Fusion isn’t merely Chef Nina Wong’s style of cooking, it’s her way of life. Wong, chef and co-owner of ChinDian Cafe in Minneapolis, was born in Vietnam of Chinese parents. One of nine children, she moved to the US with her family as a young girl, and, by the age of 14, was working in the family business, Rainbow Chinese Restaurant & Bar, in Minneapolis. (She and Rainbow Chinese Restaurant’s Chef and Owner, Tammy Wong, are sisters. Their mother, who is almost 70, still works in the restaurant. Of her mother Wong says: “Without her being the guru, that restaurant would not have come into being.”)
In 2005, Chef Nina Wong forged out on her own and opened East River Market in Minneapolis, a market and take-out joint. After marrying her husband, Thomas Gnanapragasam, who is ethnically Indian and was born in Malaysia, Wong and her husband reinvented East River Market as ChinDian Cafe “with a taste that celebrates the Chinese and Indian heritages that each of them brings to the proverbial plate.”
Says Wong: “The restaurant business is in my veins.”
Now, after nearly five years, ChinDian flourishes as a cheery neighborhood cafe where, according to Wong, “Business spreads by word of mouth.” Like Rainbow Chinese, ChinDian is a family operation and you occasionally might spot Wong and Gnanapragasam’s young daughter tagging along as her parents greet customers in the dining room. ChinDian is working out the final details of implementing beer and wine service now that their application for a liquor license has been approved. “It’s a long haul,” says Wong. Over the next several months, Chef Wong will be rolling out a line “Nina’s” bottled sauces and syrups, including her ginger syrup, which Aunt Else’s recommends as a topping for their æbleskiver.
Wong was inspired to create Nina’s Salsa Soup when she was deciding how to use leftover fresh salsa after having catered an event for 350. Wong’s advice for those trying to cook with the seasons: “Cook with an open mind. Do not be afraid of trying spices and sauces from other parts of the world.”
Use the freshest produce you can find to make this simple, yet bright, soup and cook it in your melting pot. That’s what Chef Wong does.
Nina’s Salsa Soup
1½ lbs ripe tomatoes
1 yellow onion
2 jalapeño peppers
1 qt free range organic chicken broth
juice of 1 lime
pinch of sea salt or to taste
Garnish: cilantro to taste, chopped
- Dice tomatoes, onion, and jalapeño peppers.
- Scoop diced vegetables into a soup pot. Add chicken broth.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.
- Add lime juice and salt.
- When tomatoes are cooked down, soup is ready.
- Ladle soup into bowl and garnish with cilantro. Enjoy!
*This soup works well served over rice or noodles. The Salsa Soup featured in the photo above was served over vermicelli noodles. You may also add a little meat if you like more protein.