By Nancy Tannler
803 SE Stark St.
Sunday through Thurs: 11 am – 9 pm
Weekends: 11 am – 10 pm
When James Kyle first went to live in Beijing in 2002 he was already familiar with many different varieties of Asian cuisine. His job in a PC manufacturing business was peopled with fellow employees from Cambodia, Thailand, China, Vietnam and their campus cafeteria catered to these different flavors and aromas and Kyle grew to like them. What he wasn’t expecting while living in Beijing was the variety of Chinese food available in one city. It’s this food, the everyday street food, that inspired he and his partner Kyo Koo to open Danwei Canting.
Since Kyle was English speaking and rapidly learning Putong-hua – a common Chinese dialect – it was decided he would be the person to escort business partners visiting Beijing to the restaurants. Over the next twelve years, he tasted food from every province in China and began to take notes about his favorites. After a few months, his young family had moved to Beijing and they became immersed in the scene there. Kyle said the people were exceptionally kind to them and made them feel welcome.
When it was time to return to Oregon, the company he worked for decided it was time to lay off some of the more senior employees, Kyle being one of them. The Chinese proverb “In every crisis, there is opportunity,” proved true for this energetic entrepreneur and he started to plan the restaurant he had been dreaming about for years.
In the meantime Kyo Koo, a local chef, was on the lookout to open what he felt was a missing element in Chinese restaurants. Kyo and Kyle had a mutual broker who had the idea of introducing the two of them, recognizing their similar vision. After the first meeting, the two men knew they had met a match and decided to open Danwei Canting together.
The first thing they did was to go to Beijing so Kyle could take Kyo to his favorite places to eat. Kyo could recognize the flavors by taste and jotted down a few cryptic notes that served as his recipes for the menu at their restaurant. “He was able to get the flavors of the dishes almost perfectly,” Kyle said.
They decided on serving the everyday food of the Chinese. Items like dumplings (jiaozi)–a New Year’s tradition–filled with either pork, lamb or mushrooms served with a special dipping sauce. Noodles served the way they are made in the different provinces. Kyle especially liked those from the city of Chongqing made with thin, chilled egg noodles, shredded chicken, sesame paste, radish and spicy Chonqing sauce, all very tasty and reasonably priced.
Kyle relayed an interesting anecdote about the different “burgers” they serve. During the early years of the Silk Road, travelers ate a type of sandwich consisting of a round flat bread sliced in half filled with pork or lamb. Lamb was a staple for the Muslim Chinese who lived in western China and the lamb they serve is halal or allowed in Islam.
Danzei Canting offers some great sides like the Hunan cauliflower with sweet peppers or the peanuts in their special Shanxi vinegar. The different menu items are a curious mixture that most of us wouldn’t associate with Chinese food. Kyo and Kyle are excited to have the peoples beer of China, Yangching, on sale too. It’s a light beer that is great for cleansing the palate to savor the individual tastes of the food.
The word Danzei means work unit or pulling people together while Canting means restaurant. The atmosphere is cafeteria like with a wonderful bright mural, the service is fast/casual and the prices are reasonable. It’s a new bright spot on the corner of SE Stark and 7th.