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East Chinatown Discoveries

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Having gone to college in New York, I am a veteran of all the standard Canal Street haunts students rely on for cheap and filling meals: Moon House, Nice Green Bo, Excellent Dumpling House, etc. Inspired by a Serious Eats posting, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone into the unknown territory around the B/D Station on Grand and Chrystie to find a whole new adventurous Chinatown I had not yet encountered.

Grand & Bowery Street Cart: I wanted to give my Mandarin (and finger-pointing skills) a practice so I headed to the cart parked at the Northeast corner knowing I would not have the luxury of an English version menu. I nervously approached the vendress when she called out to me in Chinese but relaxed when after I stumbled through my rehearsed Mandarin she asked "Uh, what do you want?" In an adventurous mood, I ordered cheong fun rice crepes with beef tripe. She reached into a steaming pot to fetch loose streams of white noodles which she cascaded into a small container with a ladle-full of tripe. Sliding through an array of bottles, she dressed the noodles with various soy sauces, chili and sesame paste and handed me the heavily-laden package. While there was not much tripe in my container, the noodles and dressing were phenomenal. I would've liked a little more of the sesame and dark soy, as I thought the combination was ingenius with the tripe, but for $1.75 I'm not complaining.

Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food, Inc.: The line outside reached two doors down by the time I emerged from this steamy storefront. And for good reason. My small roast pork over rice was a generous treasure chest of sweet, unctuous pork: the char siu that all roast aspires to, the ur-meat. The crunchy, caramelized bits were the best part, and I put them to the side for a final treat as I greedily lapped up the saucy portion of rice and cabbage left after I had inhaled my pork strips. The plump quarters of soy sauce chicken and whole sides of roast pork with crackling caught my eyes as I walked out the door already contemplating my next visit.

Yogee Noodle: This Cantonese restaurant was totally filled with Chinese patrons all ordering variations on noodle soup. Wilting in the humidity, I couldn't fathom soup and decided to try other offerings. A crunchy appetizer of deep-fried tripe was the perfect starter: like a Pringle made out of meat. On a subsequent visit, however, the tripe arrived as fried red-cooked intestines which tasted none too pleasant once they got cold. Ma Po Tofu was a decidedly Cantonese take on a Szechuan classic, but offered a pleasant flavor of its own. Slightly spicy and slightly sweet, it didn't rely on the salty flavor of doubanjiang, but rather the fresh taste of vegetables to bring the dish together. Lamb with bean thread casserole was a hearty and greasy dish of fatty chunks of lamb swimming in brown sauce with tofu skin. With a little more scallion and chili, I could live on this alone. The whole pan-fried flounder was a perfectly executed masterpiece. Crunchy and firm; briny and sweet, the fish was an interplay of contrasts. The simple dressing of soy, ginger and scallions was just enough of an accent to make the fish interesting without masking the wonderfully fresh taste of its flesh. In true Asian fashion, our table argued over who got to eat the collars and who got to eat the face.

Grand Bakery: In the mood for mooncakes we stopped in here for a few treats. Nothing was very exciting. The sesame balls were far too thick and chewy for my liking and offered a disappointing dearth of black bean filling. The mooncakes came packaged and mislabeled such that my lotus paste-filled mooncake turned out to be a dry winter melon-filled disappointment.

Mei Li Wah: An old favorite for buns. As long as I was in Chinatown, I couldn't leave without picking up a few siopao. This batch, however, was my first disappointment with Mei Li Wah, the filling a little drier and less prominent than I'm used to. My friends didn't notice and happily ate up their first tastes of siopao. I decided to also try the sesame balls sitting on the counter and was pleased to finally find sesame balls with that crunchy exterior that pleasantly contrasts with the soft and chewy middle. From the inside flowed a yellow paste that appeared to be lotus but tasted like yellow bean paste. Were they to use black bean paste, I would happily surrender myself to morbid obesity on these treats.

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  1. Thanks for the report. NYC's Chinatown is indeed geographically large. Next time, if you want to step out of your comfort zone even further, try heading out to East Broadway. There's a great stand at 160 East Broadway that makes their cheung fun from scratch to order. I have to admit that I'm still a bit freaked out by that side of Chinatown as there's no English to be found anywhere as it's untouched by tourism.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Miss Needle

      Agree totally. While I consider the area north of Canal as an extension of the existing Chinatown, East Broadway is a different world altogether. Notice all the people there wheeling their suitcases with them--they're only in New York for a couple of days while they come in from the hinterlands (e.g. North Carolina) and look for a new job somewhere else (e.g. Ohio). And the lack of English is certainly daunting. Can you imagine a banquet sized Chinese seafood restaurant (East Market) without an English menu? This is definitely a unique part of the country.

      1. re: Miss Needle

        Any other recommendations for an East Broadway tour? Perhaps good siu mei or other quick eats?

        1. re: JungMann

          I really don't know that area very well at all. It's generally known for cuisine from the Fujian area. You probably should do a search for "Fujian." I remember Brian S had a few posts on the topic.

          For BBQ meats, I did have some good duck at this really tiny place on East Broadway, one block up from Bowery. It was pretty chaotic and confusing, but DH's parents (who are Chinese) did all the ordering. So we were spared that time.

          1. re: JungMann

            Seems like the most mentioned place on this board is Lan Zhou Handmade Noodles at 144 E. Broadway. Brian S. had a good review of an unnamed Chinese banquet hall which may well be East Market Seafood, which is on the second floor of the building at 75-85 East Broadway. And even if that wasn't the place Brian S. was talking about, that's where Hillary Clinton held her fundraising banquet, so if it's good enough for her it should be good enough for us 'hounds. Also, have you tried the restaurants on Division St. ? The block just east of Bowery might be best concentration of restaurants in all of Chinatown.

        2. cool thread interesting stuff

          1. Great report, thanks for posting.

            We've gone to Yogee before, good standard Cantonese fare but somewhat inconsistent recently. I like the seafood chow mein and the shrimp egg over rice.

            1 Reply
            1. re: gorlanko

              Inconsistent or just plain downhill? Last visit a few weeks ago was terribly disappointing (not to say the food was bad--just not outstanding like it used to be) and I'm reluctant to go back.

            2. There's a dumpling place at 47 Henry Street, super cheap, and they have hand-pulled noodle soup as well.