank you all for everything.
Stick with us and stay tuned as we embark on our next five years.

Love,
Irene, the littlest mei mei
and the entire Mei Mei Family

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Our Greenhouse Farm Dinner at Allandale!

We love our friends over at Allandale, the working farm and farmstand located between Boston and our hometown of Brookline. We've been picking out pumpkins and Christmas trees there since we were little kids, so it's been so fun to work with them sourcing produce for the food truck and restaurant. This year, we decided to throw two dinner parties at the farm. Our August dinner was picnic-style, with blankets and chairs for eating all over the main field. Our October dinner last week was held in Greenhouse #3 for a cozy harvest party along with our truck bestie The Beer Mobile

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If you haven't heard about The Beer Mobile yet, it's the truck cousin to our food truck, the brainchild of Mei Mei co-founder and big bro Andy! He and his long-time bartender friend Corey set up The Beer Mobile as an easy option for bar catering and craft beer on draft for parties and weddings. It was the perfect companion to the food truck for our harvest party! 

Over in the greenhouse, the wonderful Allandale crew - led by Emily, Chelsea and Jessica - had set up farm tables and benches with burlap tablecloths and farm flowers. 

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Andy and Corey brought a few varieties of red and white wine along with local craft beer like Cisco Whale's Tale Pale Ale, our favorite Bantam and Downeast Ciders, and Shock Top Belgian White beer. When guests arrived, they immediately lined up for a drink next to the fire pit, cornhole, and pumpkin patch.   

Meanwhile, over in the food truck we were busy plating miso soup with local seaweed, organic tofu, and spiralized daikon radish as well as a smoky eggplant dip with Allandale cubanelle and poblano peppers for dipping. 

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The 80-odd guests (we sold out the event again!) began to join us in the greenhouse for the meal. 

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How warm and cozy does it look with tables full of people? We're so excited to do more events in here. 

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And then the food came! Check out the delicious menu featuring all sorts of Allandale produce, straight from the fields. 

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Once we started serving I forgot to take pictures, but luckily Jessica, our marketing consultant/Mei Mei best all-time partner-in-crime managed to snap a photo of the red-cooked pork shank with multigrain blend and the roasted acorn squash with sweet and sour squash seed glaze. 

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The meal ended with fudgy blondies made from Allandale baby ginger and a delicious ricotta & tomato parfait. No pictures, sorry - they went too fast!

A huge thanks to all our friends at Allandale, The Beer Mobile, and everyone else who came for our Greenhouse Dinner! We can't wait to do it again next year. 

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We LOVE Food Truck Weddings!

There's a chill in the air, which means we're nearing the end of wedding season. We're going to miss the parties every weekend -  it's been such a blast celebrating with wonderful people all summer! Our amazing couples have been sending us wedding photos, and we wanted to share some of our favorites here. We love being a part of some of the best, most important days in peoples' lives. 


Hilary and Greg got married at the historic Loring Greenough House in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. We've done lots of neighborhood events and parties at this location, which is a perfect indoor + outdoor venue for food trucks.

As you can see, Andy, Alyssa and Bibi were pretty excited to say hello to the bride and groom. 

We love a good cheese plate for every festive occasion....and we love a tiny bow tie attached to a super cute kid eating a Double Awesome even more. 

Guests nibbled on scallion pancake sandwiches, soup shots with local veggies, sweet corn fritters, dumplings and more. 

Hilary and Greg said:
It’s hard to remember there was ever a time that we weren’t going to have a Mei Mei wedding. If I could do the whole thing all over again, the very first email I would send is to Irene. (I think sometimes we made up reasons to get in touch with Irene, just to have her calm, caring, organized presence write back.) Again and again, Irene and the crew made us feel like the most special couple on Earth. Choosing a menu when everything they make is so freaking delicious was definitely the hardest part of the entire affair. Our guests just raved and the staff were amazing. I’m delighted that we can keep eating Mei Mei for the rest of our lives, to remember such a very sweet day with a very amazing food truck. Scallion pancakes, people, scallion pancakes.

Thank you both so much for the kind words, and congratulations again! So much fun. Photo credit for all above photos: Emmy Hagen


Another one of our favorite events from the summer was celebrating the wedding of Corey and Zev at the Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. You can tell instantly from this photo that they're a super fun couple (I mean, check out that blue steel supermodel pose!) and we had such a blast hanging with them and their many friends and loved ones. 

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They served up Double Awesomes at the wedding, along with all sorts of other dishes, from Red Curry to Rib Tips to our Magical Kale Salad. Irene had such a blast with them. Congrats again, Corey and Zev!

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Last but certainly not least, we have the beautiful wedding of Eliza and Nick at a private residence in West Barnstable, MA. Don't you love these two already, just from this photo? Perfect bride and groom for a food truck wedding!

The location was gorgeous, the guests were awesome, the night was just lovely. Eliza was kind enough to write us and say:

A month after our wedding, Nick and I are still on cloud nine and are so thankful everything went so smoothly and perfectly. A lot of that was thanks to you and your staff, so I wanted to thank you for being so helpful and giving our guests the best wedding food they've ever had (we really got this feedback from a lot of people!)...The food and service was everything we could have wanted!

Congrats again to Eliza and Nick and we wish you the very best! Photos by Siri Jones. 

Thanks again to all our wonderful brides and grooms, their fantastic photographers and lovely guests. We feel lucky to be part of these special days and wish you lots of very happy eating as married couples! 

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Smoked Maple Ginger Vinaigrette

Spy that dressing in the top corner? It's made from Mei Mei Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce!

Spy that dressing in the top corner? It's made from Mei Mei Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce!

Hi everyone! It's getting to be the time of year that we welcome fall flavors. Whether you want pumpkin spice EVERYTHING or if you prefer your pumpkin spices to stay within the confines of a pie crust, consider another unexpected autumn flavor: Mei Mei sauces! Made with local maple syrup (Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce), cranberries (Cranberry Sweet & Sour Sauce), and apples (Apple Hoisin), these ingredients make us think of brisk weather, falling leaves, Thanksgiving dinners, apple picking, and all the fun stuff that comes with fall in New England. 

At home, I've been using our Smoked Maple Ginger Sauce for a lot of Asian-influenced dishes like Stir-Fried Greens   or Smoked Maple Ginger Noodles with Tofu.  But the flavors are versatile enough, especially when mixed with other ingredients, that they work well with all sorts of meals. Since we started using our sauces as the base for salad dressings in our food truck market bowls, I've been making delicious vinaigrettes in an instant at home. They're good on just about every kind of salad. Above, we've tossed roasted sweet potatoes with pickled cranberries, wheatberries and goat cheese over greens (if you want the recipe, you'll have to wait for our cookbook, coming early 2019!), but feel free to play around with your own combinations. 

I make the salad dressing using the following basic formula:  1 part Mei Mei sauce to 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil. That's it! Which might looks something like this:

1/4 cup Smoked Maple Ginger sauce

1/4 cup rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar, or vinegar of your choice)

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or oil of your choice)

Stir or shake, and BOOM. You've got a delicious salad dressing in about 3 minutes. Taste to see if it needs a pinch of salt, or a bit more vinegar, or whatever else you want to add. Toss it over anything you like and enjoy. 

Come grab a bottle of Mei Mei sauce at any of our locations, or online here

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