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You Can Talk the Talk, but Can You Wok ’N Walk?

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Joe PoonDid you know that Philadelphia has its own fortune cookie factory? Have you ever wondered about the medicinal properties of shark’s fin and sea cucumber, as well as how to mix them into your cooking for medicinal use? 

Look no further than Chef Joe Poon’s Wok ‘N Walk tours that originate from Chef Kitchen (1010 Cherry St., 2nd Floor) in the heart of Chinatown. These walking tours give participants a crash course in the history of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, as well as the chance to develop a taste for Chinese cuisine.

I caught up with Chef Poon, who is also a dietician and heading to Hong Kong this week to teach patients at local hospitals how to cook healthier for themselves and their families. Dubbed the “Unofficial Mayor of Chinatown” for his philanthropic spirit and support of his community, Chef Poon was more than happy to talk to me about his Wok ’N Walk tours. 

“Asian food and culture are amazing, and I want to teach people about the Chinese culture and the food we eat,” Chef Poon said. “We have fun while learning about history and how to eat healthy.”

 “Asian cooking is not simple,” he added. “In China, we have six or seven styles of cooking. My goal is to help people find what kind of Chinese foods they like to eat.”

 And eat you will during the Wok ‘N Walk, whether it's tasting fresh, exotic produce at one of the outdoor markets or gobbling down the four course meal prepared by Chef Poon’s staff at the end of each tour.

The 2 ½ hour walking tour of the Chinatown community includes a meal, a Tai Chi demonstration, a stop at a state-of-the-art Chinese kitchen store, and visits to an Asian bakery and bookstore where Chef Poon demonstrates traditional Chinese calligraphy.

 Here are some highlights from when I had the opportunity to take the tour earlier this year.

 The first leg of the tour takes you on a walk down to the basement-level Asia Supermarket (143 N 11th St.), one of Chinatown’s largest markets. You’ll find anything and everything you need here to cook a traditional Chinese meal. Just be careful that one of the live crabs or crayfish doesn’t crawl out of its bucket and hijack a ride in your purse as you walk past the live seafood area.

 Joe PoonAt the market, Chef Poon teaches you about the use of herbs in Eastern medicine as you stand around a display not unlike those in bulk candy stores. But instead of candy, they are filled with items such as ginseng, sharks fin, sea cucumber and abalone. In Chinese medicine, these ingredients can be added to food to help foster blood pressure regulation, kidney and lung health, arthritis and vertigo treatment.

For tea enthusiasts, Asia Supermarket boats an entire aisle, floor to ceiling, of just about any tea you can imagine. And each of these teas boasts its own medicinal powers from aiding digestion to helping you get a good night’s sleep. On your way out the door, Chef Poon may even gift you a box of oolong or green tea to brew your own delicious cup at home.

The Mayflower Bakery & Café (1008 Race St.) is the tour’s next stop, where the sweet scent of freshly cooked bao, or buns, will tantalize your senses. It’s at the cafe that Chef Poon introduces guests to bubble tea, specifically bubble red tea or pào mò hóng chá This cold drink is made traditionally by adding boba balls to shaken milk black tea. Boba balls are created from a mixture of tapioca, and they add a fun texture to the drink.

Before heading back to Chef Kitchen for a four course meal, you’ll make a special stop at the Lucky Chinese Cookie Factory (155 N. 9th St.). No Chinese take-out meal is complete without fortune cookies, and this factory sells bags full of 100 of these tasty treats for about $15. On a return visit, you can even order cookies with personalized or X-rated — yes X-rated — fortunes.

Finally, as you ascend the steps of Chef Kitchen again, the smells of Chinese cuisine tickle your nose as they waft down the hallway to greet you.

“I love to teach people how to eat,” Chef Poon said. “Some Americans don’t know how to eat Chinese ingredients. My background is nutrition, so I like to tell people what they are eating and how it’s good for them.”

The menu typically includes a shrimp pork wonton soup with mushrooms, Thai bourbon grilled chicken skewers, and Chef Poon’s famous Healthy General Joe Chicken served with stir-fried garden vegetables and Asian fusion rice. While Chef Poon’s Wolk ‘N Walk menu is standard, guests should not hesitate to contact him in advance if they have special dietary needs or food allergies.

For more information or to purchase tickets for a Wok ‘N Walk tour, visit www.josephpoon.com.