Q&A with Jing Gao, owner of Fly By Jing
What inspired the name Fly By Jing?
Fly By Jing is an ode to Chengdu’s famous ‘fly restaurants’- hole in the wall eateries so good they attract people like flies, and as a nod to my birth name — which I was just starting to reconnect with but still a bit uncomfortable responding to. When I started building Fly By Jing, I was still Jenny: a name I chose at age five to make life easier as a kid growing up in Europe. But these days, through personal growth and my journey with the business, I started going by Jing this year.
What's been your greatest 'aha' as a small business owner building a food business?
My biggest aha moment was what led to me founding Fly By Jing. In 2018, I went to Expo West, the largest natural food show in the US. I spent days visiting thousands of stalls, but could recall just a handful of Asian food brands by the end. Not surprisingly, there was even less diversity within the buyers and retailers walking the halls. It dawned on me that entire groups of people were being left out of healthy eating, but that the size of this missed opportunity was huge, as this was clearly not representative of what America looks like or how it eats.
When I launched my first product on Kickstarter that summer, it became the highest-funded craft food project on the platform. It was clear that we were ready for a new narrative about Chinese food, one that did not conform to preconceived notions of value, taste and tradition. I realized that just because something doesn't exist yet doesn't mean that there aren't people who are ready for it—it just means that there are systems in place maintaining the status quo and it's our job to shake those up.
What's your favorite Fly By Jing jar to grab this fall, and can you share a recipe you love to use it with?
Definitely Sichuan Chili Crisp, for use with one dish in particular! Our favorite recipe for mapo tofu is a vegan version that gets its deep umami flavor from mushrooms, just like our Sichuan Chili Crisp. We've aptly named it The Best Vegan Mapo Tofu Ever on our site. This is my ultimate comfort food and the perfect meal for colder weather.
The Best Vegan Mapo Tofu Ever
- 300g tofu cut into cubes (I prefer the texture of softer tofu but regular works as well)
- 1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms (dried is important as it has much more concentrated umami flavor than fresh)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 2 tbsp Doubanjiang (fermented fava (broad) bean paste)
- 2 tbsp Sichuan Chili Crisp
- 3 tbsp chili oil (*super easy recipe for this below, but you can substitute with regular oil for less heat if you'd like)
- 1 tbsp fermented black beans
- 1/2 cup stock or bone broth (you can also substitute the water used for soaking shiitakes)
- 1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp water
- 1/2 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
- 1 pinch ground roasted Sichuan pepper (roasting right before grinding releases maximum flavor)
- 3 scallions, whites cut in 1 inch pieces, greens thinly sliced
Soak dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until rehydrated and soft enough to pulse in a food processor or chop into very small pieces, set aside. I sometimes add a splash of soy sauce in the water at this point to give the mushrooms extra flavor)
Boil tofu briefly in salted water, use a colander if you’d like to keep it from breaking, set aside. This is so that the cubes have a better texture and retain their shape more during cooking.
Heat up a basic chili oil* in a hot wok, add minced garlic and ginger and fry until fragrant. You can also use regular oil if you want it less spicy. Add mushroom, doubanjiang, Sichuan Chili Crisp, fermented black beans and whole Sichuan pepper, and fry quickly to avoid burning
Add stock and bring to boil, add scallion whites, slide tofu into wok and stir gently with a rubber spatula to prevent it from breaking, let the stock reduce for about five minutes. Then, add cornstarch mixture and stir in gently until sauce thickens.
Transfer to serving bowl, sprinkle liberally with scallion greens and a generous pinch of ground roasted Sichuan pepper. Serve while hotwith rice. Vegan Mapo tofu doesn't store well because of the binding starch in the sauce, so try to eat it all right away, which shouldn't be a problem!
SICHUAN CHILI OIL RECIPE:
Use chili flakes or grind up your own dried chili of choice to a medium grind, where you still see bits of the skin and seed. Use Erjingtiao for a fruity, mild heat, or chili de arbol or thai birds eye if you want to dial up the heat in your dishes.
Heat up your choice of oil to 325F, rapeseed is commonly used in Sichuan for its warm nuttiness and numerous health benefits, (but I have not seen actual rapeseed oil in the West- it is not the same as canola oil!), but peanut, soybean or grapseed all work fine.
When the oil reaches temperature, pour it over your chili and stir with a rubber spatula. The rule of thumb is to use about 4:1 oil vs chili bits in volume. So if you’re using 1 cup of chili flakes, pour about 4 cups of oil on top. Some people like to add cassia bark, star anise, cardamom and ginger in the mix as well for added fragrance, and that’s up to you, just strain it out before you use the oil.
Once cool, the oil will develop its flavor over the next few days, so it will be best used after a short wait. Use in preparation of the vegan mapo tofu and drizzle the rest over everything you eat.