IOWA CITY — At JiangHu Asian Street Food in Iowa City, diners build their own soup.
An array of ingredients sit in a buffet near the front counter, a smorgasbord of items like noodles, beef, lamb, chicken, sausage, seafood, mushrooms, cabbage, seaweed and lotus root. Customers fill a bowl with whatever catches their eye, then choose a broth, which can be mild and spicy. The finished bowl is weighed to determine a price for the dish, called malatang.
“We’re constantly changing our ingredients so people can try new things,” co-owner Yi Zhang said.
He opened the restaurant Jan. 15 with co-owners Lan Huang and Yin Hang after graduating from the University of Iowa. Originally from Shanxi province in northern China, west of Beijing, he said he wanted to open a restaurant specializing in the food he missed from home.
“There is a lot of delicious Chinese food here,” he said. “But I wanted the real street delicacies. I love eating. In high school, I loved eating street food — the tiny things, the skewers, the small burgers, the things we ate every day. I wanted to bring those things here and let local people know we have totally different things than kung pao chicken or sesame chicken.”
He said he learned the ins and out of running a kitchen working at Burge Residence Hall’s dining area while studying business management at the University of Iowa. However, he relies on his chef, Shi Zong Zhang, to recreate his favorite Shanxi dishes in Iowa.
Besides the soup, other menu items include things like “Chinese burger,” a crispy bun with pork belly, grilled enoki mushrooms, grilled leeks and skewers with different meats and seafood. They also have a number of noodle dishes, a particular favorite of Shanxi cuisine.
“Noodles are what we specialize in; they’re all handmade,” Zhang said.
His co-owner and girlfriend Huang graduates from UI this month after studying economics and finance. She is from Hubei province, which has different culinary traditions. Her favorite dishes on the JiangHu menu are the zi ran noodles, handmade “belt” noodles with vinegar, soy sauce, cumin and braised beef, and the yo po noodles, which are topped with scallion, chili, garlic and housemade hot sauce.
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“I had never tried it before, because I’m from south of Shanxi, but I thought it was amazing,” she said.
She would like to add some specialties from her own province to the menu at some point — perhaps re gan mian — noodles cooked in sesame oil — or dou pi, made with eggs, sticky rice and fillings.
“Different provinces have totally different street foods, but they’re all delicious,” Zhang said. “We want to expand to have different flavors from different areas.”
Zhang said he would like to expand the restaurant into other university towns with sizable Chinese international student populations like Iowa City. But he said he’s happy with the reception from the Iowa City community as a whole.
“Almost 30 percent of our sales are from non-Chinese students,” he said.
He credits advice and assistance from his landlord and contractor with helping him navigate American systems and law to open his business.
“It makes me feel so good, like Americans are very welcoming people,” he said. “People highly accept food from another culture.”
If you go
• What: JiangHu Asian Street Food
• Where: 110 E. Court St., Iowa City
• When: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday to Sunday
• Details: (319) 569-1733, jianghuasianiowacity.com
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