It was 2019 and Harvey Wong and Munzzy Uddin had signed their lease at 1329 Willoughby Avenue, with hopes of starting The Monkey King, their idea of a Bengali-Chinese fusion restaurant. They set their opening date for June of 2020, but you can guess what happened next. Now, it’s officially set to open later this month.
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 turn to working in kitchens. (Wong had been an associate 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 culinary culture. Uddin wanted to create an elevated idea of her family’s native Bengali cuisine, while Wong had his own legacy that he wanted to continue. His father is George Wong, a chef who most recently opened a hip Chinese restaurant called Kings County Imperial in Williamsburg in 2015.
“I saw 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 putting together the menu at the new Monkey King alongside Uddin and his son.
Hence, the menu of traditional Cantonese dishes is unsurprisingly flawless. I consider myself something of a soup dumpling superfan, and the ones that Wong is making burst with flavor from the first satisfying bite. A crowd favorite, so far, appears to be the pan fried chicken dumplings, which come served with a cinnamon red-oil infused soy sauce. But where the menu truly shines is on plates like their roasted duck fat fried rice, which plops roasted duck, jicama, duck fat, and cured duck yolk on top of traditional fried rice. Another star are the cumin lamb ribs, which Uddin and Wong call “both of our cultures on a plate.” It combines halal meat with xian spice and scallions, drizzled over with Mike’s Hot Honey.
“We definitely have regulars now,” Wong tells me. While they have yet to garner any major reviews, the restaurant has been reviewed over 100 times on Google – as of the publication – all of those reviews appear to be positive.
Once their dining room opens, the pair say they will launch a cocktail bar too. Some of the drinks they’ll serve include baijiu, a liquor popular in China and that’s also served at Kings County Imperial. Also planned is the “Deep Fake Lassi,” a cocktail inspired by the buttermilk drink lassi, popular in Southeast Asia. The kind they have planned, however, will have no mango nor dairy. (Uddin calls it “a mind-fu*** type of cocktail.”). Instead, Uddin puts in turmeric, rum, and a dairy substitute (Coco lopez). It’s both creamy and refreshing all at once.
The name “The Monkey King” comes from a popular Chinese folktale called “Journey to the West.” It’s about a monkey who rebels against heaven and then goes on a journey of fulfillment throughout 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,” said Uddin. “Just like the Monkey King, we’re rebels, going against the grain, leaving our corporate jobs behind to follow our dreams.”
It’s been a long, hard road for the rebels of Monkey King — a fight the pair constantly tells me would have been an uphill battle without the support of the Bushwick community. The restaurant’s indoor dining area opens September 28th.
Monkey King is located at 1329 Willoughby Avenu and is currently open for take out. Check out their menu and hours here.
Top image taken by Andrew Karpan for Bushwick Daily.
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