Owner: Jason Lay
Jason Lay came to the United States from Cambodia as a 21-year-old eager to learn, with his curiosity culminating in the earning of marketing and management degrees. But it seems working as a bridge and highway inspector for an engineering company was not exactly what he envisioned for his career. While solidifying safety helped to pay his bills, Lay yearned for something more rewarding and has found that through the culinary world, including time at Mi Lah Tapas & Dim Sum.
“I had been asking myself ‘What am I doing?’ and didn’t like the answers,” he said from his month-old Queen Village space. “I’d grown tired of not really benefiting people, so I used that frustration to try this means to make a difference.”
Lay, in his mid-20s at the time, had his epiphany through a trip to Taiwan, with exposure to the International Nature Loving Association being the impetus for change. The initial Mi Lah restaurant ended up in Center City, with subsequent relocation to Ambler, and Lay, 33, is loving the opportunity to helm the second spot not far from his residence.
“We’re building our clientele steadily,” the South Philly resident said of the 40-seat haunt. “Uniting tapas and dim sum offerings is pretty rare, so while customers might have had initial doubts, we enjoy having removed them and concentrating on making our guests’ sense of satisfaction high.”
Mi Lah works to honor its owner’s creed by being 100 percent vegan. It also has won over locals and visitors through commendations from neighboring businesses, with Lay gladly returning the favor.
“Every little bit helps to improve the community vibe,” he said, “so it’s great to have the support.”
Of Cambodian and Chinese lineage, he paid homage to the latter by sharing Mi Lah’s recipe for Dan Dan Noodles, a staple of the cuisine in China’s Sichuan province.
“It’s a very enjoyable item, a popular one, too,” Lay said. “Being so new, we’re happy with our progress, and the dan dan noodles deserve some of the credit.”
Two bags of Shanghai noodles
Ingredients for dan dan
1 cup of soy sauce
3 tablespoons of mushroom sauce
1 cup of agave
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1/4 cup of chili oil
1/2 cup of red vinegar
5 ounces of sesame paste
1/4 cup of peanut butter sauce
Combine the sauce ingredients in a pot, and slowly cook them until they are boiled and smooth.
Spread noodles out, and place them in a pot of boiling water for about three to four minutes. Transfer them into iced water mixed with 2 tablespoons of cooking oil for about a minute, and drain out the water.
To serve, place the noodles in another pot of boiling water, and allow to boil for about 30 seconds. Remove the noodles, and mix them with the sauce. Consider following Mi Lah’s preparation by topping with steamed baby bok choy, cucumber and ground seitan. SPR
Mi Lah Tapas & Dim Sum
Opened: Dec. 1, 2016
615 S. Third St.
Photos by Tina Garceau