I can’t remember the last time I had an egg roll.
The problem is, I’ve been on a pretty strict pescatarian diet — I only eat fish and veggies — for about two years now. And even before then, I wasn’t cooking poultry or pork or beef at home; I would only order it if I was dining out.
Therein lies the problem. Most egg rolls — you know the ones with the thick, bubbly wrap on the outside with the sauteed veggies on the inside — usually have pork in them too.
So, I hadn’t had a proper egg roll in years…until the other day.
Walking into Dragon City in High Point, you might think they’re about to close. Tables have been pushed to the sides of the room, bundles of paper towels sit in corners and wild looking plants hang from the ceiling. Above the plastic-shielded counter hangs a familiar looking menu with all of the classic Chinese takeout favorites: shrimp chow mein, beef with vegetables, barbecue spare ribs — all items featuring some sort of meat product. But the images are faded, their colors draining out of the rectangles that hold the now, not-so-appetizing looking plates. The two decades that have passed within the walls have taken a toll on them. But a recent change is breathing new life into this High Point standby.
In November, Dragon City switched to an all-vegetarian and vegan menu. You read that right. There’s a 100-percent plant-based Chinese restaurant in the Triad — not New York, not San Francisco, but in High Point.
“My mom is Buddhist so she saw coronavirus as a result of people’s greed,” explains Cindy Wang, who translates for her mom, Xue Lam. “We wanted to cut down on how much meat we consume.”
Lam, who immigrated to the United States from the Fujian Province in China in 1996, has been a Buddhist for more than a decade and a vegetarian for eight years. Lam explains that a medical scare involving her husband drew her to value life in a more tangible way.
“Save a life, help a life,” she says.
Last year, when the pandemic hit, the restaurant of 20 years closed its doors in March and didn’t reopen until November. For about eight months, the family — led by Lam’s instinct — workshopped new recipes and looked for alternative meat suppliers to create a brand-new menu. Now, everything you order at Dragon City is plant-based. The broth? Switched from chicken to vegetable. The meat? Almost all soy-based. The batter? Now made of different flours and wheat gluten instead of egg.
Large bags of frozen “meat” emerge from the freezer as Lam starts making one of the restaurant’s most-popular dishes: kung pao chicken. The individual pieces are made from soy and are already pre-seasoned, making Lam’s job a bit easier. She tosses a handful in the steaming wok and adds her own concoction of sauces to taste. Nearby, she steams a medley of vegetables while making fried rice in a separate wok. The whole process takes just a few minutes. She adds a dash of peanuts to the mix and plates the whole thing in a plastic container. Lunch is served.
Lam says that they’ve been getting their alternative meats from a company called Vege Star, a plant-based company out of Taiwan. She’s tried using Beyond Meat for some of their menu items like their wontons but said they ended up tasting “artificial.”
One of the trickiest things to get right was the sesame “chicken,” says Wang.
“It took time to get it in the right shape,” she says. “We had to switch to an eggless batter and now we scoop it with a spoon and throw it in the fryer.”
Wang, who’s 23, helps out at the front counter of the shop while her mom cooks in the back. They’re essentially the only two employees in the restaurant because since they reopened in November, business has been incredibly slow. Wang says that a lot of their old customers weren’t that excited about the idea of an all-vegetarian menu.
“From November to February we were lucky to get one or two customers a day,” Wang admits. “Now we’re getting a few more people than before.”
Wang reveals that a few weeks ago, an individual offered to buy their shop and she responded with a counteroffer.
“If they accept, we’ll probably sell,” Wang says.
It was never their dream to come here and open a restaurant, Wang says of her parents.
“It’s just doing what you can with what you have,” she says. “I don’t want to do this forever. I just graduated, but I can’t just leave my family stranded like this.”
Wang says she’s been helping out in the restaurant since she was about nine or 10 years old. She recently graduated from college in Asheville but says she worried about her parents. A few weeks ago, the shop was broken into but nothing of value was taken. She’s concerned about the rise in Asian hate crimes but says she’s not surprised by it.
“There’s been an undercurrent of hate talk,” Wang says. “And then with the Capitol riots and the talk about coronavirus, it doesn’t surprise me.”
Her mother, who is religious, says she believes that if you are good, that you won’t be harmed. That karma will work in your favor. And that’s kind of the reasoning she used to change their menu, too.
“I want more people to try vegetarian food to help the environment,” Lam says. “I want people to eat less animals and to gain empathy and make the world better.”
And even if it drives their business into the ground, Lam says she has no regrets.
“Even if we don’t succeed, it’s the first time that I feel at peace,” she says. “The hardest part is waiting.”
Visit Dragon City at 274 Eastchester Drive #128 in High Point. Find their menu at dragonhighpoint.com or call 336-869-2966.