The modest exterior of Tung Fong Oriental Market opens to a bonanza of exotic foods, beverages, medicines, cookware and gifts from the Orient.
Colorful boxes, cans and glass bottles offer such delicacies as chrysanthemum tea, banana sauce, dried seaweed and powdered vinegar for sushi, musk melon candy and a coconut soft drink with pieces of coconut floating in it.
Fresh vegetables include bitter melons that look like chartreuse cucumbers with warty skins, bright purple Chinese eggplants that are akin to long, slender cucumbers and Chinese radishes that could be mistaken for large parsnips.
The shop is reminiscent of New York's Chinatown, an area familiar to owner Janice Lee-Shue, who moved here 10 years ago from New York City with her husband, Vincent.
Shortly after their arrival, the couple began looking for the Asian markets and restaurants they had been used to back in New York. But the markets were dingy with outdated canned goods and no fresh vegetables, Mrs. Lee-Shue recalled.
The restaurant choices were disappointing, too, she said.
About that time, they noticed a restaurant for sale on Park Boulevard. Though the Lee-Shues had been in the restaurant business in New York, they had moved here with plans of easing into retirement. Nevertheless, feeling the area needed another restaurant, they bought it and named it Palace of the Orient.
"After a few years in the restaurant business, we had a lot of calling for authentic ingredients for Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Chinese and Philippine cuisine," said Mrs. Lee-Shue, who is a native of Malaysia. "We decided to open a market. I thought this location would be convenient for people shopping for fruit and juices across the street at Orange Blossom Groves."
The market, which opened in 1988 at 5775 Seminole Blvd., is owned by Mrs. Lee-Shue and her three sisters. Two of the sisters live in Philadelphia, but Cindy Lim lives here and works alongside Mrs. Lee-Shue.
What sets Tung Fong apart from other Oriental markets, Mrs. Lee-Shue said, is that it offers specialty dishes made fresh each day at the restaurant. "We have fresh tofu made at the restaurant, dim sum (dumplings with meat and vegetables), rice cakes wrapped with bamboo leaves, fresh kim chee" (pickled vegetables) and more familiar foods like egg rolls and won ton soup, she said.
"We have never advertised, but we have a steady clientele," she said.
Mr. Lee-Shue is retired. He turned over the operation of the restaurant last year to his son Richard Lee and son-in-law Lenny Lai. "Dad comes in on the weekends to say hello to his old customers," Lee said.
Zelma "Z" Kougl, sales manager of ERA Security Realty at 8970 Seminole Blvd., has received the ERA Relocation Specialist designation from ERA National Real Estate. She has worked 10 years in real estate in Pinellas County.
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