Beyond the plate: New restaurant Lao Hu Tong aims to bring Chinese food, culture to Amherst

Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst, opened at 63 Main St. in early December.

Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst, opened at 63 Main St. in early December. STAFF PHOTOs/CAROL LOLLIS

Lizhen Chen and Alan Wer, the head chef at Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst owned by Scott Zhang.

Lizhen Chen and Alan Wer, the head chef at Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst owned by Scott Zhang. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tina Zang, an employee of Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst owned by Scott Zhang, makes soup dumplings. The dish is one of many items on the menu designed to give patrons a chance to enjoy authentic Chinese cuisine.

Tina Zang, an employee of Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst owned by Scott Zhang, makes soup dumplings. The dish is one of many items on the menu designed to give patrons a chance to enjoy authentic Chinese cuisine.

Laura Tichler and Paul Falotico enjoy a meal at Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst, owned by Scott Zhang. The restaurant opened in early December.

Laura Tichler and Paul Falotico enjoy a meal at Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst, owned by Scott Zhang. The restaurant opened in early December. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

Soup dumplings at Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst owned by Scott Zhang.

Soup dumplings at Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst owned by Scott Zhang.

Lau Hu Tong owner Scott Zhang. “Everything is handmade; we start from scratch,” he  said. “We only bring the flour in.”

Lau Hu Tong owner Scott Zhang. “Everything is handmade; we start from scratch,” he said. “We only bring the flour in.”

 Scott Zhang, owner of Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst, talks about the restaurants goal of being authentic to China, both in the food it serves and in its decor, which includes serving trays that are Chinese antiques.

Scott Zhang, owner of Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst, talks about the restaurants goal of being authentic to China, both in the food it serves and in its decor, which includes serving trays that are Chinese antiques. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Lau Hu Tong waitress Bella Falotico serves customers Laura Tichler and Paul Falotico. The new restaurant opened on Main Street downtown in early December.

Lau Hu Tong waitress Bella Falotico serves customers Laura Tichler and Paul Falotico. The new restaurant opened on Main Street downtown in early December. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

FAR LEFT: Potstickers served at Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst owned by Scott Zhang.

FAR LEFT: Potstickers served at Lau Hu Tong, a new Chinese restaurant in Amherst owned by Scott Zhang.

NEAR LEFT: Beef Dan Dan Noodles and Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup served at Lau Hu Tong.

NEAR LEFT: Beef Dan Dan Noodles and Chinese Chicken Noodle Soup served at Lau Hu Tong.

By Aria Martinelli

For the Gazette

Published: 02-28-2024 1:51 PM

AMHERST — People who can’t travel thousands of miles to savor authentic Chinese cuisine and culture in the Far East now have the next best thing in downtown Amherst.

Three months ago, Lao Hu Tong opened a few doors down from Boltwood Avenue at 63 Main St. From the food to the furniture, homemade is a key theme at the new restaurant.

“Everything is handmade; we start from scratch,” said Scott Zhang, the manager and co-owner of the restaurant. “We only bring the flour in.”

The menu is fairly small. The goal is to perfect every dish and offer something delectable, Zhang said, adding that quality over quantity is what is important at Lao Hu Tong.

Popular dishes include Dan Dan and Ja Jae Noodles and the Emperor’s Cabbage. The artistry of the dishes is seen in how meticulously crafted and plated they are, such as with an item called the Hot and Spicy Cucumber, which takes the form of an exploding flower. The potstickers, meanwhile, look like an elegant doily as they peek through a lace-like covering of batter.

Assistant Manager Chris Brady says picking a favorite item is like “picking who’s your favorite child.”

Another restaurant specialty are the soup dumplings. Each dumpling is delicately rolled out and folded right before being served.

While enjoying the specialty, patrons can refer to the red pieces of paper posted on the tables with instructions on “how to eat a soup dumpling.”

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Zhang’s eyes light up as he explains the way to eat a dumpling. This involves puncturing the dumpling seated on a spoon with a chopstick or tong to release the soup to drink before eating the dumpling. An emphasis on the importance of eating the dumplings the proper way, following steps in a specific order, furthers Lao Hu Tong’s mission of offering a cultural experience.

Brady speaks about how he has learned extensively about Chinese culture from just two months of working at the restaurant.

A feel of China

The dishes are brought out on wooden trays that were used in the olden days in China.

Not only is the food crafted by hand, but the furniture is, too. The diffuse lighting and brick walls imparts a homey feel and sense of calm.

Most of the furniture is antique and sent over from China, like the tip jar that is a measurement for one unit of rice. The rice measurements were used 100 years ago.

The sauce holder, for the “hot oil” and the vinegar, is hand-built and modeled after traditional Chinese lunch boxes that would be brought into the rice fields.

“We just try to bring back what is Chinese in the community,” says Zhang.

Zhang shares about a customer who came in and saw the cabinet they have in the front of the restaurant, which reminded them of a cabinet their grandmother had in China.

Bringing memories back to Chinese Americans of their heritage in China is what Lao Hu Tong hopes to do. Zhang speaks about their Chinese customers feeling like they are back in China.

“This is what Amherst needs,” Zhang says. “You don’t need to go to Boston Chinatown or New York Chinatown. You just come here to feel like you are in China right now.”

Lao Hu Tong offers a take-out option with the hopes of making the restaurant as accessible as possible. All on the menu can be ordered for take-out except for the soup dumplings, which are a uniquely dine-in experience.

“The menu is a living document,” says Brady.

The owners and the chef collaborate on building the menu to bring the most authentic cuisine to the table while also catering to the needs of the local customers. The menu is inclusive of various dietary needs such as offering gluten-free and vegetarian options. The restaurant is peanut-free as well.

Zhang and Brady emphasize how much the restaurant values customer feedback.

Most of the customers are the local Amherst community. However, folks from Greenfield, Springfield and Pittsfield frequent as well.

The mission of Lao Hu Tong is to provide an authentic Chinese experience into the hutongs of China.

A hutong is a narrow street in China where traditional cuisine is created. Recipes have been preserved and passed down from generation to generation in these streets.

“Hu Tong tastes like community, neighborhood, so not only is it an authentic experience, but we are hopeful that we can foster a cultural exchange,” says Brady. “Folks from Massachusetts can experience what it’s like to go to a hutong.”

Lao Hu Tong is open every day but Tuesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.