What you need to know:
- Closed shop. The making of Fang Fang Restaurants gave one high-end and economical, especially Chinese food options on the menu. However, that is all no more.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend rang me and informed me that the legendary Fang Fang Chinese Restaurant had finally closed. Ms Fang Min, the owner and founder, can truly claim to be a pioneer and a maverick who is the epitome of the rags to riches story. She came to Uganda selling neon lamps and Chinese paraphernalia and ended up becoming one of the top restaurateurs in the country.
Ms Fang arrived in Uganda around 1989, [if I am not mistaken], she came to work for a well-known politician from eastern Uganda. The politician had an office in the NIC building where there was a Chinese restaurant in which he had a stake.
For obscure reasons, mind you these events took place several decades ago, the good woman fell out with the owners of the restaurant and she ended up in Luzira prison on what appears to have been trumped up charges. Being incarcerated in Luzira was a dismal experience for her and she spent most of her time in tears and resolutely refused to eat the food.
It so happens that the then deputy Director of Public Prosecutions at the time was well known to me, and accordingly I reached out to him and explained the situation and thanks to his assistance, after a few weeks she was released from prison and that is how she and I became friends. Her first restaurant that she ran was on Kampala Road, in what was known as Slow Boat Restaurant next to Diamond Trust Building. The name of the restaurant skips my memory, unlike today, when there are scores of Chinese eateries, at that time Slow Boat was the only one of its kind.
Late 1993, Ms Fang invited me to Greenland Towers that was under construction and slated to be the headquarters of the now defunct Greenland Bank, and took me to the fourth floor at which must have been Kampala’s first modern high rise building. She had taken up a let with the management and was going to create an exotic and unique Chinese restaurant. I vividly recall the floor bereft of any structures except toilets.
Regardless, with cool determination and the tacit assistance and support of China, it was impossible for one to miss their vehicles with CD number plates that brought endless materials and fixtures and parked in front of the building. Naturally, I never broached the subject of her diplomatic ties with the mainland China, since it was none of my business, still it proved to be a great help and enabled her to create an impressive restaurant the likes of which Kampala had yet to see.
Fang Fang is born
A year later, Fang Fang Chinese Restaurant opened and from day one it was a rousing success. Barely seven years had elapsed since the arrival of the NRM government on the Ugandan scene so in many ways she was treading in virgin territory.
During those days, Fang Fang Chinese Restaurant was the premier place for all the government officials and moneyed Ugandan folks and she capitalised on this good fortune to no end. She was making money hand over fist and worked hard and was there seven days a week.
An interesting factor, was that for the first four years or so there was no working lift and it seemed not to make any difference whatsoever. The rule of thumb in the food business regarding location, is that a restaurant should as much as possible aim to be on the first floor, for ease of access to the potential clients. Despite Fang Fang being on the fourth floor, and there being no lift for the first three years, they were as busy as one could imagine. Ugandans and foreigners alike would gladly trudge those floors.
Ms Fang made it a point to take each person’s order and she knew every client by name and rank. Despite her English being faltering and hard to comprehend, she was the consummate hostess and was loved by all and knew the inestimable value of good public relations and customer satisfaction. It did not matter that all the orders were written in Mandarin with the bottom line being in English. Her clients lapped it up and no one ever complained. Which reminds me of a story that is told of a famous Ugandan mzungu who was married to a Ugandan woman.
One day, he went to dine with a Chinese colleague, and when the bill came the guest asked Ms Fang (in her language) if he could look at the bill presumably with a view to scrutinising it with a fine toothcomb. Much to his surprise, Ms Fang, politely told him to mind his business.
Six years later and with the closure of Greenland Bank eminent, Madam Fang planned to move to the brand new Communications House on Plot 1 Colville Street and a modern, posh 14-storey building which in this case had a purposely built restaurant planned with a kitchen and other necessary conveniences already in place.
Along the way, she had become a Ugandan citizen and would sometimes accompany the president on trade missions abroad. The new Fang Fang was huge, impressive and boasted several private dining rooms, ample parking and the central location. This made it ideal to tap into that upmarket clientele who were ready to pay for first class food and service.
Fang Fang will be remembered as a place where one could embark on a dining odyssey that always turned out a magnificent culinary tour de force. One would cast aside your run of the mill sweet corn soup or fried chicken wings and enjoy such rare and brilliant prized delicacies as shark’s fin soup.
I recall my often ordering for this clear broth soup, that is not only in a class of its own but may take anywhere from three to five days of cooking in order to bring out and enhance its superb flavour. Then there was the lobster Cantonese, a rather uncomplicated number with minced pork, fermented black beans and the usual condiments and in the end absolute ambrosia. This is an entrée that goes well with festive occasions, and all the more so when in the company of food connoisseurs.
One of the things that we shall miss, is the choice of going the whole hog and spoil oneself and pay through the nose. On the other hand, one also had the choice of being economical and selective with a comfortable and affordable budget and share with each another. Best of all, one would still be accorded VIP status.
When you chose to splurge, Ms Fang would go all out and see to it that one was looked after in a manner that can best be described as being regal and pampered and yet without being obsequious and fawning.
Food connoisseurs appreciated the labour put into the menu of Fang Fang Restaurant. It also, gaveequal treatment to high and economical spenders.