After a series of aperitifs to start the evening, the dear friend of mine Paolo Paradiso, painter and artist, proposes to me to go to dinner in a “historic Chinese of Milan” (his textual words). We head to Via Lazzaretto 10, and here we happened upon a noisy place made of tables, where everyone knows each other and seems to be partying. The sparkling atmosphere, saturated with positive vibes, is just one of the many ingredients that characterize the famous Lon Fon tavern.
In 1962 Mr. Sing Cheng King (Franco) became chef of the first Chinese restaurant in Milan, Pagoda. It is an important fact, because this opening lays the foundations for what over the years will become the famous China Town in Milan, the largest, strongest and most structured Chinese community in Italy. In fact, this is just the beginning. Later, Mr. Franco decided to set up his own business, opening another of Milan’s very first Chinese restaurants, Mandarin. Meanwhile, the family has joined him: his wife Yu Ying Cheng — known as Flora, and daughter Kwan Fong Kind — for all Rita. And it is precisely the little Rita (who remembers with a nostalgic air the house in Via Canonica, where China Town really was born) who learns from her father the art of cooking, who follows him with passion and dedication. And Rita marked the great turning point in the family and in the city of Milan: on April 9, 1978, she transformed an old pizzeria into what is called Lon Fon with her husband, Tsui Fu On.
During a beautiful meeting, which took place right inside the restaurant with her eldest daughter Pui Ling Tsui (Angela), Rita explains to me:
My husband and I have always focused on quality and not quantity, so we found right from the start a good clientele, what has become the hard hoof and that also comes now. I remember many years ago many of our customers were from Hong Kong: they came to Milan for fashion and for the Fair, but to eat they always came to us. We were their point of reference. We now have third-generation customers.
And on this point Angela adds:
There are customers who keep coming to us, who remember me little girl when I turned between the tables during the service. Of these historical clients began to come here children and today also grandchildren, who come alone or with friends. Often new customers are surprised, because when they come in here they see that not only do people have a great relationship with us, but also the customers who know each other, greet each other, talk. Lon Fon is like a big extended family.
The same customers who, among other things, have created a beautiful book that traces the history of the family and which they have donated to on the occasion of the forty years of Lon Fon, in 2018. And of the most important recipes I was kindly gifted: of Angela and Rita strikes me in fact the extreme affability and kindness, a rare and elegant spontaneity. Certainly, as Rita pointed out, the quality here is really put first. This also explains such great success among Italians. In all these years they have never changed suppliers: meat and olive oil are exclusively Italian, fish comes from the fish market, rice from pavese area and vegetables comes fresh every morning. Angela adds:
Today in Milan we are witnessing a radical change in Chinese catering, street food and fusion go for the most. We remain authentic, we continue to propose a traditional cuisine that maybe someone may seem past. If we take the spring roll, for example, you could say it’s an old, 1980s dish. But my mother doesn’t prepare it as you might expect: Rita arrives at the restaurant every morning at 9:30 and starts handworking the pasta for the spring rolls and dumplings that will then be prepared for dinner. And he does this every day, every morning. Then it starts with cutting the vegetable, and so on. Our rolls and dumplings are absolutely handcrafted. In many places there are beautiful colorful and refined dumplings, many of them are all the same and perfect. This happens because they are not handmade, they are bought. This is not the case here because they are handmade one by one. We have always followed the classic line of homemade.
But things change and so to keep up with the times the restaurant in the space of ten has made some changes (but never in the kitchen, where the menu remains traditional and the dishes are prepared by the historical brigade exclusively Chinese).
Today the structuring of Lon Fon sees Angela at the head of the restaurant and during the service she directs the hall. Her mother Rita is the head of the kitchen. The middle daughter Mei Bou Tsui (Francesca) works at the pass while her youngest daughter Mei Fung Tsui (Maria) works at the local seasonally. The son Ga Po Tsui (Alessandro), on the other hand, lives and works abroad. From time to time they agree to prepare catering and banquets (it always depends on the type of request) but the work at the restaurant is always a lot, the place is always full.
There are several historical dishes that have made this restaurant great: the aforementioned spring rolls and dumplings (of Xiao Lon Mao crab, steamed shrimp, special to water, to the “four colors”, of steamed meat, steamed vegetables), shrimp crust, the many soups, the Peking duck, the crispy cockerel “Lon Fon”, the turbot filleted with seasonal vegetables, the crab stewed with soy noodles, the Sichuan pepper lobster, the shrimp salt and pepper “Lon Fon”, the crispy capellini “Lon Fon”, the crepes with azuki and the caramelized fruit. The menu is actually much wider, I wanted to mention the most famous dishes and, in my opinion, better.