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Candy and her authentic Cantonese flavor

(People's Daily Online)  Sissy Zhang  2016-02-16 07:10

Candy stands in front of the Fong Mei Restaurant on Rivonia Boulevard. (People’s Daily Online / Zhan Jiexian)

Once or twice in a month, a group of grey haired Chinese gentlemen gather at a Chinese restaurant for their tradition, sharing food, chatting at ease and keeping themselves up to date with each other. This is their “home away from home” as they refer to the spot, Fong Mei (meaning ‘flavor’ in Cantonese) or by the name of the owner, “Candy’s Place.” They formed this routine 20 years ago, and have held on to it tightly, from Yang Cheng in the Johannesburg CBD, Fong Mei in Cyrildene, and the ever popular Fong Mei in Rivonia. As its owner Candy perfected her English, she has also witnessed the transition of the city throughout the years.

Candy says she was “born to cater.” She used to work at a five-star hotel in Shenzhen, in southern China, where she obtained her basic skills and knowledge of the culinary industry. After moving to South Africa 20 years ago, she worked in her brother’s restaurant and eventually started up her own business from scratch. Fong Mei was one of the first to build its reputation as the Cyrildene area
transformed into a Chinese neighborhood. Since in the opening of her Rivonia Boulevard restaurant, the block has gradually gained the reputation as host to some of the most diverse Chinese cuisine and home to some of the best Asian restaurants.

There are a number of culinary schools in China. Among the most influential and typical known Eight Cuisines. The essential factors that establish the form of a genre are complex, including history, geography, climate, resources, cooking features and lifestyles. Cuisines from different regions are so distinct that sometimes despite the fact that two areas are geographical neighbors, their styles are completely alien. Fong Mei itself has became popular for its authentic Cantonese cuisine, which takes fine and fresh ingredients that are often cooked with polished skills and in a delicate style. It is famous for its broth with veggies and silken tofu, wonton with prawns, clams with peppers and pickles, vegetable spring rolls, spicy garlic spare ribs, and probably the best crispy beef in South Africa. It simply emphasizes a flavor which is clear but not light, refreshing but not common, tender but not crude.
Thus Fong Mei attracts local foodies from the old to the young, who visit the spot in groups regularly, as well as South African Chinese who settled down here generations ago, and overseas entrepreneurs who work for Chinese enterprises in South Africa.
Candy has taught her customers the essence of Cantonese food that is much more than fried rice and fried noodles. She has passed on traditional theories of Chinese catering, a way to balance your body with nutritious diet and natural ingredients according to the season. She can even remember each of her regular customers’ tastes and preference, saying it’s her way to show respect to their appreciation for her dishes and service. “I inform them every time I leave for China, in case they get disappointed when they can’t find me in the restaurant.” said Candy. And if you ask her local staff members, you will find out she treats them in the same way too.

Having lived in Johannesburg for more than 20 years, Candy only visits China occasionally and finds herself blending in well. She speaks highly of South Africa’s system and values it as a huge market full of untapped potential. Playing by the rule of placing eggs in multiple baskets, Candy is a partner in an adjacent beauty parlor and some rental housing as well. But Fong Mei is and will always be her proudest and inimitable undertaking.



(The story was originally published on Business Day on January, 29th, 2016.)