November 23, 2014

Following The Leaders

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A chat with Naru Asian Cuisine owners Li Jing and Vivien Bi

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

 

Li Jing Bi and his wife, Vivien (pictured with their 18-month-old son, Elvin), own and operate the Williston-based Naru Asian Cuisine, which features both Chinese and Korean foods. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes )

The term “family restaurant” is often tossed around with blithe casualness in reference to any non-chain eatery, but Naru Asian Cuisine, located on Cornerstone Drive in Williston, is a true family affair.

Naru is run by Li Jing Bi and his wife, Li (Vivien) Yu Rong, along with his parents, Li Guotao and Li Meici.

Also contributing to the family business by mingling with customers and spreading general goodwill is Jing and Vivien’s 18-month-old son, Elvin.

Although Guotao and Meici were busy in the kitchen and Elvin declined to be interviewed, Jing and Vivien recently sat down with the Observer to discuss all things Naru.

THE GUANGZHOU CONNECTION

The Li family hails from Guangzhou, the capital and largest city of China’s Guangdong province – historically known as the Canton region of China’s mainland.

Jing, who moved to Vermont in 2000, worked as a cook at Naru for three years under the tutelage of a Korean chef, before purchasing the restaurant from its Chinese owner in 2007.

The confluence of Chinese and Korean cultures is embodied in the restaurant’s name, which the Li family has maintained.

According to Park Yoonjung, a resident of Seoul, South Korea, the phonetic “Naru” (나루 in Korean) means “harbor.” Idiomatically, it can mean a landing place for ferry passengers to congregate.

In keeping with its cross-cultural namesake, Naru remains a melting pot of Chinese and Korean cuisines, offering Cantonese, Hunan, Peking and Shanghai varieties of Chinese food, as well as such popular Korean dishes as bulgogi, bibimbap and kimchi jiigae.

KOREAN FAVORITES

Jing said he kept Korean food on the family menu because it was love at first bite.

“I love it when I first try it,” he said. “Just from my first bite, I decided that I love it.”

Perhaps the most popular item of Naru’s lunchtime cuisine is the bulgogi lunch box, available for $8 (excluding tax). Featuring a bulgogi-style choice of chicken, spicy pork, beef or squid, the meal also includes appetizers of Japanese-style miso soup, kimchi and pickled daikons – along with main course supplements of steamed rice, dumplings, honey mustard dressed salad and japchae.

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL

Vivien, who serves as the welcoming face and voice of the restaurant, said she once asked her husband how she could improve her cooking skills.

She said he responded: “You need to use your heart.”

Jing, who is studying electrical engineering at Vermont Technical College in Williston (in addition to working seven days a week at the restaurant), responded to his wife’s comments after completing an order for pajeon (scallion pancake).

“In this life, if you want something, you have to work for it,” he said.

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