I remember going all wiggly with excitement the first time I entered the fenced circle to take a pony ride at Kiddie Wonderland on South Main. Whether five years old or 60-something, it has remained in my character to overreact to events I find singularly wondrous, expressing pleasure with a little dance of joy and loud yahooing.
So it was at Fung’s Kitchen a few weekends ago. It’s a restaurant I’d never been to, and I’ll admit to being skeptical when told it was located in the far-off wilderness of the Sharpstown area. Getting there required a car trip on the freeway, and although I am not averse to driving fast, it’s irritating when other cars around me do.
Fung’s was recommended by a palate I deeply respect. That palate rode shotgun in my speeding car – grasping the Oh Shite handle while giving directions – and in the backseat sat our mates. It was Sunday, 11-ish, and we four were out for brunch.
My friend, the seasoned epicure, had said we must arrive early as Fung’s can fill up with diners quicker than anyone can say “Jack Robinson.” At arrival, the parking lot looked filled to capacity – a couple hundred cars was capacity to my mind. But once inside, I saw that Fung’s was not your basic normal-sized restaurant, but a pantheon that could comfortably seat every god of every culture you’ve ever heard of.
We were shown to our table.
There were no place settings, no forks, no knives, just chopsticks. Here’s where I became more American than I usually admit. “My fingers don’t understand chopsticks,” I announced. “Does this quaint eatery have forks?”
My question went unanswered as the table became distracted when the first of many subsequent dim sum carts pulled up alongside. Let me describe what I saw.
You know those hot dog vendors that stand on curbs in New York City? Those hot doggers sell their vittles from steel-rimmed steam carts similar to the carts used at Fung’s. The only difference being, Fung’s cart pushers have plastic sneeze guards covering their mouths and noses, while the guys in New York don’t.
Another thing that struck me about Fung’s carts – a happy strike, as it turned out – was the fact that they just kept coming by, and coming by, and “Look! There comes another one!” Oodles of steamy carts wheeled up to our table, while the servers loaded up our tables with plates of all kinds of food I frankly had never seen before.
Because my friend was a veteran of Fung’s, I didn’t have to eat blind, but was given full explanation of each dim sum offering and why it should – as the translation promises – “touch my heart.”
On myriad plates set center table: Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, steamed barbecued pork buns, steamed minced shrimp dumplings, steamed shrimp and shark fin dumplings, crispy duck rolls, snow pea tips, pan-fried pork dumplings, house special tofu, sesame seaweed, crispy crab claws, green shell mussels in black bean sauce and baked curry beef pies.
Accommodating my most fervent wish, the nice lady behind the sneeze guard handed me – and only me – a fork. Everyone else wielded those chopsticks like champs. Had I been denied the pronged instrument Catherine de Medici so graciously introduced to dining, I would have starved.
Of all the dishes served, the only complaint was the table’s reaction to the green shell mussels in black bean sauce. The taste did not play pleasantly on the tongue.
Reading about black bean sauce later, I discovered that the Chinese have been fermenting black soybeans since the world was in diapers. The earliest mention appears in The Records of the Grand Historian, which covers the two millennium-long B.C. history of China.
For more proof of its presence in Chinese cuisine, when Han Tomb #1 was discovered and opened in south central China in 1972, archaeologists found not only the remarkably preserved body of an empress, but rows of earthenware pottery containing salty, fermented black soybeans. The jars were 2,500 years old. That the eager diggers also found sparrow paste and horsemeat paste among the departed lady’s funereal possessions is interesting, but since I did not encounter those dubious treats at Fung’s, the subject needn’t be explored further.
The overall experience at Fung’s Kitchen had some yahoo-inducing moments for me. Taken completely by surprise, seeing a unique – and admittedly exotic – orchestration of precision in both food and service, when exiting with smile firmly in place and tummy doing a little dance of joy, I understood why the parking lot was even more packed.
For the record, the parking lot at Kiddie Wonderland was always packed too.
FUNG’S KITCHEN, 7320 Southwest Fwy., 713-779-2288, eatatfungs.com. Dum sum hours: Monday to Friday, 10:30 am to 3 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 3 pm.