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Heaven Held By Chopstix: Mary Chungs Again!

I had not been to Mary Chung's in Cambridge in well over 3 years and had the fortunate pleasure today of having the dun dun noodles with shredded chicken and the suan la chow shau. The noodles were $6.25 and the dumplings about the same. I am not imagining that these dishes might be among the most sublime chows out there, anywhere. As good as I remember.

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  1. Had those same dishes a couple of week ago, as well as yu shiang pork and shredded beef with carrots. Not authentic, but delicious and a good value, more about comfort and familiarity. Nice people, too.


    1 Reply
    1. re: MC Slim JB

      There is a reason why this place keeps on going long after everything else blows up...

    2. You just reminded me that I am waaaayyyy overdue for some suan la chow show. Yum.

      1 Reply
      1. re: threedogs

        the hell with the apostrophes, her dun dun noodles have rocked for twenty years. that is, Mary Chung's Dun Dun noodles. I take mine without the chicken.

      2. I want to put a word in for the shrimp suans as well, which are just as good.

        3 Replies
        1. re: chickendhansak

          You guys are making me so HUNGRY!

          note to self: find an excuse to get to Central Square...

          1. re: chickendhansak

            Are they just shrimp, or shrimp and pork?

          2. I'm a huge fan of their Szechuan Spicy Chicken Velvet (chicken velvet is minced chicken white meat and egg white blended together) and Chicken Velvet with Straw Mushrooms. But I have not been since December 2006. Do they still offer those items?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Bob MacAdoo

              yes on the first one, pretty sure on the second

              1. re: Bob MacAdoo

                Even more delicious than the sichuan chicken velvet is the sichuan chicken velvet with tofu. That tofu gives the whole dish and extra silkiness that I love.

              2. Maybe we need a HoundMeet ChowDown @ said location........

                6 Replies
                1. re: ipsofatso

                  That's a great idea. I'm definitely in... I wouldn't mind organizing it, too, if we have enough interest.

                  1. re: threedogs

                    Me! Me! It is nearly a year since my last suan la chow sho....

                      1. re: Trumpetguy

                        Oh my goodness. Imagine a small pile of delicate wontons, topped with a scattering of fresh mung bean sprouts, resting in a pool of soy/chili/vinegar sauce with some bits of scallions and a hint of sweetness. Words cannot do this justice. You MUST try some (unless you do not eat pork).

                        1. re: PinchOfSalt

                          Thank you PinchOfSalt! I don't eat meat :( Not possible without meat? Tofu version--sorry to offend the historic Chinese cuisine! :)

                          1. re: Trumpetguy

                            I have never noticed a vegetarian version on the menu. You might call and ask. Maybe they could make a vegetarian version for you. The essence of the wonderfulness of suan la chow sho is not in the meat, but in the contrasts of textures, the delicateness of the wonton, and the amazing interplay of flavors in the sauce. I expect it would translate very well if the wonton was meatless.

                2. Had to go after all of this talk, I love suan la chow shou and dan dan noodles, but in spite of living in Boston for thirty years had never been to Mary's place (btw, I see a web address being held unfer the name marychungs.com, is it the same?).

                  Both dishes were as described, absoultely fantastic.

                  For the Dundun, I was at first disappointed to see spaghetti-like noodles instead of broad soft white ones as I had expected, but this dish is indeed addictive. Great job with the sauce, which keeps you wanting more and more.....

                  And as for the wontons, amazing. I don't know how they get them to stay so firm and yet delicate, the wrappers perfectly cooked and no hint of sogginess (or even that they had been boiled), and the filling is also firm but silky and full of flavor. And again, the sauce elevated the dish, a nice burn and tasty little bits of caramelized garlic . I could make a meal out of these and probably will soon.

                  They also had a special of Taiwanese mountain cabbage, simply stirfried with garlic, and it was really excellent. I had heard of this cabbage before but never tried it. Looks like regular ol' cabbage, but a much sweeter and more delicate taste.

                  Finally, I had read somewhere, I think on a NYC CH posting, that the kung pao ji ding was excellent. I'll skip this one next time, I've had much better.

                  Other things on the menu look good, they have some Northern-style dim sum items available on Sundays (at least) and they may be worth a try too.

                  But those wontons.....wow. I think everyone in the place was having them.

                  Staff were great, and I wondered if one woman making the rounds and checking on patrons (and on me at least three times) was Mary herself, I didn't ask.

                  I like this place, a really old-school Chinese-American restaurant, nothing quite like it that I've known since I was a kid.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: Zatan

                    Quick aside about Mary Chung's. It was this place that led me to find Chowhound. A listserve I was watching noted MC as an MIT student favorite, esp. for the suan la show chow, back when I was in college. Further digging on the internetz turned up a MC post on chowhound.com where I found a bunch of food freaks who I instantly recognized as being my tribe. I never left, even when glitzier, broader or more exclusive boards came along.

                    I will always have a soft spot for MC -- and yeah, I bet it was her who was walking around the dining room. Try the scallion pancake. My new favorite is at Winsor, but MC's has been the gold standard for me for many a moon.

                    1. re: yumyum

                      Snif, what a chow moment. Brings a tear to my eye. I can't even remember how I discovered chowhound.

                      1. re: StriperGuy

                        Calvin Trillin article in the New Yorker..8+ years ago. I knew I'd found a lot of kindred souls..:)

                        1. re: 9lives

                          maybe this deserves its own thread...found out about chowhound from the bartender Beth at Pigalle about 8 yrs ago...(who also introduced me to Punt Y Mes)...i remember my first post (which got no responses, an auspicious start) asking for una-tama-don

                      2. re: yumyum

                        I was working in Kendall Square 1994-1996 with a large number of MIT graduates, and I think the restaurant had been closed for some time, though how long I have no idea. 1995, I think, it re-opened and there was an incredible buzz about it. Clearly more than just a student favourite -- it's somewhere to see and be seen for MIT types. There's something tribal about it. That said, I hear RMS rates the Pu Pu Hot Pot.

                        If anyone knows the history of the restaurant it would be interesting to hear. According to a Wikipedia entry, Mary Chung introduced suan la chow show to the menu at a "Colleen's Chinese Cuisine" back in the 70s.

                        1. re: chickendhansak

                          I remember them being across the street from where they are now..80-90s?? Evicted and I think some type of Biolab took the space..or maybe they were next door to the lab??

                          They reopened a few years later in the current spot. I recall there being a lot of pressure (in a good way) to reopen the restaurant.

                          1. re: chickendhansak

                            Yes. Colleen's is where the Royal East is now. I believe Colleen's retired and sold it to the Royal East people, and Mary Chung moved to open her own restaurant. Mary's opened sometime in 1981, which is when I started eating there, and is run by Mary's daughter, I'm pretty sure.

                            On the other hand, maybe it opened earlier, but I'm fuzzy on that.

                            1. re: Uncle Yabai

                              I think I remember eating at Mary Chung (yes, on the other side of Mass Ave from where it is now) back in the late 1970s.

                              1. re: PinchOfSalt

                                Could very well be. It used to be where the Quest Diagnostics is now, in a smaller space. Then it closed and reopened a few years later in the location of the former Crystal Chinese restaurant.

                            2. re: chickendhansak

                              Hah. I KNEW there was a Colleen's link. The dish was called something else there (sour spicy wonton maybe?).

                        2. I have a question for experienced Mary Chung diners: are there any vegetarian options on the menu (and by 'any,' I mean 'great tasting chow')? I tried their website, but it seems to be a blank page - OK, just changed my browser and it worked. Doesn't work on Firefox...

                          OK, let me rephrase my question - do you know if any of the plates like the bean curd and veggie ones, are made without meat sauce, etc., to make it safe for a vegetarian to eat? And taste good, of course...

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: threedogs

                            I don't think the dundun sauce has any meat (with the noodles it is available with or without shredded chicken). In addition to the noodles, it is served on fried tofu, which I found to be pretty tasty (silken inside, crispy outside, that yummy sauce on top). On my note above I mention the Taiwanese mountain cabbage, it was a really great, tasty and simple vegetarian stir fry. It was a special so not on the menu.

                            1. re: Zatan

                              I usually order a plate of her spicy green beans. I think I'll have to make my version of hers tonight.


                              1. re: BostonZest

                                I love MC's spicy pickled cabbage.

                                1. re: Kenji

                                  Mmm - it all sounds delish. Can't wait for the chowdown...

                                  So, Zatan - to see if they can make that dish, just ask for "Taiwanese mountain cabbage"? Or was a daily special?

                                  Kenji - is the spicy picked cabbage different from this dish?

                                  1. re: threedogs

                                    Yes, TD, the hot pickled cabbage is an appetizer, and is not stir-fried.

                            2. re: threedogs

                              Just be careful...I find that a lot of restaurant dishes (not just at MC's but anywhere) that don't have visible meat aren't necessarily veggie friendly. I've gotten that rigamarole at plenty of Asian restaurants (yeah yeah yeah, it doesn't have meat in it)...and I'm of Asian descent.

                              1. re: digga

                                I know - I asked because I just asked my daughter if she wanted to join us. I have two vegetarian daughters, and they both tell me the same as you stated.

                                I'm half Italian - it's the same. Just like that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (I'm paraphrasing w/the help of my bad memory: "You don't eat MEAT!!" Long, uncomfortable pause...."I'll give you LAMB!!"

                            3. after reading all the replies to this posting and the event planned, we stopped by Mary's tonight. Maybe Wednesday is an off night for them since they are closed on Tuesdays, but the entire meal was disappointing. We ordered the dun dun noodles with shredded chicken, suan la chow shau, ya hsing eggplant and baby bok choy.

                              the suan were luke warm with littlle sauce. mung beans were soggy, not fresh. my DC used to frequent this place, recalled the suan as being ethereal, and just couldn't get over how bad these were.

                              the dun dun noodles were underdone (i know what lo mein noodles should taste like, and these were def underdone), had almost an ammonia flavor to them, and the chicken ..imagine the little bits you get off the carcass AFTER 3 days...

                              baby bok choy was fine.. hard to mess up.

                              eggplant was the only saving grace. but it was doused in a sweet sauce and TONS of oil.

                              while the meal was cheap, $26, it will never garner a repeat from us.

                              i wonder why anyone would go here, when you can get amazing, fresh food at places like gourmet dumpling, peach farm, or a handful of other spots in chinatown.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: abattoir

                                Agree on some points. I think it's clear, and admitted in many of the other posts on this place, that it doesn't carry off authentic Chinese dishes well, esp. compared to may other local restaurants (those you mention and more, all of which I frequent as well).

                                For me the draw was 1) the suan la chow shou, which is a dish I love and the ones here were, I must say, great and not something I can find anywhere else in town. The sprouts I had were like they had just been picked, very very fresh, and 2) the atmosphere, which is a highly subjective thing but was spot on for me when I was just there, like I said, an anachronism in a really good way. This was my first visit to MC.

                                The cabbage dish I had was as good as any fresh veg stirfry I've had in any of the more authentic Chinese restaurants in town.

                                I would not frequent MC for anything but those dumplings and/or the noodles (which were also great when I was there), not too tempted to explore the rest of the menu unless feeling that old-school vibe and/or with others who were. No place in Chinatown feels quite like that. I would not want to make it seem this is the most amazing Chinese restaurant at all, it ain't, but it does have some special things going for it.

                                1. re: Zatan

                                  Since abattoir ate the very dishes themselves, it is a hard defence to make, but I'll have a go. The amount of sauce served with the suans varies, definitely. And I have never found anything other than the suans and the dun-dun noodles that I thought was any good, at all, though I am not the most adventurous eater in Chinese restaurants, I'll admit. Not to move the goalposts, I hope, but I'm definitely in the "no chicken on the dun-dun noodles" camp. So I would say, give the suans and the noodles (no chicken) another chance, and skip the rest.