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Chung Wah: A family-run restaurant in Puri that serves Chilika-fresh Chinese fare

The Lees moved to the Odisha seaside town from Kolkata in the Seventies

Sohini Bhattacharya | Published 07.07.22, 11:46 AM
Don’t miss the (L-R) Mixed Cantonese Noodles, Fish with Mushroom and Baby Corn and Prawn Gold Coin at Chung Wah, Puri

Don’t miss the (L-R) Mixed Cantonese Noodles, Fish with Mushroom and Baby Corn and Prawn Gold Coin at Chung Wah, Puri

Sohini Bhattacharya

Prawn Gold Coin, Mixed Cantonese Noodles, Fish with Mushroom and Baby Corn, Hunan Chicken... this could well be your dinner menu one night on your next trip to Puri. The red-and-gold gate on VIP Road has been beckoning foodies to Chung Wah for 50 years. The restaurant – no connection with Central Kolkata’s Chung Wah — offering “authentic Chinese” fare seems to have gained in popularity over the past few years as the long waiting list and crowd outside would tell you.

Started by H.S. Lee in 1973, Chung Wah is now run by two of his sons — Alfred Lee and Steven Lee. It’s a family-run affair with most members of the family pitching in.

H.S. Lee, the founder of Chung Wah, Puri, and his wife Chung Mein Chen, moved to the Odisha town from Kolkata

H.S. Lee, the founder of Chung Wah, Puri, and his wife Chung Mein Chen, moved to the Odisha town from Kolkata

Teng Shen Kim

From Bentinck Street in Kolkata to VIP Road in Puri

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The family earlier lived in Kolkata, where the paternal grandparents of Alfred and Steven owned a shoe shop on Bentinck Street and a tannery in Tangra. The brothers’ maternal grandparents lived in Cuttack and their father had initially planned to open a restaurant there.

“Our father had thought of setting up a restaurant in Cuttack, where my mother’s side of the family lived. He happened to visit Puri and liked the place so much that he changed his mind and decided to start the restaurant in this seaside town instead,” said Alfred, who moved to Puri with his parents when he was still in school.

From mostly tourists, initially a large number of whom were foreigners looking for food that would suit their unaccustomed palate, to local customers from Puri, Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, Chung Wah has come a long way.

The red-and-gold gate that leads to Chung Wah on VIP Road, Puri

The red-and-gold gate that leads to Chung Wah on VIP Road, Puri

Sohini Bhattacharya

Keeping ‘tabs’ on changing times

The restaurant has also kept up with time and “gone digital”. In 2017, Chung Wah introduced tabs for taking orders. “The use of tabs has made the process easier and quicker. It’s also more convenient to make corrections or changes if needed,” said Teng Shen Kim, Steven’s wife.

Five tabs are in use at the restaurant and six of the waiters have been trained to use them.

Buy it fresh, serve it tasty

What hasn’t changed is the belief that the secret of good food lies in the quality of raw materials used. So, Alfred’s day begins with a trip to the Puri municipal market in his Honda Activa. “We buy our raw materials fresh every day, that is the secret behind tasty food. That is what my father taught us,” smiled Alfred, 52, the eldest of three brothers. So, the Prawn Gold Coin, a signature dish at Chung Wah, Puri, is only made with the best and freshest Chilika prawns.

The business is now run by (L-R) Alfred and Steven Lee and their families

The business is now run by (L-R) Alfred and Steven Lee and their families

Teng Shen Kim

Alfred returns home, his bags laden with prawns, chicken, fish — bekti when it is available or basa — and vegetables. The more exotic greens like broccoli, bok choy or yellow and red bell pepper are not available locally and have to be bought from a supplier in Bhubaneswar, who in turn sources it from Bangalore.

Top 3? Chilli Chicken, Golden Fried Schezwan Prawn and Hunan Chicken

The most popular items at the 120-seater restaurant? Well, Chilli Chicken, Golden Fried Schezwan Prawn and Hunan Chicken (a “chatpata” dish with capsicum and onions).

The noodles and sauces at Chung Wah are still handmade. “My brother makes the sauces. I began in the kitchen but now I am more involved in the front office and management work. My wife, brother and sister-in-law take care of the kitchen,” Alfred said.

Chung Wah remains packed on most days of the week

Chung Wah remains packed on most days of the week

Sohini Bhattacharya

120-cover houseful

The 120-cover restaurant is filled to capacity both during lunch and dinner on most days of the week, so much so that customers are often ready to share tables at rush hours or during peak tourist seasons. Chung Wah is open from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch and 6.30pm to 10.30pm for dinner but you better reach early to grab your seat.

And if you do need to wait for your turn, you are likely to be greeted by a smiling and efficient Teng Shen Kim. She has been helping run the restaurant for 25 years and has seen the crowds swell with time. “We have a full house on most Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and often on other days, too,” smiled the lady from Hyderabad.

(L-R) Teng Shen Kim, wife of Steven, and Hunag Sei Ling, wife of Alfred

(L-R) Teng Shen Kim, wife of Steven, and Hunag Sei Ling, wife of Alfred

Teng Shen Kim

Post-pandemic rush greeted with a smile

The customers at Chung Wah are a mixed lot — tourists who have the restaurant on their must-do list on every visit to Puri, others trying it out for the first time based on internet recommendations or word-of-mouth as well as local people.

“We were able to retain our entire workforce during the pandemic and now with post-COVID tourism booming, we have even had to hire more hands,” said Alfred, in between managing the Rath Yatra rush. The oldest employee is Naresh, who has been waiting on customers for 28 years, the smile still in place.

The next gen gets into the act

The next generation has also started lending a hand in the business during the pandemic and Alfred hopes that at least some of them will carry forward the family’s legacy and help him fulfil the dream of opening a branch in Bhubaneswar.

Helping Teng Shen Kim is her son Eric Lee. A BCA student at KIIT (Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology), Bhubaneswar, he has been home since the pandemic broke out. “I don’t really have plans of joining the family business,” Eric admits, “but now that I have online classes, I am helping out.” His all-time favourites on the Chung Wah menu are Egg Fried Rice and Chicken Drumsticks but he would prefer pasta or pizza or some biryani from the “one and only Paradise” in Hyderabad any day.

Alfred’s daughters, Valarina and Florentyna, on the other hand, are quite interested in the family business.

“My son is a doctor, so I don’t see him joining the business. But my two daughters are showing a knack,” Alfred said.

Valarina, the elder of Alfred’s two daughters, studied cosmetology in Canada but ever since she returned home during the pandemic, the 25-year-old has been helping out at the restaurant. “I am mostly managing the cash as of now but I am still learning. I want to walk in Dad’s footsteps and try to continue the legacy,” said the 25-year-old. Her younger sister, Florentyna, has also started helping out in the business.

So, next time you are in Puri, make sure to book a seat at Chung Wah and enjoy some Chung Wah Special Mei Foon and Szechwan Prawn. Bon appetit!

Last updated on 07.07.22, 11:46 AM
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