Category Archives: Chinatown

The most authentic Canto food at Cha Chan Tang

Cha Chan TangCha Chan Tang (aka Tea Restaurant)
45 Mott Street (between Pell St and Bayard St)
New York, NY 10013

Cha Chan Tang is a type of restaurant that is popular in Hong Kong and specializes in cheap Canto-Western style foods. It also happens to be the name of a restaurant in Chinatown that serves up this exact kind of food. Directly translated, “cha chan tang” means “tea restaurant.” They came to exist after the British colonized Hong Kong and brought the concept of having tea and cakes. Western food was very expensive so restauranteurs decided to make a “tea restaurant” just for locals which served up a fusion menu. This restaurant in Chinatown mimics these types of restaurants through their menu and decor (see above… they have these fake windows that play videos of Hong Kong streets/traffic on loop… pretty cool).

Cha Chan Tang
The reason I knew we had stepped into an authentic cha chan tang was because of the intense smell of Hong Kong style milk tea. Hong Kong style milk tea is made with black tea and condensed or evaporated milk. Sounds simple enough but the real deal is actually pretty hard to come by. To make this concoction, tea leaves are placed in a sackcloth (see above), which are then placed in a container with water that is brought to a boil. The sackcloth is said to make the tea smoother. The container is removed when the water is boiling, and then sometimes brought back to a boil. This repeated action intensifies the flavor and caffeine levels – hence, the milk tea is usually pretty caffeinated.

Cha Chan Tang
The milk tea looks just like this. You can then add sugar to your liking. It’s strong, milky, and very, very fragrant.

Cha Chan TangThis is a classic pineapple bun. Growing up, I had one of these at least once a week. It is a slightly sweet bread that is made to resemble a pineapple. Nothing about the taste is pineappley. The crust is flakey and sugary while the center is soft and fluffy. This version is a buttered pineapple bun that is very common in cha chan tangs. A warm pineapple bun is served with a fat slab of butter in the middle, melting as it reaches your table. The bun paired with the strong tea is enough reason to visit the restaurant over and over again. Continue reading The most authentic Canto food at Cha Chan Tang

Big Wong King: a place for a fast meal of Canto BBQ and congee

Big Wong KingBig Wong King (between Canal and Bayard St)
67 Mott Street
New York, NY 10013

After buying my groceries from HK Supermarket (you can check out my grocery list here, where I can average $2.33 per dinner per head), I always grab a meal somewhere nearby before heading back home. Most recently, I went with my mom to Big Wong King just south of Canal Street. I read that their BBQ is supposed to be pretty fantastic.

Big Wong King We started with Pork Congee (or porridge) with Thousand Year Old Egg (aka. preserved duck egg) ($4.00). This is one of my favorite congees to get. The egg, as gross as it may sound to those who have never had it, is super tasty and adds a lot of savory flavor to the congee.

Big Wong KingCongee here was nice and thick. Not too salty. Would be great for a rainy or sick day. Bowl was much larger than it looks because I don’t have a comparison. It was about the size of a large ramen bowl.

Big Wong KingIt was already after 8pm when we got to the restaurant, so they were out of the chicken and roast pork. We settled for a plate of roast duck ($5.50). The duck was good, but not amazing. Skin was not as crisp as it could be. Meat was flavorful, but mostly through the soy sauce that was poured over it. Soy sauce was way too salty so the pieces soaking at the bottom required large amounts of rice to wash it down. The cuts of duck were huge and very filling. My mom and I barely finished half of it. Continue reading Big Wong King: a place for a fast meal of Canto BBQ and congee

Beef Brisket and Tendon Noodle Soup from Lam Zhou

Lam Zhou Handmade NoodleLam Zhou Handmade Noodles
144 E Broadway
New York, NY 10002

If you haven’t already, it’s about time you make the trek deep into Manhattan Chinatown away from the fake Coach bags and thousands of iPhone cases on Canal Street. Lam Zhou Handmade Noodles is a tiny noodle shop on the very South Eastern tip of Chinatown. It’s been around for ages and is consistently rated as one of the best Chinese noodle places in the city. I.K., D.C, F.L., and I skipped the usual eggs benny and came  here for brunch/lunch one weekend.

Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
Prices have stayed cheap and options fairly minimal.

Lam Zhou Handmade NoodleThe restaurant is small and a little dirty. Expect to sit facing a wall or at a table with other noodle-slurping diners. Lam Zhou is a restaurant in its most basic and practical form: serves food and provides utensils to eat.

Lam Zhou Handmade NoodleNotice that the chopsticks are from another restaurant. Seeing this made me miss home tremendously, because it reminded of how practical Chinese people are. Chopsticks are chopsticks!

Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
As the name of the restaurant suggests, Lam Zhou is a noodle shop. It specializes in beef noodle soup where you can choose the beef type (brisket, tendon, oxtail, some combination, etc.) and the noodles (handpulled or knife-cut). I chose a brisket-tendon combo with knife-cut noodles.  Continue reading Beef Brisket and Tendon Noodle Soup from Lam Zhou

Joe’s Ginger = Joe’s Shanghai

Joe’s Ginger
25 Pell St
(between Doyers St & Mott St)
New York, NY 10013

If you live in NYC and like Chinese food at all, chances are you have heard of Joe’s Shanghai, a restaurant in Manhattan Chinatown that is known for its soup dumplings. Joe’s Shanghai has over 2,200 reviews on Yelp and a solid 4-star rating. Its sister restaurant, Joe’s Ginger, only has 247 reviews and a 3-star rating. This isn’t because the food is any worse. This is because the people who go to Joe’s Ginger aren’t the people active on social media. (Case in point. Joe’s Shanghai has a Facebook page and Joe’s Ginger doesn’t.)

Joe, presumably the owner, has smartly branded his soup dumplings across two very different consumer groups by offering the same product in two separate restaurants (that happen to be right next to each other). The tourists, the American NYC-ers, the review-chasers all know about Joe’s Shanghai. On any given weekend night, you’ll see a long line of J.Crew wearing hungry customers waiting outside of Joe’s Shanghai. Joe’s Ginger, on the other hand, almost never has a line and is usually just at capacity with Chinese diners.


This is changing as more people write blog reviews like this one. Here is a happy non-Chinese family slurping down soup dumplings at Joe’s Ginger on Friday night. Notice the tacky pinkish glow from the florescent lighting. Reminds me of all the cheap (and delicious) restaurants in China.


This is the classic Pork Soup Dumplings ($4.95 for 8). The ideal soup dumpling has thin, yet chewy skin. It should be just thick enough so it doesn’t break with the weight of the pork and soup. The soup should be fragrant, hot, and light. Joe’s does a decent job, probably one of the best soup dumplings in Manhattan, but is far from great compared to the ones in China. The skin is a bit thicker than ideal. The soup is also too heavy and greasy. Still tastes delicious enough that I keep coming back. Continue reading Joe’s Ginger = Joe’s Shanghai

Knife-Cut Noodles at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles

 Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles
1 Doyers St
(between Bowery & Chatham Sq)
New York, NY 10013

Small, dinky, and tucked in a corner of Manhattan Chinatown. That’s the classic “hole-in-the-wall” experience everyone asks for when they want recommendations in Chinatown. Well, here I am giving you one. There isn’t much on the menu other than soup noodles, pan-fried noodles, and dumplings. If I had a bigger stomach that day, I would have tried all three because they all looked authentic and delicious.


I ordered the roast duck soup knife-cut noodles ($5.25), as opposed to the hand-pulled noodles, which I hear are also fantastic. Knife-cut noodles were even a rarity in Beijing so I had to get it here. They are noodles of various lengths, thicker in the center and tapered to the sides due to the way they are shaved off with a knife. It soaks up flavor very well and stays forever chewy due to the thickness in the middle of the noodle. Despite the fact that the duck was either all fat or all bone, the broth was meaty and rich. I wasn’t here for the duck anyway. The fried duck skin added some grease and flavored the soup deliciously. Continue reading Knife-Cut Noodles at Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles

Bo Ky Restaurant – $5 Pho

Bo Ky Restaurant (or New Bo Ky Restaurant)
80 Bayard St
(between Mulberry St & Mott St)
New York, NY 10013

Y.P. wanted pho. I don’t have Vietnamese food very often for some reason… not too sure why because I love pho and love this one whole roasted fish dish that you pick at and wrap in rice wrappe sheets – anyone know what it’s called? I was going to be in the Financial District area so looked up the best pho place in the area and found Bo Ky.


The restaurant reminded me of those typical Chinese fastfood places in Hong Kong where people slurp up their wonton noodle soups in suits, leave cash on the table, and head back to their busy lives. We came on a weekday for lunch and the place was surprisingly packed with mostly solo diners. You are expected to share tables and to leave as soon as possible.


I didn’t actually see pho on the menu, though everything they had was “pho-like”. They had a number of other noodle dishes, as well as some appetizers such as the Salted Water Duck, which I saw many order. People came in as regulars and ordered without even looking at the menu. I felt pretty n00by needing a menu and taking more than 3 minutes to decide. I ended up getting the Cambodian Noodle Soup ($5), which had a typical pho-like broth (supposedly made by simmering beef bones, oxtails, flank steak, onion, ginger, and spices) but instead of the usual condiments, had pork slices, shrimp, and fish balls with half-cooked bean sprouts.

Continue reading Bo Ky Restaurant – $5 Pho

Barrio Chino, a Mexican restaurant in Chinatown.

Barrio Chino
253 Broome St
(between Ludlow St & Orchard St)
New York, NY 10002

I finally made it to Barrio Chino.  LAW doesn’t like Mexican food very much and since he is my primary dining date, I had yet to venture out to this very well-known Mexican restaurant situated right on the edge of Chinatown.  There’s also always a long line so there was even less incentive to go.  Anyway, I finally made it on a girls’ night out (+T.G.).

Started out with a round of margaritas.  I got the grapefruit margarita with a rim of sugar… apparently their most popular drink.  It was a good margarita, but lacked grapefruit taste.  I was imagining a deliciously cold sweet and tart tequila drink with hints of grapefruit bitterness… but just got the sweet and tart bit instead.  I would have had another round if I wasn’t biking home from dinner.

We shared the Guacamole with homemade tortilla chips and salsa roja ($10).  M.B. pushed my expectations way high when she said that we had to get it because it was some of the best guac she’s had.  She’s from California, where avocados are in season all year round, so she definitely knows her stuff.  The guac was creamy, yes, and very good.  But I think avocados are naturally just so awesome that I can’t say I’ve ever had bad guac before… it requires little more than mashing and some light ingredients.  The best guac is definitely the kind you make for yourself because you add as much salt, pepper, lime, and chilies as you like… This guac was not spicy enough for my taste and could have used a bit more lime.  But honestly, any ripe avocado makes me salivate.  $10 for a small bowl was also a bit pricey.  If you are willing to pay for overpriced guac, check out Rosa Mexicano.  They have a highly customizable guac appetizer that is deeelicious.

I had the Camarones Borrachos, which was a plate of fresh shrimp sauteed in tequila, guajillo chiles, and garlic, with green rice, avocado slices, and tortillas ($12).  The first thing I noticed was that the rice wasn’t really green.  Green rice, or arroz verde, is rice dish made with long grain rice, parsley, and steamed spinach leaves.  I’ve never had it so was excited to try what I envisioned to be a flavorful rice.  However, it tasted pretty plain, which after having the shrimp, I was happy about.  The sauce was tasty and had a nice kick to it from the chiles.  It was a little too salty, which is why the plain rice and tortillas were welcomed.  I was bummed that the shrimp was overcooked… overcooked seafood is one of my biggest pet peeves.  A couple seconds too long on the heat and the shrimp or fish is completely un-salvageable.  Seafood should be fresh, sweet, and only lightly seasoned to enhance its own flavors.  Not chewy, tough, and doused in sauce. Continue reading Barrio Chino, a Mexican restaurant in Chinatown.

Hua Ji Pork Chop – my kind of Chinese fast food


Hua Ji Pork Chop
7 Allen St
New York, NY 10002

Woooooooooooo it’s Friday!!!!!!!!!!!!  I have a ton of stuff to do before the weekend begins so I’m going to leave this quick and dirty gem with you.  Hua Ji Pork Chop is quick, dirty, and absolutely delicious.  It’s located pretty far down into Chinatown in a dingy little space that has bar seating enough for 6.  With $5, you get three pieces of crispy pork chop, taiwanese 雪菜 (snow veggies… a kind of pickled vegetable that always goes with rice and beef noodle soup.  Trust me it’s good.), and some meat gravy, all over a bowl of rice.  Oh, and a bowl of soup.  All of these items come in a plastic take-out container so you either wolf down your food and leave, or you take it with you outside and squat on the sidewalk and eat like a real baller. Continue reading Hua Ji Pork Chop – my kind of Chinese fast food

Chinatown Hangover Cure at Congee Village

Congee Village
100 Allen St
New York, NY 10002

 

If you are an American Born Chinese and grew up eating in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, Congee Village will make you nostalgic for your childhood.  Congee Village is the quintessential Chinatown restaurant.  It is Cantonese (early Chinese immigrants were mostly Cantonese so most Chinatowns now are dominated by a Cantonese population), uses huge gold wallpaper adorned with dragons and phoenixes, has plenty of large, round table seating, and has an all male wait staff that wears black slacks, white shirts, and little black vests.  If you’re hungover, Congee Village will provide the hearty dishes and watered down tea to make things right again.  I happened to be both an ABC and hungover on a Sunday afternoon (well, I’m always an ABC) and so Congee Village was doubly perfect for me.

I seriously woke up, with a headache, craving Salted Fish and Diced Chicken Fried Rice ($9.50).  If you’ve never had it, you’d think I was weird.  But if you have, you’d completely understand.  I needed the oily goodness of second-day jasmine rice fried up with chicken, peas, scallions, and most of all, salted fish.  Good fried rice is always made with second-day rice because the extra day in the fridge* lets the rice dry out.  Fried rice always involves some sort of liquid (oil, some kind of sauce, or cooking wine) and if you start out with a plump batch of rice, the additional liquid will just make your rice mushy.  If you can’t fry each individual grain of rice, you know you have a problem.  The chicken is actually kind of useless in my opinion and I’d be completely okay leaving it out… but it is part of the traditional style of this canto dish so Congee Village leaves it in.  Chicken is very difficult to make well… a couple seconds too long on the stove and you have a dry stringy wok of diced chicken.  I do love the peas but according to T.W., they are not actually part of the traditional dish.  Americans eat a lot of peas, so one day, someone just decided to add them to every fried rice possible.  It adds color and I think it tastes great.  It gives a bit of sweetness to counter the salty fish… my favorite part of the dish.  Yes, salted fish smells kind of like … feet … but it tastes like salt on crack.  There isn’t a whole lot of it in the rice, which makes it all that much more special.  Tiny pieces of the fish are sprinkled throughout just to give you enough to make you yearn for more.  Serious umami factor here.

Continue reading Chinatown Hangover Cure at Congee Village

Dim Sum at Nom Wah

Nom Wah Tea Parlor*
13 Doyers St
(between Bowery & Chatham Sq)
New York, NY 10013

 

Whenever my Beijing friends want to get together, it seems that we either go to Congee Village, Joe’s Ginger, or Nom Wah.  None of these restaurants are particularly fantastic, but they are all very accommodating to large groups, cheap (but not so cheap that you’ll find a leftover pork bone on your seat … another story for another time), and all have decent, somewhat authentic Chinese food.  Nom Wah is a dim sum restaurant that serves all the classic dim sum dishes though in a non-classic way.  Dim sum is usually served off of push carts where you simply take food off of carts as they roll by.  Nom Wah does not have push carts and serves its dim sum like any other restaurant with a menu and waiter/waitress.  I would probably go to Jing Fong Restaurant (20 Elizabeth St) if I was taking first-timers but since my friends and I are all seasoned dim sum eaters, the ordering method is preferred because the food is generally fresher.  Anyway, I thought I’d share a couple of my favorite dim sum dishes:

 

Sticky Rice in Bamboo Leaf
  Sticky glutinous rice is steamed with chicken and often shiitake mushrooms (though sadly, not at Nom Wah) in a bamboo or lotus leaf.  The leaf is supposed to infuse the rice with a fresh fragrant flavor.  Nom Wah’s leaves are probably pretty low quality because the rice does not have that extra umami factor.  Though, sticky rice is sticky rice and is very tasty with bits of chicken.

 

Shrimp and Snow Pea Leaf Dumpling / Shrimp in Bean Curd Skin
  
Steamed dumplings of all varieties exist in the dim sum world.  These two are some of my favorites.  The shrimp and snow pea dumpling is one I’ve never seen at any other restaurant (could it be a Nom Wah special?).  The skin is made with a wheat starch and tapioca, making it beautifully translucent and deliciously chewy.  Snow pea leaves are one of my favorite Chinese vegetables because they are leafy, tender and taste just like peas.  The combination of steamed shrimp and snow pea leaf remind me of spring… The shrimp and bean curd dumplings on the right are much heartier.  The bean curd skin is thinner than the classic tapioca skin and clings to the shrimp filling.   Continue reading Dim Sum at Nom Wah