Sampling Wenzhou cuisine

We were lucky enough last weekend to meet with Carol and Max and their new staff for the soft opening of their new restaurant, Wenzhou Fish, Noodles & More.

Now, it’s easy for a westerner to think of Chinese food as a single category. We tend to have more experience with Cantonese cuisine, and for many North Americans, that is the definition of “Chinese Food”. In reality, there are many, many varieties of Chinese food. Some of us may be aware of the famously spicy Szechuan cuisine.

Enter Wenzhou and its cuisine. I am no expert on it – yet – but at least one dish is new to me: “Knock (or Knocked) Fish Soup”. This is made from boneless fish that has been flattened (and tenderized) by pounding and sliced into noodle-like ribbons. This is served in a lightly-flavored soup with noodles. Side condiments include white pepper and rice vinegar. Subtle and delicious!

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When we arrived at Wenzhou for the soft opening, they had been mobbed by local Wenzhou-ese and had already run out of Knock Fish. Instead, we were treated to fish ball soup, jiaozi (gyoza or pot stickers), stuffed pita, a kind of Chinese black sesame mochi, and something I wasn’t expecting: chop suey!

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Chop suey is, of course, not a native Chinese dish, but was evolved by the Chinese who came to California during the Gold Rush. It is typically based around stir-fried vegetables. This is what we see advertised in an old photo of the Ken Ying Low building on Sixth Street in San Jose’s Japantown.

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Wenzhou Noodle House enters construction phase

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Shoppers at the Sunday Farmers’ Market in San Jose’s Japantown were treated to a surprise on February 10, when they saw a wall-sized poster adorning the long-vacant Ken Ying Low building on North Sixth Street.

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Carol Chen, the owner and developer of the new restaurant Wenzhou Noodles, has apparently received OK from the city of San Jose to begin work restoring the ancient, history-soaked structure. A plywood wall now separates the doorway from the street, in order to enable security on the site. And instead of presenting a plain plywood wrapper, she created a large graphic describing her new business. For details, check out our earlier article Wenzhou Noodle house embraces local history.

 

Wenzhou Noodle house embraces local history

Carol Chen with her husband, Max Soloviev

We met with Carol Chen and her family today, at Roy’s Coffee and Tea on Jackson Street. Carol is the new owner of the Ken Ying Low building, which locals may remember as the Cuban International Restaurant.

She is from Wenzhou, and her family is in the restaurant business. In fact, her mother plans to help with some secret family recipes. A local resident, she was looking for an investment opportunity. When she was visiting Japantown for sushi, she saw the Ken Ying Low building for sale.

Carol was interested in the restaurant building because of the Chinese connection, which she identified with, and she was interested in the history of the place. Originally, she says, it was a noodle restaurant, and that inspired her to also make this a noodle restaurant.

She plans to build a “history wall” which will desribe the history of the building and of Japantown’s origin as a China town. The noodles will be made on the premises, probably as a public display, space permitting. This was inspired by Mountain View’s Maru Ichi restaurant, where the ramen noodles are made view of the public.  Carol plans to bring in some minor architectural features and decorations from China. It’s obvious that she is eager to respect the history of the building and of Japantown.

Carol said that the building has many challenges “from the bottom to the top”. It would have been cheaper tear down the building and start from scratch. The Mills Act assistance from the government will not help much; basically it will shave off 10% from the property tax, but attach many stipulations regarding how the development may proceed.

Carol will seek a building permit early in November. After that, it’s hard to get an idea of the opening date, but she guessed that it should be around July 2014. And we can’t wait to enjoy the noodles in this historic place!

More on the Wenzhou Noodle House

I have to say that I am impressed by how this particular project is moving along.

Although the Mills Act specifies a ten-year time frame, the owner has already created a website:

http://wenzhounoodles.com/

A preliminary logo appears on the website of the restaurant’s design firm, http://www.hcseonline.com/projects.html

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Yet the owner is savvy enough to run a design contest for the logo at 99designs.com, yielding this impressively slick image:

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I hope they are that smart when choosing their menu.