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Twice-Told Tale

“Kung Fu” Delivers a Punch

Serena Young
(Above) The ambience of Kung Fu Kitchen set the tone for a wonderful meal. Although the place is small, it filled up extremely quickly.

While scrolling through my social feed, I saw a reel of a woman praising the newly opened Chinese restaurant in Orlando called Kung Fu Kitchen. It’s a branch of the acclaimed one-star Michelin main restaurant in New York City, which brings authentic handmade dumplings and hand-pulled noodles to the U.S. Always excited to try out and see if a restaurant does Chinese food justice, I planned for a weekend lunch to satisfy my tastebuds. Little did I know, when I pulled up to the curb, I had arrived at a restaurant named Kung Fu Dumplings, not my intended Kung Fu Kitchen. Oblivious, I walked through the doors to a tiny but decorated place with bamboo baskets on the walls. 

The waitress inside greeted me warmly, and I ordered seven dishes off the menu. As the dishes came out one by one, I asked if they had experienced a surge of new customers due to the viral reel. The waitress laughed and shook her head, saying, “Oh, we’re not connected to [Kung Fu Kitchen] at all… But yeah, it was pretty crowded in here for the past week. I think it was because of that reel.” When I tried the dishes, if the waitress hadn’t notified me of my destination mistake, then the low-quality of the food would have. It was the average Americanized-Chinese food (albeit with handmade dumplings). As I looked around at the other customers trickling in, I observed they had never had traditional Chinese food before.

The next week, I made sure to have the right address as our entire family embarked on a food adventure to try the much-anticipated Kung Fu Kitchen. The resturant does not take reservations, so I made sure we arrived a bit earlier than their evening opening time of 5:30 P.M. As we found a place to park in the venue that was heavily dominated by Asian restaurants (KPOT Korean BBQ and Hotpot and Kobe Japanese Steakhouse, all within waving distance), I already saw a line forming in front of the closed doors. At 5:30 P.M., my family, along with the five separate parties in line with us, were escorted into the lively yet elegant restaurant. Decorating the red walls were bamboo baskets illuminated from behind and wicker baskets hanging from the ceiling. As we ordered, I asked the waitress in Chinese how long they had been open in this Lake Buena Vista location. She told me September 1 of this month was their opening date, so we were currently in their soft opening season. Amazingly, within less than half an hour, the place was almost full, with a heavy percentage of the customers being Asian (a great measurement to see if a place is truly authentic).

Our dishes came out incredibly fast, and starting with the first dish, we were already impressed with the best-selling Shanghai Pan-fried Pork Buns. My dad, a one-star certified chef from Shanghai, nodded his approval. He said that as a stand-alone dish, this checked all the boxes.  But, he added, if compared to the ones in China, they looked almost too perfect, round, and fluffy. The ones in Shanghai always have grooves and edges to them, adding a dimensional flair. It was a slight deviation, but I wasn’t complaining, especially when the filling with the broth was made to perfection. 

Next came the Marinated Pig Ears, which were also pretty authentic with the minor substitution of the traditional chili oil with sesame oil. The varying textures of crunch and softness, all sprinkled with cilantro, made it a wonderful appetizer dish. Since it most likely came out of the freezer, my only suggestion would be to mix the sauce slightly more evenly with the meat while letting it thaw longer. This way, the fat can achieve that beautiful, tender consistency. The Scallion Pancake with Sliced Beef was served third, with the Michelin-recommended option cut into four pieces. The green onion pancake, a bit dry in my opinion, was served as a wrap that can be dipped into Hoisin sauce (a typical dipping sauce that has a both sweet and savory taste). The only thing missing from this traditional Northern-style dish was a sprout of raw green onion. Then each bite would carry something fresh and crisp along with the golden toasted flavor of the pancake.

Then, to our great anticipation, the Pork Xiao Long Bao arrived. This was the dish that thoroughly impressed my dad. With his chopsticks, he gave the ultimate test of picking them up at the mini knob at the top of the dough and watched as gravity created a drooping pouch. It did exactly what it was supposed to do. The heavy pouch effect meant the skin was the right thickness, and there was an abundant amount of broth. Only my mom pointed out that the dish lacked the condiment of vinegar with thinly sliced ginger, something that usually accompanies the buns. The acidity of the vinegar acts to cleanse the palette, and it also neutralizes the fattiness of the meat. 

Up next, the Shrimp & Pork Dumplings not only looked adorable, but they were bursting with the amount of filling stuffed into them. This was such a high-quality filling that I was able to identify the chunks of shrimp from the pork, the textures and flavors creating a symphony. We also ordered the Pan-fried Peking Duck Buns, another Michelin-recommended dish that hails from the Guangdong province of China. In an interesting twist of fusion; the commonly used beef was replaced with duck, along with the addition of caramelized onions. This was the only dish where I felt the filling was in a lower proportion to the dough, but apart from that, the taste was spectacular. It had a blend of natural sweetness and the soft, pull-apart character of the duck meat.

Lastly, there came the stir-fry hand-cut noodles, of which we ordered the House Special containing shrimp, pork, and beef. Not only were these noodles hand-pulled, but they were also hand-sheared off a block of dough in order to create these beautifully firm and unique strands. The texture is something only handmade dough can recreate. The flavors and colors mixed wonderfully from the bok choy, beansprouts, and carrots to tie it all together. Then our final dish, the dessert, came from a selection of four different kinds of sweet Chinese pastry. We went extremely basic with the Pumpkin Mochi Cakes, which ended up surprising us with the thin crispiness of the outside and the softness of the red bean paste on the inside. My dad sat for a long time with his hands clasped, thinking, and he finally came to the conclusion that it was made very well. There is definitely a traditionally certified Dim Sum chef working here in order to create these kinds of pastry-like foods.

By the time we left the restaurant, with all the staff members treating us extremely generously, there were already at least three other parties in line outside. News spreads fast if the content is good enough, and Kung Fu Kitchen certainly is. All in all, it was a pleasant experience of authentic Chinese food in the Orlando area. It followed all the rules and didn’t try to recreate too much of their twist on things. But be aware that their menu selection caters to dough, so don’t expect to find any main Chinese entree dishes. For example, the only vegetable option was sliced cucumbers as an appetizer. The food, “…isn’t bad at all and it’s not out-of-this-world spectacular. It’s right in the middle… a very satisfying, comfortable medium,” my dad, Mr. Samuel Young, summed it up. And I have to agree, although, as an emotionally attached eater, I’ll most likely be back to feed my cravings for a taste of home.

(Above) The Pork Xiao Long Bao was truly authentic. (Serena Young)
(Above) The House Special stir-fry hand-cut noodles impressed with its texture. (Serena Young)
(Above) The Shrimp & Pork Dumplings were abundantly stuffed and even had broth. (Serena Young)
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About the Contributor
Serena Young
Serena Young, Director of Photography
Serena Young is the Director of Photography of Lake Highland Preparatory School's Upper School newspaper Twice-Told Tale, a publication ranked first in the nation by American Scholastic Press Association. Young is the Co-founder of Athena Sisterhood, a community of over 1.6k women, and was a teen speaker at the Global Youth Mindset Summit. She has traveled to 30+ countries, volunteered over 1,500 hours of community service, and has 7M+ views on Google Reviews. Young started her personal development journey at the age of seven and has attended Tony Robbins's Unleash your Power Within, Global Youth Leadership, Business MasteryLeadership Academy, and Date With Destiny. When not taking a good nap, Young enjoys gourmet food, running long distance, watching award winning movies, and spending quality time with family and friends.

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