Remember the Army ad that says “We do more before 9am than most people do all day”? At the International District’s Ton Kiang B.B.Q. Noodle House, Benny Huang and Joey Yang show their morning might with meat, coming in at 5am each day to roast, barbecue and steam pork, duck and chicken to satisfy customers who stroll in as early as the 9:00 hour for breakfast.
Huang honed his meat skills upon emigrating in 1992 from Foshan to San Francisco, where he worked for a Chinese BBQ master. He moved to Seattle in 2008, joining Yang (who came to Seattle from Zhongshan in 1993, first working at Honey Court) to open Ton Kiang—which means “East River,” found in their hometown province of Guangdong (formerly known as Canton).
Indeed, Ton Kiang is typical of the Cantonese-style restaurants you’ll find in Guangdong or Hong Kong. It’s a true hole-in-the-wall, with hanging meats steaming up the front window. Step inside, and Yang will greet you with a smile while simultaneously delivering a purposeful thwack thwack thwack as her cleaver hits chopping block in cutting up order after order of meat.
The menu lists things like Chinese broccoli, ma po tofu, and potstickers, but they’re really side shows to the meats. You can enjoy those meats (in any combination) alone as appetizer plates or with rice—or pick your favorite meat (or two) and put it in lo mein, noodle soup, or congee.
The roast pork has a crackly skin and an almost sinful layer of succulent fat, while the BBQ pork is delightfully sticky and slightly sweet. (I actually prefer the BBQ spare ribs, which are more caramelized and fattier, making you want to gnaw them to the bone.) Even better is the roast duck, glistening with goodness and served with, well, duck sauce. And note that Ton Kiang utilizes the whole animal, so if you become a regular or ask nicely, you can perhaps try duck wings or even duck tongues.
Best of all, though, is the chicken. There’s a soy sauce version, but I especially recommend ordering the “salted sauce” version. Ton Kiang uses free-range chicken, which Yang describes as “more skinny but more flavor, which is what Asian people prefer.” They steam, cool, and then marinate the chicken in Chinese herbs. While it’s delicious on its own, what really makes the chicken shine is the ginger-green onion dipping sauce that comes with it.
You’ll notice many people placing to-go orders, but dine in and you’ll really see the diligence and kindness of the couple from Guangdong as they serve customers. And if you ever want to wow a group of friends and family, contact Ton Kiang in advance and they can prepare a whole roasted pig for your special occasion. It’ll be the foundation of a fantastic feast.
Originally published on EthnicSeattle.com on 11/5.