Sandita’s started out as a neighborhood backyard dinner series in Venice, a series that explored home cooking with an open door and a place to share food with strangers, old friends and loved ones. The long table featured dishes from Sandy Ho’s Vietnamese family recipes beside a wood-burning fire for cooking and music filled the air.
When the pandemic shut the dinners down, the Australian native of immigrants from the Vietnam War started rolling dumplings in her home kitchen for her online community and Sandita’s Rainbow Dumplings became a local best seller. The naturally colored, hand-rolled pillows come in three flavors – pork and kimchi, mushroom with seasonal vegetables and spicy shrimp.
“I was definitely shocked and unsure of how I was going to proceed,” the former food stylist tells L.A. Weekly in between juicing beets and kale for the colors in her rainbow dumplings. “It was so scary, being an Australian on a visa. But I took it one day at a time. Fortunately, I still had my private chef clients and pivoted to food delivery. I created different menus every single week, the same food from the dinners I would host – the rainbow dumplings, my mom’s chicken pho, my mom’s chicken curry, food that would bring comfort and nourishment, something known in a time of the unknown.”
That said, the unknown has always been a springboard for Ho. The fine arts graduate worked in restaurants and cafes while studying at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney on Oxford Street, the heart of the local LGBTQ drag. It didn’t take long for her passion to shift from fine arts to food.
Born on the 4th of July, Ho booked a sailing trip to Italy for her birthday. She had her own year of Eat, Pray Love and ended up spending a week sailing the Pontine Islands. It was a life-changing trip. She went on to team up with the Sailing Collective, becoming their onboard chef for about three years. She sailed through Greece, spent summers in Barcelona, sailed through Thailand and the Caribbean. Her downtime was spent seeking out farmers and families she could stay with to learn more about food.
“I lived in a lighthouse in Croatia and spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, which was a nostalgic pull for me,” says Ho, who also spent years as a food stylist and photographer. “My last sailing trip was in Sardinia and after a short recharge back in Australia, Chef Gregg Drusinksy invited me to come to Santa Monica for a pop-up. I hopped on a plane to L.A. the next day and went straight from the airport to the Santa Monica farmers market. That was four years ago.”
While Rainbow Dumplings remain a customer favorite, the Sandita’s team is gearing up for their next chapter, cooking in person again and reopening their catering and events program, which pays homage to Ho’s Vietnamese heritage and will feature whole grilled fish with pineapple peanut sauce, sticky rice, hand salads, Mum’s best Ca Ri Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry) and the signature dumplings.
Having been welcomed with open arms by the community, Sandita’s gives back by donating a portion of sales each month to organizations that help support neighborhoods via food sovereignty work, sustainability, education and community outreach. In May, the pop-up honored Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by donating to the Center for the Pacific Asian Family, a local organization that builds healthy and safe spaces within the Asian and Pacific Islander communities against domestic violence and sexual assault.
Every month, Sandita’s partners with local winemakers to create unique Rainbow Dumpling pairings like the ongoing “Dumpling & Wine Club.” Each dumpling and wine bundle features a pack of 12 Rainbow Dumplings, a bottle of wine and a hand-dyed napkin from the fine arts graduate. They’ve recently collaborated with Lorenza Rose, Good Boy Wine and Helen’s Wine. The Rainbow Dumplings are currently available exclusively at Wine and Eggs in Atwater Village. You can also find dumpling kits at @sesame.la in Chinatown.
As far as Ho’s future over the rainbow, she envisions a multi-purpose warehouse space where she can have a dumpling factory alongside a food styling studio alongside a long table down the center to host dinners and pop-ups.
“I want a space that is community-focused where you can come and hang and learn and feel inspired. In this time right now chefs aren’t just chefs, we are photographers and food stylists and public figures. You have to be multi-faceted and this space will be a reflection of that and a place of support. Humans are meant to be good at many different things.”