SHARONVILLE, Ohio - Each Thursday, our "Global Table" column explores the international side of Greater Cincinnati dining. Follow WCPO contributor, Grace Yek, as she talks to the chefs and owners of these dining spots about their food, culture and journey to the Tri-State.
House of Sun
Where: 11959 Lebanon Road #1, Sharonville
Food: Chinese, specializing in Fujian and Taiwanese cuisines
Prices: Entrees $7.50-$11.75; Authentic menu: $7.50-$16.75
Pull up a chair and take a bite of the fluffy, steamed pork bun.
Savor breakfast specialties from Fujian and Taiwan every Saturday and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. But don't confuse this breakfast for its more famous Cantonese cousin, Dim Sum. This breakfast lineup is unmistakably Fujianese and Taiwanese.
You'll find an assortment of savory sesame shaobing (layered and baked flatbread), either plain, or stuffed with beef or egg. Another breakfast staple, yutiao (fried bread stick), is a delightfully airy, slightly crispy, yet chewy, long "doughnut," minus the sugar.
Instead of coffee, wash these tasty bites down with hot soybean milk, served in a bowl--either sweetened or salted.
House of Sun offers a host of steamed dumplings (pictured below) and buns, stuffed with savory pork, or a combination of shrimp, pork and leek. If these options aren't enough to hit the spot, look into the rice balls. As the name suggests, they are fashioned from rice, balled up into the size of the palm of your hand, and stuffed with either a sweet or savory center.
Yutiao finds its way in the savory stuffing, flexing its surprising and welcome crispness. The scallion pancake with beef stands out. This toothsome pancake is stuffed with flavorful beef, onion and cilantro, and rolled up like a jelly roll.
The pan-fried pancake (above) is no fluffy pushover. It is more accurately a flatbread, and satisfyingly chewy. This rolled up ensemble is served with a tangy soy-based dipping sauce, with just a hint of sweetness.
Meet the owner
Originally from the Fujian province in China, Jenny Zheng (above) and her husband, Chun Xiong, own and operate House of Sun.
At the time of the interview, Chun Xiong, the chef, was away in New York. Zheng's daughter-in-law, Yan Ping Pan, served as the translator.
When Zheng left China in 1999, she came to the United States to reunite with her husband who had been working here for a number of years. According to Zheng, her husband first learned how to cook from his parents, and picked up the rest from working in various restaurants.
"He's been working here for twenty years," Zheng said, referring to her husband's tenure in the restaurant business in this country.
Zheng and her husband had been working at House of Sun for some years, when in 2004, they got the chance to buy the restaurant. They took that chance and have not looked back since.
Today, Zheng, her husband and their family reside in Greater Cincinnati.
"My mother and sister are still in Fujian," Zheng said. "It's not easy to visit them while running a restaurant."
Chinese New Year is Zheng's favorite celebration because of one thing: family. On Chinese New Year's eve, her family gathers at the dinner table to enjoy traditional dishes, including whole fish. In the Chinese culture, whole fish symbolizes abundance, something every family hopes to have.
More than 2,000 miles of coastline cradle Fujian, a province in southeast China.
"We eat a lot of seafood because Fujian is by the ocean," Zheng said. She is a fan of fish, lobster and clams-- typically steamed, stir-fried, or even deep fried and coated with a spicy Sichuan sauce.
Zheng was quick to point out Fujian cuisine is not typically spicy. The cuisine is, in fact, light-handed with the use of seasonings, enough to tease out the true character of the food. (Pictured below, rice balls)
"The common ingredients are green onion, ginger, soy sauce, and Shaoxing rice wine," she said, referring to typical flavoring ingredients.
Taiwan is 110 miles away from Fujian, across the Taiwan Strait. Zheng explained that, aside from the dialects, the Fujianese and Taiwanese cultures are very similar. The weekend breakfast menu merges favorite foods from both cultures.
"Before I left Fujian, I had only had sweet soy bean milk," Zheng said. She offers salted soy bean milk at the restaurant because Taiwanese customers prefer it. The tofu pudding also follows this cue, and is available either sweetened or salted.
The breakfast offerings have proven to be quite a draw.
"Chinese students also come here on weekends for the breakfast," Zheng noted.
By the way
House of Sun offers two menus: Authentic Chinese and American-Chinese (pictured below). Zheng explained the American
Chinese menu contains flavors familiar to the American palate, and offers popular items like General Tso's Chicken, Moo Goo Gai Pan and Hunan Beef.
"We provide this separate menu to make it more convenient for the customer," Zheng said. She added that with the American-Chinese dishes, the emphasis is on the sauce, followed by the other main ingredients.
The diner gets the chance to uncover hidden gems with the Authentic Chinese menu. Zheng gave the example of the Stir Fried Shanghai Rice Cake. This dish tosses sliced bite-sized rice cakes with a medley of vegetables and aromatics, such as ginger and scallions, all stir-fried to perfection over high heat.
Another example is the Three-Cup Chicken entree. Ginger and scallions give the entree its nose, while the blend of one cup soy sauce, one cup rice wine and one cup sugar coats the chicken to give it a sweet-salty-tangy taste.
Zheng explained the Authentic Chinese menu items puts the emphasis on the main ingredients--meat, seafood or vegetables--and the flavors are layered with the use of various seasonings and sauces.