It was 2019 and Harvey Wong and Munzzy Uddin had signed their lease at 1329 Willoughby Avenue, hoping to start The Monkey King, their idea for a Bengali-Chinese fusion restaurant. They set their opening date for June 2020, but you can guess what happened next. Now it officially opens this week.
Wong and Uddin had a lot in common – both were born and raised in Brooklyn, Wong from Canarsie and Uddin from East New York. Both were children of first-generation immigrants and both had left corporate jobs to take up work in kitchens. (Wong had been a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Uddin an engineer at a chip company called Wolfspeed.)
They met through a mutual friend and then began dating, bonding over their love of food culture. Uddin wanted to create an elevated idea of his family’s native Bengali cuisine, while Wong had his own heritage that he wanted to continue. Her father is George Wong, a chef who recently opened a trendy Chinese restaurant called Kings County Imperial in Williamsburg in 2015.
“I’ve seen my family go from Chinese takeout in Canarsie to Kings County,” Wong told me, adding, “my dad is looking to retire.” The elder Wong, in fact, was directly involved in setting up the kitchen and crafting the menu for the new Monkey King alongside Uddin and his son.
Therefore, the menu of traditional Cantonese dishes is unsurprisingly flawless. I consider myself a super fan of soup dumplings, and the ones that Wong bursts with flavor from the first satisfying bite. A crowd favorite, so far, seems to be the pan-fried chicken meatballs, which are served with a soy sauce infused with red cinnamon oil. But where the menu really shines is on plates like their Roasted Duck Fat Fried Rice, which lays roast duck, jicama, duck fat and salted duck yolk on top of traditional fried rice. . Another star are the cumin lamb chops, which Uddin and Wong call “our two cultures on one plate.” It combines halal meat with xian spices and green onions, drizzled with Mike’s Hot Honey.
“We definitely have regulars now,” Wong tells me. Although they haven’t garnered any major reviews yet, the restaurant has been rated over 100 times on Google – at the time of publication – all of these reviews seem positive.
Once their dining room opens, the couple announces that they will also be launching a cocktail bar. Some of the drinks they will serve include baijiu, a liquor popular in China and also served at Kings County Imperial. Also planned is the “Deep Fake Lassi”, a cocktail inspired by the buttermilk lassi drink, popular in Southeast Asia. The type they have planned, however, will not have mango or dairy. (Uddin calls it “a type of mental-fu*** cocktail”.). Instead, Uddin puts in turmeric, rum, and a dairy substitute (Coco lopez). It’s both creamy and refreshing.
The name “The Monkey King” comes from a Chinese folktale called “Journey to the West”. It’s about a monkey who rebels against the sky, then sets out on a journey of fulfillment through China, before ending up in India to retrieve an important scroll. “Harvey being Chinese and I’m Bengali, which was part of India at one point, we felt like it was a perfect name,” Uddin said. “Just like the Monkey King, we are rebels, going against the grain, leaving our corporate jobs behind to pursue our dreams.”
It’s been a long, hard road for the Monkey King Rebels – a fight the pair constantly tell me would have been an uphill battle if not for the support of the Bushwick community. The restaurant’s indoor dining room opens on September 8.
Monkey King is located at 1329 Willoughby Avenue, but is currently only open for takeout. Discover their menu and opening hours here.
Top image taken by Andrew Karpan for Bushwick Daily.
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