By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The nation’s older Chinese restaurant vs. Seattle’s Tai Tung
Recently, Harry Chan, owner of Tai Tung Restaurant with 86 years of history, attended his grandson’s graduation ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia. He and his family drove over 2,000 miles for the event.
But what made his trip more special was he met a fellow restaurateur, who owns the oldest Chinese restaurant in the U.S.—Pekin Noodle Parlor in Montana. It is 110 years old. Curiosity was the reason Chan wanted to meet the Pekin owner on his way back to Seattle. Both have carried the fame as the oldest Chinese restaurants in their respective cities. Do they have anything in common?
“I heard about Pekin on CBS News,” Chan said. His son-in-law called for reservations before they arrived. “No need to make reservations,” a Pekin staff member told them.
“Just come before 8 p.m.” That’s the similarity right there. You don’t need to make reservations at Tai Tung. You just walk right in. Since the pandemic, Tai Tung also closes at 8 p.m.
A small town of 30,000 with its own charm, Butte was once a bustling mining town. Pekin’s owner, Jerry Tam, was born into the restaurant business. Tam returned from New York to help his father, Danny Wong (who had changed his last name from Tam to his aunt’s last name Wong, a more recognizable Chinese last name). That’s another similarity right there. Harry’s brother, Tommy Quan, has a different last name, too. In addition to being the oldest restaurants, both have served celebrities and politicians.
A tour of Pekin, including the kitchen, showed the Chan family the contrast.
Chan’s whole kitchen crew is Chinese, whereas Pekin has three Caucasian helpers and one Chinese chef, said Chan.
Tam even showed an old room his father used to live in as a young man, with lots of old stuff. Pekin donated much of that old stuff to a New York Museum featuring the food industry.
Both restaurants are known as “chop suey” eateries, a term for Americanized Chinese food. However, Chan noted that his restaurant has been remodeled a few times, including a major renovation seven years ago, and several menu items have evolved over the years. For Pekin, which started in 1911, it has stayed true to its chop suey taste, including egg foo young and chow mein, serving typical Americans for over a century.
“It’s the old atmosphere,” said Chan.
Pekin’s owner treated the Chan family of four to dinner and drinks, even though they were meeting for the first time. The generosity of two restaurants is also alike. Tai Tung has supported many community causes, and often treats their long-time customers and friends. In remarkable ways, both Pekin and Tai Tung are unique family businesses and pillars of the economy, simultaneously reflecting the triumph of Asian immigrants achieving the American Dream.
Alaska is great for a family trip
Leo Yeung went on a family trip to Alaska in July. The family of eight flew from California to Anchorage, then drove around to see Denali National Park. The family also took a cruise to see Seward-Kenai Fjords National Park. When asked about the best part of his trip, Yeung said, “Being with my three grandchildren.”
But the little grandkids said seeing the animals was the fun part. They saw sea lions, moose, foxes, whales, birds, bears, and many more.
Las Vegas isn’t just for gamblers
“Do you gamble?” my friend asked when she learned that I was in Las Vegas last May.
The notion that Vegas is only for gamblers is false. Both my husband and I don’t gamble, we don’t even play the slot machines. I find no joy or fun in throwing money away.
Some argue if you are lucky, you can win some money. The taxi driver we met in Vegas during our trip, a gambler, confessed that he has paid the piper off and on.
Winning through gambling doesn’t exist in my world. I am not saying I have been unlucky. In fact, I consider myself and my family pretty fortunate this year, during the pandemic. My luck has always been earned through relentless hard work and the ability to see possibilities.
So why Vegas?
Covid has created challenges for us seniors to travel. We don’t want to go out of the country. Traveling far is risky. Our days of being bold adventurers belong in the past.
We didn’t have much time to do research or plan an exotic trip so choosing a familiar place would minimize Covid risk. We have been working so hard during these unprecedented times, we needed a break, to get out of our apartment, and do something new for a few days. An essential criteria for the destination is great food.
Vegas seemed to be the obvious choice. We flew to Vegas the week before Memorial Day weekend. We thought the weather would be hot. Surprisingly, it was chilly and windy during our stay. There were crowds, but getting around was manageable. Most people were unmasked, as President Biden said then, “If you are vaccinated, you don’t need to wear masks.” There were a few shows as the Strip began to open up. We saw one variety show, limited to about 130 people out of a seating capacity of over 800. It’s not the best show I’ve seen. But I like to support artists who were unemployed during the pandemic.
How did the city manage to keep the homeless away from the Strip? I did see a few hanging around in the old town (downtown). Yet, they were not aggressive panhandlers.
Vegas is full of happy faces. It is not just the gambling capital of our country, but a recreational town for families and kids. It was enjoyable to see kids at M&M’s World and lining up at the Hello Kitty Cafe food truck for its sweet treats. The food truck is a smart idea, requiring much less operational expense and investment. I was glad to see an Asian franchise owner who planned to add one more truck soon. Vegas also built a new and amazing football stadium, revealing its wealth and vision.
The last time I visited Vegas was about eight years ago to watch Celine Dion perform.
Vegas has earned its name as a food paradise with lower prices. The prices have increased quite a bit as it had suffered months of lockdown and high labor costs. We loved every meal, from French to Italian, Chinese to Japanese, they were all superb and creative. However, if you are looking for Vegas’ fabulous buffets, they are gone due to Covid.
A watershed moment in Hawaii
James Wong, Vibrant Cities CEO, and his family immigrated to Hawaii when he was 9 years old. Last January, he took his three American-born kids to Hawaii for the holidays.
Wong showed his kids the apartment building where he used to live when his family first set foot in America. It was a small studio designed for one or two people.
Now, Wong is able to afford to travel to Hawaii on vacation, and stay in a luxurious hotel where his father once worked as a restaurant worker. He wanted his kids to know what he, their grandparents, and great grandparents went through to be able to let them stay in hotels. Although his kids’ childhoods were much better than his, Wong shared on Facebook that he wanted his kids to “stay humble, kind, generous, eager to learn…and love…their fellow human beings.”
Other U.S. adventures
New York City
Lelian Solip: Despite the attacks on Asians we heard about in the news recently, I felt pretty safe [in New York’s Chinatown]. We took the subways everywhere, including taking the trains from Newark Airport to Penn Station and to JFK Airport. Thanks to the NYPD who were visibly present in the streets and many subway stations.
Henna Makol: I’ve been wanting to go to Napa for as long as I can remember. It was a spontaneous trip that I’m glad I made! Had such a great time visiting the Castello di Amorosa, Korbel, and Kendall Jackson wineries. Flying into Santa Rosa via Horizon Air from Seattle was such a breeze.
Ruth Bayang: We took a ferry from Mackinaw City (a four-hour drive from Detroit) to Mackinac Island. Spent a day there enjoying the sights and sampling fudge, and rented a tandem bike to explore the island, where only horses and non-motorized vehicles are allowed.
The next day, we drove over the Mackinac bridge to see part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Almost as beautiful as Washington state!
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.