Neither Amelia Leung nor Karen McClamrock ever expected to have their names on an Amazon Bestseller, but that’s what happened. Shortly after it was published in August, their Hong Kong House Cookbook (subtitled “Recipes by Amelia Leung, Written and Compiled by Karen McClamrock) was, for at least one day, Amazon’s #1 seller in Chinese cookbooks.
“I never thought the cookbook would be a national phenomenon or anything,” says Karen, “but the fact that it was ranked #1 best seller for even a short time and then stayed in the top 5 for nearly two weeks is something I consider a big accomplishment.”
Longtime Greensboro residents, particularly those who spent any time in the College Hill neighborhood adjacent to UNCG, will recognize the beloved establishment that the cookbook is named for. Amelia and her husband Robert opened Hong Kong House at 331 Tate Street (site of the present Boba House) in 1972, and for nearly 30 years it was a nexus of area culture. When it closed its doors in December 1999, it left a hole in Tate Street’s collective heart.
“My first time at Hong Kong House was to meet a life-long friend for lunch,” says Karen. “It was the early 1980’s. The first dish I remember eating was a crabmeat salad sandwich. It wasn’t long after, that I was a regular customer and also living a half block away. I got to know Amelia through being a regular customer. I even bussed tables and washed dishes on a few snowy days when her staff couldn’t get to work. Even in a winter storm, Amelia was always there serving neighbors who’d put on their boots and trudged through it for some hot soup.”
“One time it snowed and some friends brought their young children over to my house to play in the snow and we ended up at Hong Kong House to eat lunch. When we walked in there was hardly a clean table in the place. I cleaned off a table for us to sit at and just kept on bussing till there was a huge pile of dishes that needed to be washed. Since there was no one to do that, I washed them. I continued for almost two hours. Of course Amelia fed me well for helping out. She is all about food.”
“After Hong Kong House closed I kept hearing people say how much they missed the place and how much they would like to have this recipe or that one, and that Amelia should do a cookbook. I heard the people had asked her about it but nothing happened. I did not lose touch with her after the closing. I would see her from time to time or she would stop by my house for something. Finally, in 2010 I approached her about working with me on a cookbook. You get two laid-back people together and things are going to take time. Life also gets in the way of the best-made plans. Amelia has a large family and an even larger number of friends, all of whom she is very involved with. She is an amazing woman.”
At one point, the book remained on the backburner for several years. “Some outside nudging got us back to work. Another thing that took a while was that Amelia had never written anything written down! We started with a list of menu items we remembered and suggestions and requests posted to the Hong Kong House Facebook page.”
Amelia gives a rueful laugh when confirming that she never wrote anything down. “Poor Karen had to follow me around and watch me cook all the old standards, taking notes the whole time. If she hadn’t been so patient and hadn’t believed so much in the book, this would never have happened.”
I spoke with Amelia the day after she signed the book for me at the Tate Street Festival on September 18, and then again at her 72nd birthday party at Boba House on October 23, an event which brought a large crowd of former Tate Street regulars from all over the state, and which we all seemed to have slipped back in time for a few hours. “I’m emotionally shaken but so happy,” said Amelia. “These events over the past couple of months have marked the first time in all these years that I’ve had the chance to sit down and talk with all the wonderful people that went though my place. The overwhelming support l got from every single one of them has touched my soul. Their love and support is really appreciated. I’ve had to relocate my dear mum, who is 91, back to Hong Kong, under the care of my sister and brother, and my husband Robert has had multiple operations on his heart.”
I tell her that I’d talked to Robert a little earlier and found him upbeat and vigorous and very much his old self.
She nods her head and smiles, looking and sounding very much like she did in 1999. “God has been so generous to us. This book and the reaction to it mean so very much. I’m so glad to be here the day after my birthday, hosting a book signing party at the old Hong Kong location on Tate Street. We’ll be serving several of my recipes all day, so it’s like it’s Hong Kong House again. Robert and I want to thank every single person who has supported our family all these years, those who have touched our life in special ways. For someone like me who cannot type or spell, to have a book selling well on Amazon is a miracle! It’s been a team effort and labor of love, and Robert and I owe so much to Karen for the determination and vision that finally got it on the market.”
And on the market it is. Hong Kong House Cookbook by Amelia Leung (author) and Karen McClamrock (compiler) is available on Amazon.com in both a paperback and Kindle e-book. At the time of this writing, the paperback is $14.95 and the Kindle edition is $4.95, or free with a KindleUnlimited subscription, and its average customer rating is five stars. For more information, search “Hong Kong House Cookbook” on Facebook.