Rudy Lieu First ate egg foo yong at the age of 15 on a visit to his uncle's Chinese restaurant in St. Louis. It was a new concept for a kid from Los Angeles: a deep-fried omelet filled with bean sprouts, onions, and meat smothered in a savory brown gravy. He hurried home to share this new dish with his friends and family. “People just thought I was crazy,” says Rudy. “They asked, ‘Why are you frying an omelet?’
Where We Went
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is where the ice cream cone was first invented.
On the same fateful trip, Rudy tried St. Louis's famous St. Paul sandwich: an egg foo yong patty nestled between two slices of white bread with iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayonnaise. “When you have it for the first time, it's like, Whoa! This is interesting.”
In the early 1980s, Rudy's uncle, Anthony Lieu, worked for a man named Stephen Yuen at his restaurant Park Chop Suey. Rudy refers to Yuen as a “pioneer” of the Chinese restaurant scene at that time. Yuen had moved to St. Louis from St. Paul, Minnesota, a city he loved, so he invented the St. Paul sandwich as an homage. It became well-known in St. Louis but remained virtually unheard of in St. Paul. “It started selling like hotcakes. Everyone [in St. Louis] started making St. Paul sandwiches,” says Rudy.
Today, Rudy invites me into the kitchen at Fortune Express to watch him make a St. Paul sandwich. He stirs mung bean sprouts and onion together with eggs, chopping the sprouts into smaller pieces as he goes. Next come slivers of chicken (or ham or shrimp) followed by a few tablespoons of hot oil, which he says “loosens up” the mixture. He cranks the heat beneath an oil-filled wok and then carefully adds a ladle of the egg mixture. Once it's deeply browned, he lifts the egg foo yong from the oil and presses it hard between his utensils to shape it and force out the excess oil. He builds the sandwich on white bread, layering on lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, and a sprinkle of a homemade spice mixture. All he'll tell me is that there's garlic powder and “other stuff” in it. He smiles and says, “In St. Louis, nobody doesn't know what a St. Paul sandwich is.”
If You Go
Restaurant: Fortune Express
Address: 6738 Chippewa St, St. Louis, MO 63109