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How Han Chiang of Han Dynasty turned a themed dinner into friendships with his hip-hop heroes

The 15-course tasting dinner is inspired by the rap supergroup's first album — and has drawn guests from GZA to Masta Killa.

Han Dynasty owner Han Chiang poses with Wu-Tang Clan's Masta Killa at a 15-course tasting dinner inspired by the group's seminal album "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)."
Han Dynasty owner Han Chiang poses with Wu-Tang Clan's Masta Killa at a 15-course tasting dinner inspired by the group's seminal album "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)."Read moreYong Kim / Staff Photographer

A Chinese restaurant owner, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, and a guy from South Jersey walk into a bar.

Actually, it wasn’t a bar. It was the University City location of Han Dynasty for Monday night’s Wu-Tang Beer Dinner, a 15-course family-style Sichuan meal with 15 beer pairings that’s loosely inspired by Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the rap group’s seminal first album.

Now in its seventh year, the dinner’s vibe is very nightclub-meets-potluck: Jamel “Masta Killa” Irief (another Wu-Tang member) presided over the room, there were flavored blunt wraps at each table to encourage some undercover puffing and passing, and diners were instructed to eat and talk with complete strangers.

Owner Han Chiang, 43, said the dinner has roots in his Lancaster County upbringing, where, as a Taiwanese immigrant, Chiang said he was the only Asian student in a majority white school.

“I was dealing with a lot of racism back then, so I almost exclusively listened to a lot of angry music,” Chiang told The Inquirer. “Now, [Wu-Tang ’s] music feels different. I’m not as angry any more.”

For the diners, the tasting is the realization of a fandom fantasy, where they get to slurp noodles and slug beer in the presence of hip-hop royalty for $145 a pop.

But for Chiang, the event is a childhood dream realized: He’s forged friendships with group members like Raekwon, GZA, and Method Man, who filmed the music video for his song “Big Sky” in one of Chiang’s New York City restaurants.

“It was a dream come true,” Chiang said. “If you build it, they will come.”

Now regarded as one of the most significant albums of the 1990s, Enter the Wu’s mixture of cipher-style rhymes, hardcore production, and East Asian influence has left a traceable imprint on hip-hop. The group’s lore has spawned a scripted series on Hulu, a spot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and, yes, another Wu-Tang-themed dinner in Seattle.

Here, the album lends an aura to the menu, but Chiang said the event was originally supposed to be a literal interpretation of the 36 chambers: 36 courses spread across breakfast, lunch, and dinner and three of his restaurants. Monday’s menu was a mixture of traditional Sichuan favorites, from cumin-spiced lamb with shrimp crackers to snapper topped with peppercorns on the vine and a flaky pineapple-stuffed puff pastry for dessert.

Attendees skewed Gen-X and white, with a sprinkle of 20-something hypebeasts thrown in. Some were casual listeners, while others were longtime fans.

For Tina and Rodney (who didn’t want to provide their last names because of the undercover puffing and passing), the pair of engaged ex “secret office lovers” who now live in Mt. Airy, it was a trip back in time.

“Tonight takes me back to my late teens and early twenties, wearing Timbs and baggy jeans, and smoking blunts,” said Rodney, who was a freshman at West Chester University when Wu-Tang’s first single “Protect Ya Neck” dropped. (He later went on to write a paper on the song “C.R.E.A.M” for a literature class, which he did not deem an academic success).

Others were Wu-Tang rookies: One guy said he listened to a song and half before attending, but Chiang’s cooking was actually the bigger the draw.

When Chiang started throwing the tasting in 2014, he didn’t have authorization from the group. Then, Greg “G” Provost — the WPRB 103.3 FM DJ who was the first to play Wu-Tang on the radio and still works with the group on Philly appearances — caught wind.

“I found out on Facebook, and when I looked at the menu, I saw pork everywhere, and I got mad. How are you going to do a Wu-Tang dinner and have pork on the menu when they’re totally against pork?” Provost, who is from South Jersey, said, referencing several of the group membersMuslim faith.

As Provost tells it, he marched down to the restaurant to tell Chiang: “I said, ‘It’s cool you guys are doing this, but it’s really disrespectful for pork to be on the menu.’”

Chiang apologized and swapped pork for beef. A few weeks later, Provost invited him backstage to a GZA concert, and soon, the trio was “smoking blunts and talking about everything — food, music, family.”

Chiang’s favorite memories from chilling with the Clan? A tie between a Christmas Eve visit to a strip club in Queens for Chiang’s birthday with Raekwon, and a trip to Atlanta to meet Raekwon’s family.

“His mom cooked me the best Southern food I ever had,” Chiang recalled. “It was a special experience.”

Admittedly others have tried to fanboy their way into Wu-Tang ’s inner circle in the past. Disgraced “pharma bro” Martin Skreli paid $2 million dollars in 2015 for the only known copy of an unreleased album from the group, only to publicly fight the group as they tried to reclaim the album during his legal proceedings.

So, why then, is Chiang’s admiration different?

“What sticks out about Han is humbleness. I would’ve walked right by him,” said Masta Killa, who met Chiang for the first time at the dinner. Praise of Chiang’s cooking spread through the rap group, so Irief, who is vegan, was excited to try a specially-prepared menu just for him.

“Han’s real. He’s very dedicated and very, very intense, but he takes a lot of pride in his food … and that’s the thing,” Provost said. “A lot of people have money, but they don’t have his understanding.”