Cashew Chicken in Springfield, MO
Memories of Leong's
My first memories of Chinese restaurants, go back to Springfield, Missouri in the 1960's.
Growing up, my family spent a lot of time in Springfield, visiting relatives. I have vague but fun memories, of Leong's Tea House.
Leong's Asian Diner
In 2016, Don and I visited my Dad in Springfield and tracked down the new version, still owned by the same family.
The Leong's of my childhood looked nothing like this. This is how it looked in 2016, when Don and I had lunch with my dad. It looked more like a Barbecue Barn than an Asian Tea House.
I didn't get a photo of the interior on our 2016 visit, but it actually was very nice. However it looked nothing like the old "tea house", with tidy white tablecloths.
We didn't see Mr. Leong when we visited in 2016, but he was still a part of the family ownership. I remember reading the menu and being impressed with the story of David Leong, who created the well-loved Springfield Cashew Chicken dish. Mr. Leong emigrated from China in 1940 and served his adopted country in WWII. He opened the Teahouse in 1963.
Springfield Cashew Chicken!
On our visit we ordered a few different things, but the Cashew Chicken was the most memorable.
If you Google "Cashew Chicken" you'll see the story of Springfield's special version. Mr. Leong came up with the idea of frying chicken pieces rather than stir frying, because he cleverly noted that locals loved their fried chicken. The sauce had a bit more of a gravy flavor as well.
We left that day feeling satisfied that we had at least had the famous Springfield dish, in a restaurant owned by the Leong family.
I wish we could have taken Dad to the original Teahouse, but it closed in 1997. Mr. Leong's son, Chef Wing Yee opened Leong's Asian Diner in 2010. Sadly Mr. Leong died at the age of 99 in 2020.
The Rickshaw Chinese Restaurant
For a little comparison, Don and I had an outing to another Springfield restaurant, when we made our next Springfield visit.
We had noticed the corner building with its artwork, on the edge of downtown. The sign above the window let us know we could SIT IN OR CARRY OUT.
We parked across the street and headed over with fingers crossed. The place looked a little worn. We could get food to go, if we decided not to SIT IN.
The neon letters spelling OPEN, were lit. The yellow sign by the door encouraged us too, "Try our hot and Spicy Daily Lunch Special... $5.99." How could we not?
I'm a sucker for tradition. I loved the the red lanterns and Asian art on the wall.
We stepped up to the counter to place our order. A very sweet looking man asked, "You have cash?" We did.
The older couple (meaning my age) behind the counter, welcomed us warmly, but hardly had time for chitchat. They seemed to be doing all the work that day.
The man chuckled a little when I asked how long the restaurant had ben there. He said they'd been working 26 years and he had less hair now!
I was curious about the displays.
Every space was decorated, even this one above the trash can.
In the glass case below the counter, there were shelves covered with treasures.
All of the figures and decorations looked like they were from faraway places...
... but not the same places. Were those Hummel Figurines I saw? From Germany? I'm sure there were stories behind all the statues and decorative pieces.
While a little country music played in the background, Don worked on his plate of Garlic Chicken. The plate with its rope design, matched the music.
Don paid an extra 50 cents for all white meat. Interesting to have a choice.
I got the lunch special for $5.99, with Springfield Cashew Chicken! It came with an egg roll and 2 puffs. My divided plate reminded me of grade school lunch plates. There was something so sweet and old school about our meal.
A lot of customers ordered carryouts. Most of the people seemed to be regulars, ordering without pondering the menu.
I wish I could have asked them some questions about the sweet couple who worked so diligently to prepare the meals. I wanted to know who painted the Rickshaw art on the window...
As I look back and remember my 2 Cashew Chicken feasts on 2 different Springfield visits, I finally got around to Googling Rickshaw's. It looks like Savan Yim and his wife Kim, retired and turned the business over to family in 2020. They had operated the biz for 27 years, after buying the business from a friend, in the 1990's.
But even more touching, was to know that the Yims have repeatedly thanked Springfield for their support. They escaped to Missouri as refugees in the early 1980's, after being captured and abused in Cambodia. I had wondered about the stories behind their "treasures", but now I know there must be many more important and sad stories to tell.
It makes me happy to know that both the Leong and Yim families were able to pass down their businesses (and recipes) to family. I'm ready to go back for a visit and enjoy some more Springfield Cashew Chicken!
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The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.