Austin in a Pocket: Gan Bei Gals
Try their nostalgic Asian-American eats at creative pop-up events around town
Jackie Fu, Michelle Kao and Gabby Phi started Gan Bei Gals to share Asian-American culture through food, stories and art. “Gan bei” means “cheers” in Mandarin, and the women kicked off this past January with a Lunar New Year hot pot dinner. Last month, they completed a pop-up in collaboration with Daijoubu Mart at Last Straw.
The trio met at The University of Texas at Austin and bonded through a mutual love of food. Phi and Kao first connected through the Taiwanese Student Association (of which Kao was Vice President at the time). Phi and Fu crossed paths through a student food magazine that Phi helped start.
Each of the founders have deep relationships with food; for them it represents their personal ties not only to their cultures but also their immediate families. For Fu, “food served as a medium for kinship at family gatherings.” Kao’s best memories are when her father would prepare dinner omelets. Phi’s family plans their trips around restaurants that they all want to try. Unsurprisingly, Gan Bei Gals developed as a result of their shared intent to bring people together.
“I came up with the idea of doing a pop-up shop because I wanted to sell clothes in a sustainable way. I brought it up to Gabby and Michelle to make it an event,” Fu recalls. “It went extremely well, and we realized we had other shared interests. We were serving food and drinks and I think we were just doing it for the excuse of hosting something.”
After their first pop-up, Gan Bei Gals sprouted as a happy accident – a way for the trio to take their skill sets and do something just for the joy of sharing it with others. With a team this size everyone has to wear several hats to make it work, but they’re intentional about letting each other’s strengths shine. Kao collaborates closely with Phi on research and development to create menus and with Fu on creative direction. Phi is their communications arm and works with Fu on social media strategy and visual storytelling.
“We want to be nostalgic, communal and exploratory. A celebration of shared cultural experiences,” says Fu.
Many of Gan Bei Gals’ recipes are directly inspired by the team’s loved ones. For the Daijoubu pop-up, their menu included: Cơm Sườn Nướng (Vietnamese pork chops), Mama Phi’s Chả Giò (egg rolls) and Mark’s Sago (tapioca pudding inspired by Kao’s close friend).
“I was making Mark’s Sago and I legit felt like one of my ancestors took over my hand,” Kao shares with a laugh. “It’s what you would see in the street markets of Taiwan. In that moment I felt like I really existed in the world.”
Though COVID has slowed down their plans, the team is gets creative with translating their programming to 2020’s landscape. In response to the Minneapolis protests after the killing of George Floyd, Gan Bei Gals did a fundraiser for Reclaim the Block, a grassroots coalition in Minneapolis.
“The beauty of us being a pop-up is that we can pivot at any time,” shares Phi. “We did chicken wing pick-ups in June out of my small apartment. It was really crazy but we made 200 wings and all the proceeds went to Reclaim the Block.”
After their success with the Daijoubu Mart pop-up (they sold out several times), they are back to the drawing board with some of the ideas they haven’t been able to bring to life yet. From a tea series to a spring roll party to a noodle soup face off, the Gan Bei Gals are rethinking what it means to experience food with others, especially the delicious delights that sparks such deep nostalgia for them.
Says Fu of connections they’ve made, “We’re like a dinner party with strangers that end up being your friends.”
The World in a Pocket is dedicated to exploring the world through the lens of a dumpling. From mandu to empanadas, spanakopita to gyoza, pierogi to Pop-Tarts, this is our love letter to pockets worldwide and the stories they tell. These beloved staples all share a similar food-inside-of-food structure, while providing a delicious way to understand our world. We are excited to bring TRIBEZA readers Austin in a Pocket, where Regine Malibiran has teamed up with TWIP co-founder and photographer Mackenzie Smith Kelley to shine a light on local pocket makers.