Authentic Szechuan Food in the Great White North
Jingqiu Deng hardly seemed destined for a career in authentic Szechuan food restaurant. When he arrived in 2010 from Chongqing, China, he had a little culture shock.Overnight, his surroundings changed from the a booming metropolis nestled in China’s mountainous Southwest to the sleepy plains of Topeka, Kansas.
Quality Chinese food was difficult to find in the Midwest, and no one in Kansas had ever heard of the delicious, face-melting, sinus-cleansing Szechuan food Deng had grown up with. Even though he barely knew how to cook a bowl of rice, to battle the homesickness, he finally learned to cook his favorite dishes for himself.
The reality that molded a self-taught chef four years ago has given him an eye for new markets in cities hungry for cultural diversity. Thus, when Deng arrived at Syracuse University to pursue an MS in Finance at the Whitman School of Management, he decided to open his own Sichuan restaurant. “There’s not much competition here,” says Deng, “and Szechuan Cuisine is really famous all over the world. I really wanted to open my own restaurant to bring authentic Szechuan food to Syracuse.”
The restaurant, named Bite of Chongqing, opened in downtown Syracuse on August 10th. Of the few Szechuan restaurants in town, Deng is the only owner who hails from Chongqing, making him qualified to produce dishes unique to the area such as double cooked pork and steamed chicken with chili oil sauce, a mouthwatering concoction of chicken or pork broth, beans, and over nine different kinds of spices.
However, Deng’s commitment to achieving the “hot, spicy, addictively delicious” Szechuan excellence goes far beyond the walls of his restaurant. His experienced cooks and ingredient suppliers hail from Flushing, Queens, where some of the country’s greatest Szechuan restaurants are located. “Many Chinese restaurants change their tastes and style to accommodate Americans.” he states, “I think the authentic Chinese taste of the restaurant is most valuable, and I should keep it this way as long as my restaurant is running.”
Members of Syracuse’s Chinese community, particularly Chinese university students hungering for a taste of home, have been flocking to Bite of Chongqing, enjoying the spicy, robust, flavors, and the fast service. Though Deng worried initially about securing a space farther away from his customer base than his competitors on Marshall Street, he has discovered that his new fans are willing to travel the extra mile. Zhaoyu Yang, a former resident of the Sichuan Province, gives the restaurant a positive review. “The food reminded me of where I used to live” she says happily, “I would recommend this to my friends.”