Adventures in carryout: Neighborly food from Magic Wok

Mystery Diner • Apr 27, 2020 at 9:00 AM

I have the good fortune to be married to a wonderful lady that you all know as my dining partner. That old saw about opposites attracting is quite true as far as this particular couple is concerned. Growing up north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I learned that, in any social situation I was best served by being maintaining a quiet, laconic demeanor. My dining partner, being of hill-folk extraction, is loud, expansive and gregarious.

Where I speak little and laugh even less, my partner has no trouble meeting others and finds humor in any conversation or situation. Because of this, my dining partner is the epitome of what it means to be neighborly. What I would formerly regard as “meddling-in,” my partner sees as “caring.” We live on a street where most of the houses have a front porch where you, your friends and neighbors could stop by and, self-distancing and crowd-size restrictions aside, still be able to visit a spell. Nowadays, with our “front porch” being electronic and our “neighborhood” part of a wider social network, my dining partner and I have had to re-learn what it is to be neighborly in a whole new way.

Magic Wok Chinese Restaurant has been one of our neighbors on South Roan Street since 1992. It is the definition of the family-run Asian restaurant, and a favorite getaway supper destination for us, our family and friends. Due to “interesting times,” proprietor Chao Wang has had to close his restaurant’s dining room and is now serving his customers, (his neighbors, really) via curb service and take-out. With my dining partner wanting “something from Magic Wok for supper,” I telephoned our order to Mr. Wang who was very neighborly to me by (1) answering his phone, (2) taking my order and then (3) cooking it. Thirty minutes later, I drove by to pick up our order. Gloved, masked, and aproned, Mr. Wang greeted me warmly, with my order all ready to go.

Appetizer: Spring roll and Egg roll

My dining partner decided we should make this a three-course meal, ordering each of us our favorite form of Asian roll-up appetizer, hers being one of Wang’s savory egg rolls, ($1.50) and an equally scrumptious spring roll ($1.50) for me. My dining partner enjoyed the crispy crunch of the fried rice flour wrapper surrounding the savory mix of finely chopped pork, cabbage, carrot and bamboo slivers. The moment was marred by my dining partner adding on a squirt or two of duck sauce. When confronted, her reply was that this was the way her egg roll had always been enjoyed, and wasn’t about to change for my sake. Grumbling, I sought solace in Wang’s expert crafting of my “bare-naked” spring roll, and very good it was, too.

Vegetable soup

Our soup course was a shared bowl of Magic Wok’s vegetable soup ($3), clear vegetable broth born of many Asian and American vegetables simmered long over low heat before adding in chopped cabbage, thinly sliced straw mushrooms, ditto for bamboo shoots and water chestnuts and topped off with baby corn: micro-kernels, cob and all. This made a soup of unsurpassed delicacy, its steamy aroma redolent of time and care taken to see that it reached your bowl at just the right moment for your (or in this case, our) enjoyment.

Pineapple chicken

For her main course entree, my dining partner chose one of Magic Wok’s Chef Specialties, the Pineapple Chicken ($12.95). Mr. Wang did not disappoint, sautéing lightly breaded white meat chicken with crisp snow peas and chunks of fresh pineapple in Magic Wok’s own cherry sauce, serving it with a side of the house fried rice. The tropical brightness of the pineapple mixed well with the mildly acidic and faintly bitter cherry sauce, brightening the texture and flavor of the chicken and snow peas most delectably.

Scallops & Shrimp w/ Chinese Vegetables

Being in the mood for seafood, I ordered the Scallops & Shrimp with Chinese Vegetables entrée, ($15.95). Mr. Wang has created a springtime-evoking meal of fat scallops and tasty shrimp enrobed in a light Cantonese sauce with a sauté of broccoli florets, straw mushrooms, Chinese cabbage, snow peas, baby corn and bamboo shoots. A plentiful serving of excellent fried rice was a very neighborly addition to a totally delectable entrée.

The bottom line

Working in times like these takes what my dining partner’s hill-folk upbringing calls “grit;” the ability to see things through, to not only show up for work at your restaurant each day while having a friendly and neighborly attitude toward your customers and your business. No matter what our world’s concept of a new “normal life” and a “normal business day” may turn out to be, it is comforting to have a good restaurant like Magic Wok run by Mr. Chao Wang, a good neighbor to all of Johnson City.

Magic Wok Chinese Restaurant

701 S. Roan Street

Johnson City


(Note: please check the Magic Wok Facebook page daily for current days and hours of operation.)

Take-out and curb delivery only

Credit cards accepted

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