Zing Bai

Chef/Owner – Zing’s Awesome Rice
New York, New York

Zing9On a recent Monday late afternoon, I find myself inside Zing’s Awesome Rice. It’s a small space on the Lower East Side with an open kitchen that looks out on a couple tables and a handful of bright red counter stools. The menu, hand-drawn with chunky markers, detailing the different rice, wine and sake options, hangs from the exposed-brick wall. A second hand-drawn chart explains the different rice offerings – white, brown and purple.

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It’s late for lunch and too early for dinner, so Zing has time to chat with me for a while between peak services. We sit, sip juice boxes of chrysanthemum tea drink (lightly floral and a touch of sweet) and talk about Zing’s path to opening a restaurant. Zing is wearing a white newsboy cap over her cropped pixie hair, and with her big eyes and her line + stress-free face, she looks like she hasn’t aged a day since we met, back in our first year of law school. If I hadn’t known, I would never guess that this calm, graceful lady sitting across from me opened her first restaurant, in the jungle that is NYC nonetheless, just a few months prior. And that the NY Times has already sussed out her rice and given it a glowing review.

A bit of background: Zing and I both went to law school. In fact, we were in the same section during the dreaded 1L. I speak for my fellow classmates when I say we take pride in seeing one of our own forge a successful career in the big law world, then take the huge risk of leaving that life behind (and em hem, those paychecks) to pursue a passion. In Zing’s case, as she tells me, her passion is feeding people.

“It’s so much more fun making food than reviewing contracts all day,” she tells me, and I nod in agreement, as I watch her sear the purple rice that she’ll be feeding  me with freshly chopped veggies, a scrambled-in egg, and sweet Chinese sausage. Born and raised in Beijing, Zing knows rice and Chinese ingredients. But a savvy business lady, she tweaked the classic preparation method to make it something she could prepare on demand, but maintain the texture of, well, awesome rice. Zing’s rice is steamed, baked, and then seared upon order.

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It’s so much more fun making food than reviewing contracts all day

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Zing was kind enough to take time from her busy sched to do the B2S questionnaire. As for me, I will certainly be going back to Zing’s, both to visit an old friend and because I’m sold on her rice. Hablamos!

Coffee or tea?

Coffee and tea. But I try to drink not more than one coffee a day, and I make my own coffee here [at the restaurant].

B2S: Any special kind?

The instant coffee powder. I heat up milk with honey until it’s very foamy, then add instant coffee powder to it. It’s delicious.

B2S: I remember that from College Town Bagels!  You putting honey in the coffee!

Beer or wine?

Wine.

B2S: Do you serve wine here [at Zing’s Awesome Rice]?

Yes, we carry seven choices of red and four white. We also carry house-infused sake. And for each rice item, there’s a recommended sake pairing, and it’s infused with different herbs, fruits, flavors… for example, the sausage rice, we recommend pairing with the “Dirty Sake”, an olive-infused sake. And for chicken we recommend the ginseng and goji berry-infused sake.

Describe your typical breakfast.

I don’t eat breakfast.

B2S (falls off chair): No!??

Just a shot of caffeine and I jump to work.

What is your earliest food-related memory?

My earliest food-related memory was when I was very young, probably two or three. My mom made me a steamed pear with rock sugar. And she made it in a way so that she could blend in some very bitter medicine so that I would eat it. Because it was juicy and sweet… so that was her trick.

Describe your ideal sandwich.

My ideal sandwich would have to be prosciutto, Brie, tomato and spinach on rye.

Where would you travel to eat?

Well, last year I went to Japan and Ireland and I found the food in both of those places very good. Ireland, actually, had surprisingly good food. I expected it to be like London and be all fish and chips. But it was very stewy, very satisfying. Lots of fresh sea food too.

B2S: What about in the future – where do you want to go?

I’d love to go to the Scandinavian countries. I’ve watched shows about the cooking in places like Denmark…

B2S: Like Noma?

Yes, would love to go there and have the real Scandinavian experience.

Name 5 people you would like to have at a dinner party?

1. David Chang!

2. Caitlin

B2S: Yes! I made it!

3. My boyfriend, Jesse

4. Barack Obama; and

5. Xi Jinping, the new Chairman (like the new President) of China

B2S: I feel like there would be really good conversation at that table.

Yea! We’d talk about food, politics, law… Everything!

What are you in the mood to eat right now?

Right now? Some dumplings. I love dumplings. I could eat them every day.

B2S: Do you have a spot where you get them in New York?

I like old Beijing style, which is hard to find here. Because in New York, a lot of places serve dumplings but the skin is so thick. In Beijing, we do the skin very thin. I miss my mom’s dumplings.

B2S: Is there anywhere you can find Beijing-style dumplings?

Probably some places, but I’d rather go through the trouble of making them myself. I make the skin too, so it’s a long operation.


Zing’s Awesome Rice
122 Ludlow Street

212-253-5808
zingsawesomerice.com

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