Golden Wok in East Lansing kept two menus for a long time because owner Ginny Cheung wasn’t sure how receptive (or adventurous) diners would be in the Midwest. She’s been pleasantly surprised — so much so she’s combined the two menus into one. Cheung spent nearly a year thinking about, tinkering with and finalizing the new menu.
“Chinese food is like fashion,” Ginny says. “You don’t wear clothes for 10 years in a row. You change, and that’s like my menu.”
Cheung runs Golden Wok with her husband, Denny Cheung, a trained congee cook from Hong Kong. In China and other Asian countries, congee is a traditional rice-based soup (closer in consistency to porridge).
Arriving in the United States in the early 1980s, the Cheungs soon discovered doing what they knew — cooking great Chinese food — was a fine way to earn a living. They opened their first restaurant in Adrian, before moving to south Lansing then relocating to East Lansing, closer
to Michigan State University, where their two children went to school.
The Cheungs diligently work to ensure diners enjoy what they order. Some, Ginny says, are afraid to order outside of what they know, but she doesn’t want anyone to fear not leaving satisfied.
“If you don’t like what you order, I will make you happy, I will find something you like and make you happy,” she says. “All you have to do is tell me, and I will make you happy.”
Dim sum is a Cantonese cuisine characterized by small portions — dumplings, sweets, tripe, etc. — typically served in steam bowls. Dim sum is carted around the restaurant on the weekends, but it’s always available to order.
Golden Wok has some other menu items you’re not likely to come across anywhere else in the area.
“I walk around and talk to my customers and saw an American eating jellyfish,” Ginny said. “I was so surprised, so I asked him if he liked it, and he said he went to China a few months before and had it there, and was so glad to find it here.”
While the exotic has its place on Golden Wok’s menu, the ingredients are largely what you’d find anywhere else. The Cheungs keep large freezers full to make sure they have ingredients on hand to make anything on the menu whenever a customer wants it — one reason they don’t do daily specials.
So even if you’re ordering something that seems potentially obscure, like salt and pepper squid ($10.50), there’s not much that will surprise: It’s really just deep-fried calamari, crispy and salty on the outside with firm, mild seafood on the inside, served atop a bed of lettuce with diced, sautéed and seasoned peppers, green onions and jalapenos.
While it has nothing to do with obscure ingredients, the Szechuan fish soup ($12.95) must have been created for the adventurous eater. Spicy food lovers, take note: This soup is made for you, with heat so intense it’s likely to make your eyes leak like broken faucets if eaten too quickly. Chunks of tender fish float in a dark red broth — highlighted with orange streaks from the oil — swimming with slices of Napa cabbage, cilantro, sour strips of pickled vegetables and needle-thin noodles. The rich broth will give you sniffles almost instantly, but that shouldn’t stop you from biting into the little plump red chilies: They explode in a fascinating burst of spicy sweetness. The sesame balls ($2.95) are delightful.
These deep-fried, sesame-seed-encrusted spheres are crispy on the outside, giving way to a layer of sticky rice dough before revealing a sweet bean paste core. These palm-sized treats, three to a serving, are regulars on the dim sum cart, but make a perfect shared dessert for two.
If that’s not enough sweetness, Golden Wok has recently began offering complimentary desserts through the dinner hours on Fridays and weekends. A colorful cart is wheeled between tables with chocolate, strawberry and mango cakes and traditional sweet bean soups for those who have ordered an entrée.
“Everyone has philosophy in their restaurant,” Ginny says. “My philosophy is that if you are happy, I am happy. Even if you order just one dish for $2, as long as you are happy, I am happy.”