A pop-up dedicated to preserving Chinese street food culture has latched on at the unlikeliest of places. Every Wednesday night at Showtime Lounge in Bloomingdale, patrons of the beloved dive bar can pair their Natty Bohs with wontons bobbing in Sichuan oil or dandan noodles.
Trash Panda evolved out of a Chinese street market that business partners Ted McGinn and Susan Qin put on in September 2019 in downtown D.C. The pop-ups, which run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. or until supplies run out, started at Showtime Lounge (113 Rhode Island Ave. NW) in November of the same year.
“We had 35 aunties and grammies who used to live in Chinatown and have moved out of the area during the great exodus after the riots and other economic pressures that forced so many of the Chinese community out to Rockville, Northern Virginia, other parts of D.C.,” McGinn explains. “They brought their nieces and daughters and granddaughters who wanted to share their pride, their tradition.”
McGinn and Qin met at a house party last year and bonded over a shared passion for Chinese cuisine. Qin is from Chengdu—the capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province—and recently left a career in financial strategy and analysis to focus on food. She says cooking is in her blood.
“My mother’s mother, they owned a small bed and breakfast a long time ago,” she explains. “She had some recipes for me.” When Qin moved to the U.S. at age 17 she says she began to pick up things her mother used to teach her in the kitchen growing up. When family members came to visit, it became tradition for Qin to cook for them. The pickles on the Trash Panda menu are a family recipe.
Growing up in Syracuse, New York, McGinn was exposed to Chinese regional cuisines through his father’s obsession with cooking. “He’d go on these jags where we’d eat nothing but Hunan for a month and then Szechuan and than Cantonese,” he says.
They would take monthly trips to New York City’s Chinatown to stock up on ingredients. It left a lasting impression on McGinn who has cooked at several D.C. restaurants and also manages the Bloomingdale and 14th and U Street NW farmers markets.
In addition to the Trash Panda pop-ups, McGinn and Qin sell ready-to-cook dumplings at area farmers markets. Qin says her ultimate goal is to develop a platform to assist “multi-generational immigrants who have recipes just like me passed down and want to showcase their food and their people.”
A sample menu from Feb. 19 shows the breadth of dishes Trash Panda is able to prepare using a couple of induction burners. Qin and McGinn prep the dishes at Present Company since Showtime Lounge doesn’t have a kitchen. McGinn and Qin more than make it work.
Sichuan Red Oil Wontons or 红(Hóng)油(Yóu)抄(Chāo)手(Shǒu)?
Rougamo ( Braised Pork Belly Buns) or 肉(Ròu)夹(Jiā)馍(Mó）?
Street Style Pan-Fried Daikon Radish Buns (V) or 萝(Luó)卜(Bo)丝(Sī) 饼(Bǐng)?
Street Style Pan-Fried Scallion Buns (V) or 葱(Cōng)油(Yóu)饼(Bǐng)?
Chicken & Corn & Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings?
Fish & Perilla & Tomato Dumplings?
Pork & Chinese Celery Dumplings ?
Veggie & Tofu Dumplings (V) ?
Eggplant & Chinese Green Pepper & Egg (V)?
Asian Grandma’s Secrete Recipe Chili Oil Sauce, ??
Shanghai Pork belly & Sticky Rice Shumai or 糯(Nuò)米(Mǐ)烧(Shāo)麦(Mai)?
Braised Beef Noodle Soup – Sichuan Version? or 红(Hóng)烧(Shāo)牛(Niú)肉(Ròu)面(Miàn)
Dandan Noodles ? or 担(Dàn)担(Dàn)面(Miàn)
Sichuan Street Spicy & Sour Glass Noodles (V) or 四(Sì)川(Chuān)酸 (Suān)辣(Là)粉(Fěn) ?