Chinese restaurant Mei Wah, on Leenderweg in Eindhoven, has reopened its doors. A hefty fire in the kitchen caused owners Taks and Anouk Yuen to take a break for a while. Until now, that is. “We can’t sit still”, Taks says.
The two had just started a new concept. Authentic Chinese dishes, so definitely no babi pangang. “We are focusing entirely on the restaurant”, Taks, the third generation, says. “This choice allows us to invest even more energy, passion and creativity into it. “My parents had a lot of ingredients flown in from China. Cheaper and many times better than here. Nowadays, however, we also try to be as sustainable as possible, so we get a lot of our ingredients from closer to home”.
One example is the wines, which Taks and Anouk still only source from within Europe. “But I would also like to serve water buffalo from Son en Breugel. There’s a company there that makes delicious mozzarella, but they don’t do anything with meat. Water buffalo is a very nice product, but I haven’t dared to ask them yet. Haha”.
Some 58 years ago, his grandparents started their restaurant in Eindhoven. A regular Chinese, with the dishes that have been popular in the Netherlands for decades: babi panggang, tjap tjoy, fu yong hai, ku lo yuk, and satay. Anno 2023, Taks and Anouk run the restaurant. With very different dishes and no takeout or delivery.
My grandfather had fled communism at the time. Together with his brother, he went to work on a cruise ship. Eventually they docked in Rotterdam and my grandfather stayed there. There he met some friends from his old village and decided to stay in the Netherlands. Unlike his little brother, who found it much too cold here. He traveled on to Buenos Aires.
“Grandpa Yuen was a farmer and fisherman and in China everything had been taken away from him. So he had nothing to lose, Taks assessed. “Everything was better than the situation in China. Grandpa came from a happy but also very poor family and by Chinese standards he could earn much more here”.
“With a year of work, he had saved up enough money for my grandmother and my father to come here by boat”, Taks said. “Then the three of them started working, and within six months they were able to bring the rest of the family here by plane”.
This work ethic was also passed on to Taks, who, according to Anouk, never complains and always works very hard to make things right for everyone. “This restaurant is his everything. For a long time we cooked what the Dutch like to eat. My grandfather did it that way and my parents were also used to it that way. We, however, do it differently”.
Taks concurs with his wife: “What we started with was the ‘takeaway Chinese’, with a few tables, just like all Chinese restaurants throughout the Netherlands. In the eighties there were big roadworks on Leenderweg, because of new sewerage. The number of customers dropped dramatically as a result, we had a serious crisis”.
So Taks’ parents were at a turning point: sell the place or invest? “They decided to bring the best four chefs from China and ask them to cook here for a year and train my mother. Also at the request of the guests – mostly employees of Philips – who liked to take their relations to a modern specialty restaurant. In terms of food and interior design”.
From that time on, all kinds of changes were made to the restaurant, which even then was already a well-known name in the Eindhoven area. Still, Taks said, his mother always “stuck” a bit to old habits. “In the end, we were also still a ‘regular Chinese’, where you could eat upscale, but where takeout and delivery were also still possible”.
For a long time, Taks and Anouk feared that changing the menu would cost them a lot of business. Certainly people from the neighbourhood could then no longer go to their favorite Chinese. “In the end we made the decision. Not everyone was happy about that. We had people here who really had to cry”.
“We want to cook authentic, traditional dishes that you can’t get in every Chinese restaurant”, Anouk, who is the face of Mei Wah as hostess, explains. “Everything fresh and mostly prepared at the table. We really had to take our guests with us in this new philosophy. Indeed, we have lost customers, but the connoisseurs still know how to find us”.
The fire in the kitchen almost threw a spanner in the works. Literally and figuratively. “It was the first Saturday of summer (22 July, 2023) and after closing time we were still in the mood for a snack. While I was taking two croquettes out of the freezer, the pan caught fire. In no time the kitchen was ablaze and I had to flee outside with my wife and children”.
Taks still tried to put out the fire, but the fire was already in the hood and the chimney, so there was no saving it. “Fortunately, the fire brigade was quick to arrive, so the restaurant area could be spared. However, no cooking could be done for the time being. I am so happy that we can now get back to work. It’s not in the blood of us Chinese to sit still!”
Translated by: Bob