The dichotomy is false, though, for both the exotic and familiar are dished up daily at The Kung Fu Szechuan Cuisine restaurant.
Owner Yan Wan Saunders, former coowner of Hong Kong restaurant on Homer Street, opened her own place last October in the Medawar Jewelers complex, across from Holiday Lanes, on the corner of Clippert Street and Saginaw Road. While the style of Chinese cuisine remains the same, the taste is all its own.
"Just because it’s called Szechuan doesn’t mean the food is the same as other Szechuan restaurants," Saunders says. "The chef is different, so the taste is different."
The restaurant name does not refer to the martial arts style made famous by Bruce Lee. While the pronunciation is the same, the Chinese characters the restaurant uses for the words "kung" and "fu" are not the same. Saunders says her son, a lifelong fan of Bruce Lee, suggested the name, but the idiogram literate will notice the difference. At her restaurant, "kung" means health, Saunders says, writing out the character, and "fu" prosperity.
A weekday lunch buffet runs until 2 p.m., and the fare is familiar to the less adventurous among us: beef and broccoli, fried rice, General Tso’s chicken. It’s little touches, though, that set Kung Fu apart, according to waiter Jeff Cho.
"The shrimp we use for sweet and sour shrimp are huge," Cho says. "Some restaurants buy small to save money, but we decided we wanted good food."
That sweet and sour shrimp and the omnipresent General Tso’s are hits at the lunch buffet, where nearby office workers belly up for a quick lunch. But food that challenges dietary taboos is what makes a trip to the Kung Fu memorable.
The spicy pork intestine ($11.95) is fantastically delectable. Fatty, delicious strips of intestine are battered and quick-fried. Rest assured, the presentation will not turn you off; the strips resemble deep fried strips of onion you might find at a steakhouse. Dried red peppers are diced and mixed with slices of celery, hunks of garlic and little squares of ginger. Part of the joy of this dish is mixing flavors bite by bite: savory garlic and pork with the first bite, the next crunchier and zestier, with ginger, celery and pork.
Cho says the most popular dish among international students is the fei teng Yu ($13.95), also known as the fatong fish or, for the logophobic, simply number 176. It’s oily and spicy, characteristic of many dishes from the Sichuan province. A mouthful of fish falls apart with the slightest pressure, melting into the spice of the redorange broth. Long tendrils of yellowtipped bean sprouts mingle with ginger, garlic and cilantro. Black mushrooms deepen the flavor and broaden the texture, landing somewhere in between the tender chunks of fish and crunchy bits of napa cabbage.
The chicken in a hot wok ($10.95) is spicy, too, though with large pieces of bell pepper and onion, it’s more like a stew than a soup. Served above a Sterno, it continues to bubble throughout the meal.
While the intestines were delicious and the tripe (cow stomach) was good with beef, I drew the line at pig blood curd. I imagined using a straw, but Cho says it’s a lot like a block of tofu — maybe next time, with hot bean sauce ($11.95).
Kung Fu’s dessert is unique: sweet potato is covered in a rice flour, flattened to the size of silver-dollar pancakes, sprinkled with sesame seeds and deep fried — soft, warm and mildly sweet.
If you prefer something fruity for dessert, bubble tea ($3.75) is the way to go.
Bubble tea, for the uninitiated, is an iced, fruit-flavored drink with little pearls of tapioca on the bottom, served with a wide straw.
So whether it’s organ meat or egg rolls, Diet Coke or guava bubble tea, the Kung Fu knows what drives a successful restaurant.
"When you’re hungry," Cho says, " we have to provide."
The Kung Fu Szechuan Cuisine
730 N. Clippert St., Lansing
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday
TO, D, WiFi, $$