I first met Chef Lupe Liang in June 2010, when I was invited to host the first Chinatown Summer Nights event. It will be a huge community party with food, music and art. He and I helped plan the food theater show, and I had some jitters before the performance.
“Don’t worry,” Lupe told me with a twinkle in her eye. “I cook something delicious.”
For much of the evening, the audience was sparse, with most choosing to hang out across the street at Central Plaza, home to DJs, bars and dancing. However, as Lupe prepared for her cooking showcase, a decent-sized crowd began to gather.
His skillful technique with a pan has become legendary. With a flick of the wrist, he would toss pieces of orange chicken into the air like a flock of birds and then catch each piece without a single casualty.
Everyone gasped in amazement with each swing of the pan. He was delighted with the answer. The enthusiasm of the crowd put me at ease; Lupe took control of the demo. “OK, Eddie?” He would smile at me, knowing that the answer was a resounding “Yes.”
After Lupe finished cooking, the volunteers passed samples of the food to the crowd. The audience couldn’t get enough of it. The joy on his face was priceless. Cooking was in his blood. He has been cooking since he was 7 years old. The chef’s life was the only life he knew.
Liang “Lupe” Ye Ning, proud owner of Hop Woo BBQ & Seafood in Chinatown, husband, father, brother, beloved chef, captain of his kitchen team, famous Mexican attended, the son of a Chinese farmer, the mainstay of his community, is now gone.
He is 61 years old.
The chef is also my dear friend and for me, embodies Chinatown and, by extension, LA’s finest multi-ethnic ferment.
Lupe Liang, along with his wife, Judy, both from Guangdong, China, have been running their restaurant for about three decades. Chinatown residents respect Lupe, Judy, and Hop Woo, and visitors consider Liangs restaurant to be one of Chinatown’s most popular attractions, like the double dragon gates on Broadway, or good luck at Central Plaza .
With roasted ducks dangling from the windows, hanging lanterns, and smiling Buddha in front of the door, the restaurant could fit among the many Chinese restaurants of its kind in LA or anywhere else in the country. But Lupe’s was extraordinary, and as I got to know him better, I had to let the others know. I started writing about Hop Woo.
I lived in Chinatown as a child, played card games at the Alpine Recreation Center, attended kindergarten at Castelar Elementary School, and made wishes at the wish well. On Sundays, my dad treats me to a bowl of wonton pho at the old Mayflower restaurant. This is our ritual and one of my best organ food memories from childhood. Soon after, my family left Chinatown for the suburbs in search of a better future. This is the way of immigrants in LA
Lupe and Judy arrived in LA by way from Mexico. The two met while Judy was on vacation at Rosarito beach and Lupe was working at her brother’s Chinese restaurant nearby. Lupe has worked there since 1978, the year he immigrated to Mexico from Hong Kong, his hometown at the time. Lupe lived in Mexico long enough to be fluent in Spanish and took the name Lupe, which is short for Guadalupe.
In the 80s, the Liangs moved to Los Angeles, and in 1993 they owned Hop Woo, an eight-seat hole in the wall serving Cantonese food. The couple later converted it into a larger, more inviting restaurant that is still located at 845 N. Broadway.
During my years away from LA, I used to visit my old Chinatown to ease the nostalgia. One day I returned to LA to live, this time with a family of my own. I don’t live in Chinatown, but now I visit more often and bring my family with me.
Lupe and I will be presenting many more cooking demonstrations together for years to come. We are a team. I wanted to share the stage with Lupe, and sometimes Judy, who was his partner in everything and was often on Hop Woo’s doorstep. As soon as his performance was over, Lupe and Judy hurried back to Hop Woo to meet the hungry crowd that wanted more of Lupe’s food.
A blossoming friendship
As a food journalist, I am expected to be unbiased and objective, as is right. But there are people I meet who will challenge this grievance with their humanity, kindness, and courtesy, and you can’t help but like them. Lupe is one of those people.
Whenever I go to Hop Woo alone for a quick bite, Lupe never needs to ask for my order. Miraculously, a bowl of wonton noodles with stewed beef and tendon appeared before my eyes – the hearty soup that was my childhood Chinatown in a bowl. I shared with him my comfort food story early on in our friendship, and he never forgot how important that humble dish was to me.
My daughters practically grew up in Hop Woo. I have photographic evidence of their growth from pictures of them posing next to the 3-foot-tall Laughing Buddha at the restaurant’s entrance. In each picture, they get the height of the Buddha. When I see my two daughters through Hop Woo’s memories, I can’t help but think of Lupe’s two daughters, Mary and Kelly, and how they lost their father so soon. Too early.
I have brought my parents, children, spouse, siblings, all my best friends, food writers and so many others to Hop Woo over the years. In each of those moments, Lupe never fails to welcome and treat everyone like family by making a meaningful connection and showing her disarming smile. “Don’t worry, I cook something delicious,” he will say.
Then came the party.
Lupe has been a part of my family’s Thanksgiving and Christmases celebrations for over a decade; we will go to Hop Woo to choose our Chinese turkey and side dishes like beef chow fun and roast pork. I make sure to send him a family Christmas card every year (and I don’t send too many of them). We also participate in both Western New Year and Chinese New Year with Lupe’s food at the center of the celebration, making sure we order them all food of happiness and longevitysuch as whole steamed pork belly or mein with XO sauce.
We also celebrate birthdays and other special occasions there. A specific Valentine’s Day dinner I the experience at Hop Woo involves a unique aphrodisiac soup made with Chinese medicinal herbs, various roots and “pizzle”, or cow penis. Only for me. Just beware. “Makes you strong,” he promised mischievously. It’s better than a box of chocolates.
Lupe was there with me again when I rushed into Hop Woo like a fool after being so infatuated, a fertile topic for blogging. He was determined to calm my drunkenness before it got to me. “Don’t worry, Eddie. I cook something good for you. His cure is chicken feet and abalone soup with a mixture of famous Chinese herbs and roots. Immediate relief.
After serving the elixir, he parades a plate of deep-fried duck tongues (still with beak attached) and a round of ice-cold Tsingtao – I assume this is the dog’s hair to cure a hangover. Then he drank with me as I appreciated him by my adventures of the night.
If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the menus of Chinese restaurants, you know how helpful a menu printed in your native language can be, and for many people in LA, it’s Spanish. Dental. Hop Woo is the first restaurant in Chinatown to put Spanish on the menu.
Lupe himself is more fluent in Spanish than in Mandarin, his dialect is Cantonese. He modified certain spicy dishes by adding jalapeños. Hop Woo’s Thanksgiving Chinese turkey has its roots in the Mexican Thanksgiving celebrated in cities like Tijuana. Over the years, I’ve seen his dining room become more diverse as rumors spread that Hop Woo is the local Spanish-friendly Chinese restaurant.
The trilingual menu is just the beginning in the process of separating Hop Woo from other restaurants in the city. Lupe has come up with crowd favorites from Peking duck to shrimp fried rice, but he’s guaranteed to keep his more adventurous clientele happy. This is where his secret menu comes in.
Hop Woo’s off-menu fare has been removed from the regular menu for good reason. Things can be pretty intense. Madeleine Brand’s show on public radio Hop Woo’s secret menu is covered venison and star loofah, oysters with “hairy vegetables”, fried chicken knees, goose intestines, lamb testicles and armadillo soup. Vice Media shot an episode for its food channel about Hop Woo’s seven back-spasm courses, covering everything from snake skin to gallbladder bile. Nothing, and I mean Nothing, was wasted.
Most of these dishes I wrote in my food blog Dinner is over because they are not intended for general consumption.
Lupe can be trusted always. During the outbreak of the pandemic, when many residents of Chinatown were in despair, Lupe and his staff prepared hundreds of meals to provide to those in need, even if his business was damaged. harmful. When it came time to help promote Chinatown, Lupe consistently said yes, while other restaurants bowed. He gave so much love to everyone. Above all, he loves to feed people, like a real chef.
Family is extremely important to him – anyone’s family. He comes from one adult: seven brothers, three sisters. All help each other. He loved his wife and daughters very much. He is so proud that Mary is, in a way, following in his footsteps with her baking business, Mary’s Makeshop.
He, like any restaurateur, has to face the realities of business every day. His employees are very important to him. They truly are a family, some of whom have been with him since Day 1. There are numerous employee celebrations throughout the years that bring joy and lightness to the often long days. and tired, some days close late to 3am that i witnessed those times. Good time. Hard time. The kind of time that makes up each of our lives until there is no more time.
Lupe Liang’s departure could be the end of a Chinatown organization. Lupe timed out too soon. He still has a lot to offer Chinatown. His Chinatown.
https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2022-05-11/appreciation-yening-lupe-liang-merged-three-cultures-forever-changing-chinatown Chef Lupe Liang and trilingual menu embodied spirit of Chinatown