San Francisco: Rice Paper Scissors Pop Up Shop

Here’s a radical concept! In the day of rising rents on storefronts in San Francisco, Rice Paper Scissors has streamlined the “pop-up” shop, so much so that Valerie Luu and Katie Kwan (founders) were recently featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show. You can snag some like-home-cooked rice porridge (among other things) at places like Mojo Bike Cafe or Blue Bottle Coffee, or take part in one of their private kitchen dinners, like the Laque Duck Parlor pictured below.

The food is so fresh, well-prepared, and utterly mouth-watering that you can’t help but go back for seconds. I had the good fortune of photographing the girls at their Laque Duck Parlour dinner and squeezed a little interview in as well! P.S. They are taking off to Vietnam for the month of February to take in the rituals and recipes of the motherland, and they plan to “pop-up” in Saigon and the Imperial City of Hue! How cool! Here is what the chefs had to say about their rising fame and their upcoming plans:

LF: Tell us something about yourselves that no one knows…
VL: Everyone close to me kinda knows this, but I use food as a vehicle for cheese. What they don’t know is that for breakfast this morning I toasted a tortilla so I could eat it with cream cheese.
KK:  For one summer in Taiwan, I lived like a teenage Asian gansta (riding on motorbikes, clubbing in track pants, and eating stinky tofu at night markets).

LF: How did the Valerie/Katie relationship start?
VL: Katie and I met through the Underground Market, where we were two separate Vietnamese street food vendors. She was hustlin’ her famed Banh Mi Burgers; I cooked up Vietnamese crepes.

LF: Were you both raised in a “foodie” household?
VL: Not in the way you would think. We grew up eating a lot of cereal and Red Baron frozen pizza. Fortunately we had my grandmother, who made us home-cooked Vietnamese meals. You can learn to appreciate and cook good food, even if you grew up eating McDonalds and frozen meals.
KK: My dad was the foodie of the household – he loved to eat and eat well.  For us, this meant, pressing giant squid on the grill, ordering deep fried salt and pepper crab, and perfecting the Chinese poached chicken. My favorite part: crowd-sourcing from all his patients/chefs in Chinatown.  Oooh – the secrets we’ve learned!

LF: How did your idea for Rice Paper Scissors grow?
VL: When Vietnamese New Year came around last year, we decided to partner to do a special event on a private terrace in the Mission. A year later, it’s evolved to become our full-time business, a blog, and in 2012 – hopefully a web video series.
KK: This year we’ll be celebrating New Year’s in Vietnam together!

LF: You’ve really mastered the “pop-up” shop with your concept. What makes a pop-up shop so unique?
KK: With our pop-ups we want to re-create Vietnamese streetside dining.  In many cases, that means eating in a setting that you would not normally consider to be a restaurant – on the street corner, at the back of a bike shop.  For our pop-ups, we want our guests to be able to stumble upon our pop-up, pull up a stool, and enjoy some food.  On our end, we like to collaborate with local business in hosting, and showcase their wares as a part of our pop-up.

LF: Would you have it any other way?
VL: We love creating a sense of place, evident in the little red chairs, the decor, and the streetside dining aspect of our pop ups. Eventually we want to take that to the next level and have our own restaurant, but until then, we’ll be eating and traveling and popping up all over the city (and hopefully across the States!)

LF: Tell us about some of your favorite ingredients…
KK: Off the top of my head, I’m loving: ginger, dried scallops, and eggs.  Ginger because its a powerhouse, dried scallops because they’re nature’s bouillon, and eggs because they are perfect.
VL: Ditto. And fish sauce. It adds this amazing depth to dishes like rice porridge and makes an amazing sauce for fresher dishes like spring rolls.

LF: The ingredients are all super fresh, right? Organic? Sustainable?
VL: They are fresh – all our herbs and veggies are prepped the day of. Not all of it is necessarily organic, but it’s still delicious.

LF: Are any of your dishes “grandma’s recipe”?
VL: The basis of my love and knowledge of Vietnamese food comes from my grandma’s cooking. I grew up eating Vietnamese crepes, rice porridge, spring rolls and claypot dishes. We regularly cook together, and she still tells me my spring rolls are not rolled tight enough.
KK:  Not my grandma’s but my mom and dad’s for sure.

LF: You had your first big “pop-up” dinner in the Mission recently, how did that go?
VL: It was new endeavor, since we’re used to serving a-la-carte on the street. But since we’re used to working without a kitchen, the dinner felt way more relaxed because we could cook our dinner in a real kitchen AND we didn’t have to worry about the weather for once!

LF: Tell us about the menu…
KK:  The Laque Duck Parlor was a celebration of duck.  The menu had a good amount of Chinese influence, as the cuisine does in Vietnam, them being neighbors and all.  We started off with handmade shrimp chips (a four day process involving, steaming, drying and frying), and moved onto rice porridge (a signature dish of ours) and duck confit spring rolls.  The main course was Laque Duck (a.k.a. Peking Duck).  We served twelve roasted ducks with steamed buns, cucumbers, scallions, and hoisin sauce.  Our guests put together small sandwiches and noshed on fried Chinese long beans in XO sauce (made of salt cured fish, scallops, chilis, and cured fava beans).  For dessert we served coconut sorbet with black sesame powder and almond cookies.  As tradition with Asian meals, we ended dinner with fresh fruit. In this case, Dragon Eyes, similar to lychees.

LF: What’s next?
VL: More travel. I’d love to do a road trip and pop-up in Los Angeles, Austin (hopefully for SXSW) and New Orleans. New York and Portland would be awesome too.
KK: Vietnam (literally!).  We will be travelling Vietnam during the month of February, gathering inspiration for our pop-ups and dinners, filming our experiences, and kicking it on little red stools.  When we get back, expect more regional dishes, and lots of video content for our web video series. Our schedule it tight, but we hope to visit a fish sauce plantation and stage in restaurants!

LF: Where do you see yourselves in five years?
VL:  I see ourselves opening up a cozy neighborhood eatery, and sharing our food and experiences through our cooking and writing.
KK:  Hmmm… at the pace we grew this year, that’s a tough one to answer.  Suffice it to say, we’ll be aiming high, and working hard until we get there.  Hopefully, we will have popularized Vietnamese cuisine and Asian-style eating through our cooking and video series.

LF: What’s your happiest food moment?
VL: I’m the happiest eater when I’m eating food that a friend or family member has made for me. It doesn’t have to be the best food in the world, as long as I’m sharing a meal in a great environment, in the company of good people. Oh, and when I get fried and/or cheesy food to satisfy my drunk munchies, like the garlic and cheese fries I got last night from Toyose in the Sunset.
KK:  When people enjoy our food.  And when I enjoy other people’s food.

L’Agent Goodies…