Off the path of the familiar Canal Street that we recognize as the center of Chinatown’s flurry of activities is Elizabeth Street, housing the renowned dim sum eatery Jing Fong, which has, through periods of social tension, always survived and lived up to its name “Golden Wind.”
The restaurant first opened in 1978, a time when gang violence was spilling out onto the streets of Chinatown. It was a time when everyone needed some “Golden Wind,” or some good luck. The restaurant was not exempt from needing some of this luck. The problems of the neighbourhood, along with nation and city-wide economic troubles, seeped into the business as financial, union, and lawsuit problems arose.
The national economic stagnation of the 1970s was heavily felt by New York City, worsened by the falling of tax revenue as middle-class residents moved out of the city and into the suburbs. Further, the city surpassed its operating capabilities as money was extensively spent with overly exaggerated prospects of revenue. As New York City barely skirted bankruptcy, Jing Fong was barely getting by as well, with its growing operating expenses. The restaurant was nearly bankrupt when Shui Ling Lam bought it, saving it and raising it to its current status as the largest and one of the most popular restaurants in Chinatown.
Originally located at 24 Elizabeth Street, Jing Fong was moved to 20 Elizabeth Street, expanding their seating from a mere 150 seats to a sizable amount of 800 seats.
On weekend mornings, Elizabeth Street is packed as early as 10am. Reaching all the way down to Canal Street, the block is full of Jing Fong patrons, eagerly awaiting for their ticket numbers to be called. Patrons of all backgrounds come to Jing Fong – old and young, couples and families, and Asians and non-Asians.
With the growing tension and worsening polarization of our society, Jing Fong stands as an example of bringing people together rather than polarizing them, where everyone is welcome to relish the delights of dim sum in the bright, red-gold interior of its restaurant. Dim sum, in its nature, is a meal to bring families and friends together on those lazy weekend mornings, creating fond memories of the chatter of Cantonese dialect; the reunion with cousins and aunties and uncles; and the alluring sight of rolling carts filled with steaming delicacies like the sweet meat-filled puff pastry char siu sou; the unanticipated mix of taro and pork within the delicate crust of deep fried taro dumplings, the soft, springy shrimp meat contrasted against the sticky wrapping of the shrimp har gow, or the crunch of the fried dough stuffed inside a rice noodle layer and topped with a sweetened soy sauce that’s like no other.
Still, Jing Fong faces some challenges with the shifting dynamics of the Chinese community, as more Chinese immigrants make their way to other dim sum eateries in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park or Queens’ Flushing. Though, this only exemplifies the growing presence of Chinese culture and communities.
Today, Jing Fong is run by Shui Ling Lam’s grandson, Truman, an NYU alumnus who originally pursued a path in investment banking, but ultimately chose to help continue his family’s legacy.
Currently, Jing Fong has a second location in the upper west side.