Written by Melody Cao
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
Story shared by Queen House, a partner of the Very Veggie Movement: “It is my wish to open a vegetarian restaurant.”
Veggie Gua Bao is one of the most popular dishes offered at Queen House in Mountain View, California. The big, soft, steamed bun sandwiches barbecue-flavored vegetarian meat, finely crushed peanut powder, and sauerkraut. While the dish may not appear unique upon first glance, it takes just one bite to realize that the restaurant must hold some secret recipe to achieve such fantastic flavors. “The secret to our delicious Gua Bao is the sauerkraut,” revealed Cindy Lee, the owner of Queen House. “My mother passed away two years ago, and my father passed away half a year later. They loved me very much, especially my dad. Before he passed away, he was very worried about whether I could survive alone and make this restaurant. So he arranged everything in the kitchen carefully for me and taught the chef how to make sauerkraut. In this way, we maintain the authentic taste of sauerkraut.” And the family’s love can certainly be felt through the care put into each recipe at the restaurant.
A Family-Run Restaurant
Before moving to the United States, Cindy’s family lived in Taipei, Taiwan, and her father was born in Guangdong. When he was young, he went to Taiwan with the army, where he learned to cook with an older colleague. After that, he became the chef on the SS Universe Campus, a university on a ship. He traveled to various locations, and back in Taipei, the children were brought up by their mother. As he grew older, Mr. Lee hoped to stay with his family more often, and so they decided to immigrate to the United States together. In 1998, they opened a restaurant in California’s Silicon Valley, and named it Queen House.
Queen House serves cuisine that brings the unique tastes of Taipei straight to one’s table in Mountain View, California. From their delicious rice balls and scallion pancakes, to Garlic Chive Stir Fry with Pork and beyond, the restaurant has indeed won the hearts of guests. The eatery had been taken care of by Cindy and her mother, while her father held responsibility for the recipes.
Cindy’s daughter had soon been enrolled in the Tzu Chi Academy in Cupertino to study Chinese. From there, a wonderful friendship with Tzu Chi arose. “Tzu Chi Academy is really good. My daughter attended Tzu Chi until she graduated, and now she is very good at Chinese. I also participated in Tzu Chi activities and hosting several events,” Cindy said happily. “I was just a housewife; I didn’t expect that I could do it. This experience made me more confident in all aspects.” Through her participation in Tzu Chi’s activities, Cindy became inspired by the people around her, and started eating more vegetarian meals. “I like vegetarian food very much. Eating vegetarian is not difficult for me,” said Cindy. As she recalled traveling with Tzu Chi, she expressed having enjoyed a variety of vegetarian foods alongside volunteers: “I have no problem eating vegetarian from morning to night. And now I am having one vegetarian meal per day.”
Creative, Authentic, Delicious
Thanks to her love of vegetarian food and exploring new recipes, Cindy has designed a vegetarian menu for the restaurant, providing healthy and authentic vegetarian Taiwanese foods for veggie lovers. “I like to create some recipes, cook, and taste in the kitchen. Most of the dishes on the vegetarian menu I created for myself to eat, and if I like it, I will put it into the restaurant.”
Cindy spoke animatedly of the efforts she’d put into making traditional dishes into vegan and vegetarian ones: “For example, the vegan five-flavor intestines pot. Originally, in a five-flavor intestines pot, there should be intestine, tofu, sauerkraut, green onions, and garlic. I use vegan gluten rolls instead of intestines and sauté with ginger, spring onion, and garlic. Then, I add the spicy bean paste and a special black sauce we made in our restaurant. After stir-frying, I put the sauerkraut, tofu, and some vegetable ingredients in, adding the broth and simmering until the soup has thickened. The last thing is to add our restaurant’s special homemade chili oil. We choose different chili peppers and add sesame seeds to sauté. The refined chili oil is not very spicy but very fragrant.”
For Cindy, every dish can inspire creativity. For example, the homemade Taiwanese dish known as “Flyhead,” originally made with leeks, minced meat, tempeh, and garlic, is famous for its aroma. The vegan Flyhead at Queen House is made with finely chopped water spinach stalks, garlic, chili, and tempeh, and is stir-fried with dried bean curd. It’s delightfully tasty and pairs perfectly with rice. Another example is Queen House’s take on Taro Fish Soup. Cindy’s new vegan version emphasizes the flavor of taro, which is cut into small pieces, fried, and sauteed with green onions. It’s then combined with crispy red onion, and finally, a vegetarian broth. With taro cubes soaking in the soup, rice noodles and deep-fried bean curds are added. The scent of taro and crispy scallions abound, making this is a must-try dish.
Fried Bean Curd with White Bamboo Shoots is another popular dish on the vegetarian menu at Queen House. The crispy white bamboo shoots imported from Taiwan are stir-fried with fresh and delicious dried bean curd, and when combined with chili and garlic, a fresh and spicy flavor is brought forth. Special Black Fried Rice is composed of a mixture of black rice, brown rice, and organic millet, and fried with finely chopped fresh vegetables for a dish that’s both healthy and delicious. For their Vegetarian Rice Balls, crispy fried dough sticks are wrapped with glutinous rice. Then, salty, stir-fried dried radish is combined with vegan meat floss, inspiring delight with each bite. Other tasty Taiwanese dishes include Pan-fried Leek Dumplings, Vegetarian Fried Noodles, and more.
Finding a New Path in the Pandemic
At the beginning of the year as the pandemic took hold, Queen House, whose business was originally booming, had to face the challenges of surviving as a business overnight.
“Business was still very good on Monday. We had our regular day off on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday, the government implemented the stay-at-home order. There were no people on the street. I have never seen such a situation,” said Cindy. A few weeks later, when the situation had eased, the restaurant reopened for takeaway only. Business had dropped by 40%. “I waited and watched for a while, and I immediately changed my mind to start something new: group delivery.”
Using online social platforms such as Facebook, Queen House lists the dishes that are available for the weekend. The restaurant accepts orders and delivers larger batches of food on different dates, according to region. “I just wanted to give it a try and I didn’t expect the reaction to be crazily good!” This new way of running the restaurant helped Queen House stay in business.
Tzu Chi also brought warmth to Cindy during the pandemic. “When the pandemic began, many Tzu Chi volunteers called and asked about my situation, and then they ordered a lot of take-away. I was really touched, and our interaction was really warm.” Cindy and Queen House have always supported Tzu Chi’s dinner distributions at Sunnyvale Shelter, and have also donated to the annual Thanksgiving Charity Concert for many years. With the continued spread of COVID-19, Tzu Chi volunteers introduced Cindy to the Very Veggie Movement, which she readily joined. The restaurant provides participants of the movement with discounts, and the movement’s platform helps the restaurant reach out to more veggie lovers.
Cindy is happy to participate in the Very Veggie Movement and hopes that through her help raising awareness, more and more people will consider vegetarian alternatives. “I have always hoped that one day I can turn my restaurant into a vegetarian restaurant, or maybe open another vegetarian restaurant. By participating in the Very Veggie Movement, I feel I am working hard for my wish to come true.”
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