Kwong Tung says ‘zài jiàn’12/9/2015
During the current rancor about immigration laws for different ethnic groups, America’s history with such matters can be instructive. Few people today are aware that the Magnuson Act of 1943 repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. For the 62 intervening years, Chinese laborers were completely banned from entering the U.S., and Chinese already here were forbidden to buy property outside designated ghettos. World War II, when the U.S. needed an Asian ally to fight the Japanese, changed that.
It also helped bring Wayne and Hing Wong’s parents here from Guangdong, also known as Kwong Tung. By 1964, they had opened a restaurant by that name downtown. Because he was the eldest son and the only family member to speak both Cantonese and English, Wayne ran the front of the house as a teenager. Two relocations later, they opened in what had been El Bandito’s, a trend-setting restaurant and bar of the 1970s.
Today, Wayne is the landlord and Hing runs the restaurant. None of their children want to be the restaurant business, though, so they are closing Jan. 1. (Wayne is looking for a restaurant tenant.) The café, which has been voted the city’s best Chinese place by readers of this paper, will be missed by one of the widest demographic groups of any place in town from Asian immigrants who gather for Sunday’s dim sum service to construction workers attracted to large, inexpensive lunch specials and civic leaders who have been coming for decades.
I recently met young filmmaker Kristian Day there for lunch. We ran into professional billiard player Eddie Robinson, retired architect Jesse Lewis and Mayor Frank Cownie. Those three have known Wayne Wong since middle school or longer. Robinson was in between tour stops in Nashville and Las Vegas. Day was in town after a season of “The Bachelor” and a three-week stint on “Caitlyn.” He said he eats at Kwong Tung several times a week when he’s in town. We all ordered hearty lunch specials — lots of freshly fried chicken and stir-fried meats and fish with fresh vegetables, with rice, soup and tea. Including tax and tip our bill averaged just $7 a head.
Dim sum plates were priced $2-$5.60 with the singular exception of a whole fish at $10. Dumplings are the heart of dim sum: Siu mai, the most familiar-looking dumpling, had the appearance of an open basket with its homemade pork sausage flowing over of the top; Fun gor and har gow stuffed shrimp noodles and vegetables into translucent rice paper wrappers (with a touch of wheat starch in the dough); Gow gee were pan-fried dumplings, differing from “potstickers” in the shape of their wrapper; Wu gok stuffed taro paste and mushroom bits in deep-fried wheat wrappers. Deep-fried chicken wings stuffed with sticky rice were my favorite dishes.
Fung jeow (chicken feet) are an acquired texture, resistant to chewing and challenging too many intestinal systems. Omasum (ginger tripe) were much more palatable. Curried squid, one of the few squid dishes in town that is not fried, were marvelously seasoned but chewy. Popular stuffed sweet peppers were full of shrimps and shrimp paste and drizzled with a black bean sauce. For heartier appetites, “fun” dishes mixed stir-fries with wide wheat noodles and steamed fish, riblets, etc. Jin dui (deep-fried sesame balls filled with sweet red bean paste) are the favorite dessert of a few chefs I know. Custard tarts were the most American-like dessert.
Side Dishes: Waterfont Seafood in Clocktower Square opened an expanded area that includes a party room, a sushi bar and 32 more dining room seats. There is also a new freezer housing crab legs, etc. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
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