In this “anything goes” BBQ area of the country, I’ve got a contender for the best that you might not expect. So open those minds, and come along with me to Tang’s Asian Market in Springdale where I spoke to the window meat master of Northwest Arkansas.
Chef Tom Tang has been in the Chinese restaurant business here for over 30 years. When his daughter, Shu Lan, and her husband Bryan moved back from overseas where they had worked teaching English, the whole family discussed what to do next.
Having come out of retirement to open Mama Tang’s restaurant, business was great, but the patriarch of the family had a desire to move towards more traditional Chinese cooking in their next venture. He had spent months in Toronto, Canada with a friend serving Hong Kong-style BBQ learning the craft, and had many more recipes he’d held on to for years with the inspiration to use them all in a deli concept.
Shu Lan and Bryan missed many foods from their time in Japan and Hong Kong; they loved the idea of opening a market. With several area places focusing on Vietnamese, Thai and Korean items, they saw a need for a store that carried Japanese goods. And with that, they all decided to open Tang’s Asian Market and deli together.
When I use the term “window meat” I mean it with the utmost affection. I refer to the whole coppery ducks, layered pork belly with crispy skin and tender meat, and tangled strips of shellacked roasted pork that hang from hooks in the front windows of so many shops in Hong Kong. Anyone as in love with U.S. China towns as I, can attest that many of the best places to eat are marked by these garlands of burnished meats, glowing in lamplight right under the marquee, beckoning you inside.
Traditionally known as Chinese BBQ, the most popular of the varieties is probably the Char Siu pork. A departure from American BBQ, where regardless of region the main flavor component comes from smoke and flame, these meats are marinated then mopped continually throughout roasting. With marinade often based with honey, soy and hoisin, the resulting Char Siu is almost always a touch sticky, perfectly salty and sweet, with the occasional burnt ends that are less char than they are caramelized. The term “meat candy” has never been more appropriate.
At Tang’s their roasted meat window is inside, the centerpiece of the deli area. It’s surrounded by refrigerated cases carrying salads and classic Chinese dishes made in-house, a case displaying a puffy variety of steamed and baked bao buns and egg tarts contributed by Mama Tang herself. Big cases full of fresh seafood on ice, ready to be cleaned and fried whole for you, is a service available anytime during open hours.
In their third year of business the market itself continues to grow and evolve. They most recently added a larger produce department to keep up with customer demand and more frequent deliveries. From big plummy purple banana flowers, to fresh dates and water chestnuts still in the peel, varieties of bananas not seen in American groceries, tropical fruits and citrus, essential Asian cooking staples like lemongrass, tamarind, galangal, and a variety of greens including pea shoots and herbs, and the delicious Japanese white sweet potatoes, there are countless things to explore and try.
Experiencing great response to his deli, Tang has expanded it as well. He is offering delicious marinated meats, salted blue runner, and even sashimi. The family is discussing several more deli items to add to the list. Possibilities are things you might see at Dim Sum, a homemade family-favorite noodle dish, and even staples from their previous restaurants that have garnered numerous customer requests. Though I’m told, “The priority before anything is made available at the market is that we test recipes to make them tasty, make them authentic, and consistent which sometimes takes up to a year to perfect,” so stay tuned to their Facebook page for store updates.
As we wrapped things up I look around the store. At Chef Tang serving his line of lunch customers in the deli, and his wife Anna bouncing their grandbaby in her arms nearby, while Shu Lan rang up customers and Bryan helped others find what they were looking for, and I know; everyone needs to know about this wonderful market. It’s the perfect place to expand your culinary horizons with guidance from a lovely local family, and with arguably the best deli food on offer in the area.
Tang’s Asian Market
224 S Thompson St Springdale, Arkansas