May 18, 2022

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Cooking is a hobby

Chef Lupe Liang and his trilingual menu embodied the spirit of Chinatown

I first satisfied chef Lupe Liang in June 2010, when I was invited to emcee the extremely very first Chinatown Summer Evenings occasion. It would be a large group party with food items, tunes and art. He and I assisted system the culinary stage programming, and I experienced some pre-overall performance jitters.

“Don’t get worried,” Lupe stated to me with a gleam in his eye. “I cook a thing superior.”

For a great deal of the night, the viewers was sparse, most opting to hold out throughout the avenue at Central Plaza wherever there was a DJ, bar and dancing. Nevertheless, after Lupe established up for his cooking demo, a good crowd began to obtain.

His virtuosity with a wok was famous. With a flick of his wrist, he’d start chunks of orange rooster into the air like a flock of birds and then capture just about every morsel devoid of a one casualty.

Men and women gasped in awe with every toss of the wok. He relished the response. The crowd’s enthusiasm comfortable me Lupe experienced the demo beneath regulate. “OK, Eddie?,” he’d smile at me, figuring out the reply was a resounding “Yes.”

Soon after he finished cooking, volunteers passed samples of meals to the group. The viewers couldn’t get plenty of of it. The delight on Lupe’s facial area was priceless. Cooking was in his blood. He experienced cooked considering the fact that he was 7 years old. Chef-life was the only existence he knew.

Liang “Lupe” Ye Ning, proud owner of Hop Woo BBQ & Seafood in Chinatown, beloved spouse, father, brother, chef, captain of his kitchen crew, honorary Mexicano, son of Chinese farmers, pillar of his community, is now gone.

He was 61.

The chef was also my near pal and, to me, the embodiment of Chinatown and by extension, the best of L.A.’s multiethnic ferment.

Lupe Liang together with his wife, Judy, the two from Guangdong, China, ran their cafe for around 3 decades. Chinatown denizens respected Lupe, Judy and Hop Woo, and website visitors viewed as the Liangs’ cafe to be amongst Chinatown’s most popular sights, like the twin dragon gateway on Broadway, or Central Plaza’s lucky wishing well.

With its roast ducks dangling by way of the window, hanging lanterns, laughing Buddha at the doorway, the restaurant could be lumped amid numerous Chinese restaurants of its sort in L.A. or anywhere else in the country. But Lupe’s was extraordinary, and as I acquired to know him improved, I experienced to let other folks know, and began creating about Hop Woo.

I lived in Chinatown as a child, playing tag at the Alpine Recreation Centre, attending kindergarten at Castelar Elementary School, and producing wishes at the wishing perfectly. On Sundays, my father dealt with me to a bowl of wonton noodle soup at the outdated Mayflower cafe. This was our ritual and a single of my most visceral foods recollections from childhood. Quickly following, my spouse and children left Chinatown for the suburbs in research of a far better long term. This was the way of the immigrant in L.A.

Lupe and Judy came to L.A. by way of Mexico. The two achieved when Judy was vacationing at Rosarito Seashore, and Lupe was doing work at his brother’s Chinese restaurant close by. Lupe experienced been doing work there because 1978, the yr he immigrated to Mexico from Hong Kong, his residence at the time. Lupe lived in Mexico very long more than enough to come to be fluent in Spanish and adopt the identify Lupe, limited for the name Guadalupe.

By the ’80s, the Liangs arrived in Los Angeles, and by 1993, they’d personal Hop Woo, a little 8-seat gap in the wall serving Cantonese delicacies. The couple would later completely transform it into a larger, a lot more interesting cafe that continue to sits at 845 N. Broadway.

For the duration of my decades absent from L.A., I’d every so usually check out my previous Chinatown community to soothe pangs of nostalgia. One working day I returned to L.A. to stay, this time with a relatives of my very own. I did not reside in Chinatown, but now I frequented much more usually and brought my spouse and children with me.

We would existing several extra cooking demos together in several years to abide by. We ended up a staff. I’d share the stage with Lupe, and at times Judy, who was his spouse in every little thing and a continuous presence as Hop Woo’s front of house. As before long as his demos finished, he and Judy rushed back to Hop Woo to satisfy the throng of hungry viewers users who preferred a lot more of Lupe’s food.

A friendship blooms

As a meals journalist, I’m anticipated to be unbiased and goal, as it must be. But there are people I meet who will challenge this dispassion with their humanity, kindness and decency, and you just cannot help but like them. Lupe was one particular of those people people.

Each time I’d arrive into Hop Woo on your own for a brief chunk, Lupe hardly ever required to talk to for my buy. Magically, a bowl of wonton noodle soup with beef stew and tendon appeared before me — the hearty soup that was my Chinatown childhood in a bowl. I shared with him the story of my consolation food stuff early on in our friendship, and he under no circumstances forgot how vital that humble dish was to me.

My daughters almost grew up at Hop Woo. I have photographic proof of their growth from shots of them posing future to the 3-feet tall laughing Buddha statue at the restaurant’s entrance. In every image they attained top on the Buddha. When I see my two daughters by way of Hop Woo recollections, I simply cannot assist but feel of Lupe’s two daughters, Mary and Kelly, and how they’ve shed their father significantly far too early. Too soon.

I have brought my dad and mom, my kids, my lifestyle companion, my siblings, all of my closest good friends, foodstuff writers, and so numerous many others to Hop Woo around the many years. In just about every of these moments, Lupe hardly ever unsuccessful to greet and take care of anyone like family by making a significant link and giving his disarming smile. “Don’t fret, I cook dinner a thing excellent,” he’d say.

Then arrived the feast.

A person walks by the Hop Woo restaurant in Chinatown

The Liangs have operated Hop Woo on Broadway in Chinatown for just about a few many years. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Periods)

Lupe had been a portion of my family’s Thanksgivings and Christmases for in excess of a decade when we’d head to Hop Woo to pick up our Chinese turkey and side dishes like beef chow entertaining and roast pork. I’d be sure to send out him a household Christmas card every year (and I do not ship out as well numerous of those people). We also rang in both Western and Lunar New Yr with Lupe’s food items as the centerpiece of the celebration, building absolutely sure we requested all the excellent fortune and lengthy everyday living dishes, these as total steamed sole or yi mein with XO sauce.

We celebrated birthdays and other distinctive instances there far too. A person individual Valentine’s Working day supper I knowledgeable at Hop Woo concerned a really distinctive aphrodisiac soup made with Chinese medicinal herbs, a variety of roots and “pizzle,” a.k.a. beef penis. Just for me. Just in case. “Make you solid,” he promised mischievously. It was greater than a box of sweets.

Lupe was there for me yet again when I’d roll into Hop Woo like a fool immediately after possessing in excess of-imbibed, a fertile matter for blogging. He was established to defuse my hangover ahead of it got a hold of me. “Don’t fret, Eddie. I prepare dinner something excellent for you.” His treatment was chicken feet and abalone soup spiked with his popular mix of Chinese herbs and roots. The aid was immediate.

Soon after serving the magic elixir, he paraded out a platter of deep-fried duck tongues (beaks however connected) and a round of ice cold Tsingtaos — I assumed this was the hair of the pet dog portion of the hangover heal. He then drank with me as I regaled him with my adventures from the evening.

If you have at any time uncovered by yourself overwhelmed by Chinese cafe menus, you know how beneficial it is to have a menu printed in your first language, and for several in L.A., which is Spanish. Hop Woo was the to start with cafe in Chinatown to involve Spanish on the menu.

Lupe himself was extra fluent in Spanish than he was Mandarin, his dialect getting Cantonese. He modified specific spicy dishes by adding jalapeños. Hop Woo’s Thanksgiving Chinese turkey had origins in Mexican Thanksgiving celebrated in metropolitan areas like Tijuana. About the several years, I’ve seen his eating home grow to be additional assorted as phrase spread that Hop Woo was the local Spanish-friendly Chinese cafe.

A trilingual menu was only the beginning as significantly as separating Hop Woo from other dining establishments in the metropolis. Lupe supplied group favorites from Peking duck to shrimp fried rice, but he built positive to hold his much more adventurous clientele satisfied much too. This was in which his magic formula menu manufactured its look.

Hop Woo’s off-menu fare was kept off the common menu for great explanation. The things can be very intensive. Madeleine Brand’s clearly show on public radio coated Hop Woo’s top secret menu of deer meat and star melon, oysters with “hair vegetable,” deep-fried chicken knees, goose intestines, lamb testicles, and armadillo soup. Vice Media shot an episode for its food stuff channel about Hop Woo’s seven courses of boa constrictor, which involved every little thing from the snake’s pores and skin to the gallbladder bile. Nothing at all, and I signify nothing, was wasted.

Most of these dishes I wrote about in my food items site Deep Stop Eating mainly because they weren’t meant for mainstream use.

Lupe could be counted on always. In the course of the depths of the pandemic when several people of Chinatown ended up in despair, Lupe and his staff organized hundreds of foods to give to individuals in require, even as his own company suffered. When it was time to assist promote Chinatown, Lupe continuously explained sure, although other restaurants bowed out. He had so much enjoy for folks. Over all, he beloved feeding absolutely everyone, like a true chef.

Loved ones was of top value to him — anybody’s household. He arrived from a huge just one: seven brothers, a few sisters. They all helped just about every other. He deeply loved his spouse Judy and daughters Mary and Kelly. He’s so happy that Mary is, in a way, pursuing in his footsteps with her baking organization Mary’s Makeshop.

He was also like any cafe proprietor who faced the realities of the business enterprise, day to day. His team was important to him. They have been certainly relatives, some of them with him since Day 1. There were being quite a few staff celebrations during the many years that introduced joy and levity to the generally prolonged and grueling times, some times closing as late as 3 a.m. I’ve witnessed all those times. The excellent instances. The tough situations. The type of times that make up daily life for just about every of us until eventually there’s no time still left at all.

Lupe Liang’s passing could be the stop of a Chinatown establishment. Lupe ran out of time substantially as well before long. He had so substantially more to give to Chinatown. His Chinatown.

This tale at first appeared in Los Angeles Moments.