|© J. Adrian Wylie|
by Sally Mitani
Last year, Frank Zhong bought Emerald City, the Chinese restaurant on the strip of Washtenaw between Ypsi and Ann Arbor. Originally from Zigong, Sichuan (aka Szechuan), Zhong owns restaurants in Detroit, Midland, and Lansing. The Trizest Restaurant Group, as the collection is called, claims to serve highly authentic Sichuan food. Zhong, who used to live in Midland, has now moved to the area and is the restaurant's head chef; he also occasionally teaches classes in Sichuan cookery at the Turner Senior Resource Center.
Zhong and his staff speak very little English, which makes for a tough interview but augurs well for the "authentic Sichuan" claim. Some of the items on the "authentic Chinese dishes" section of the menu seem hair-raisingly unfamiliar, like "pig's blood curd with hot bean sauce."
These changes might have gone unnoticed--the big square restaurant, whose entrance in the back is a gentle, pretty contrast to the roaring Washtenaw strip in front, remains unchanged--except that earlier this year the sign out front suddenly proclaimed the restaurant's name to be Ypbor Yan. The name change seems a little tentative: a large neon sign on the restaurant itself stills reads Emerald City, and so do the menus.
"Ypbor Yan" doesn't sound or look like any of the familiar pinyin Chinese syllables we Westerners are accustomed to. But this may be the only Chinese restaurant in town that actually tries to meld its Chinese name with its English name.
Ypbor Yan is a partial anagram of Ypsi-Ann Arbor. Zhong says this is intentional--but also that the yp, bor, and yan are real Chinese characters. He, the cashier, and the waitress pointed to the Chinese characters on the cover of the menu and argued energetically about their English translations: "keeping people happy," "life," and "party" were some of the suggestions. Eric Kung, former owner of Emerald City, happened to stop by and joined in the game, translating the syllables as "palace," "treasure," and "banquet." It felt like it was time to
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