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Fish Ball/Cheung Fun Part II and Burmese Fish Noodle Soup Part II--Two Threads Converge at Lee Chung Cafe

Chandavkl Apr 10, 2011 04:10 PM

Sometimes you run across a restaurant that has something improbable about it. It could be the location, or the decor, or perhaps the menu. In the case of Lee Chung Cafe, it's all of the above. Lee Chung Cafe is located in the grittiest part of Chinatown, where even newly opened restaurants look like they've been in business at least 30 years. In contrast, Lee Chung Cafe is modern and airy, and would fit in quite well on Mott St. or Canal St. or even Valley Blvd. in San Gabriel, but is certainly out of place where it is located.

If one had to classify Lee Chung Cafe, I think it would be considered a boba parlor, particularly since the only things listed on the color menu are the drinks. Like many of the restaurants in the Fujianese part of Chinatown, there are a number of cheap snacks on the paper check-off menu, like the fish balls with cheung fun that AubWah found recently over on Monroe St. Frankly, I hadn't seen this combination before. Four fish balls are put in the bottom of a small styrofoam container, then the container is stuffed to the top with pieces of cut up cheung fun, then laced with soy sauce, Sriracha, and other toppings. At $1.75 I consider it a real bargain, which makes the $1.50 charge for the item over on Monroe incredible. But there's more on the menu. Ramen. Grilled cheese. Baked rice. Hong Kong toast. Egg dishes. Chicken sandwiches. Croissants. Burmese fish broth noodle soup as mentioned by Sgordon. If anybody can find a common thread here, please let me know.

Lee Chung Cafe
82 Madison St, New York, NY 10002

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  1. a
    AubWah RE: Chandavkl Apr 11, 2011 03:40 AM

    Excited to check this place out and try the fish broth noodle soup

    1. i
      InfoMofo RE: Chandavkl Apr 11, 2011 07:56 AM

      I have got to try that out.

      I have not found a place in the city that serves decent mohinga.

      6 Replies
      1. re: InfoMofo
        DaveCook RE: InfoMofo Apr 15, 2011 07:56 AM

        Despite the presence of coriander, hardboiled egg, and crisped lentils (or perhaps some other pulse), as well as rice vermicelli and slices of firm white-fleshed fish, the character of the "Myanmar fish broth noodle soup with fish" seemed more Cantonese than Burmese. (The staff at Lee Chung are from Guangdong.) The yellowish color suggested curry or turmeric, but the overall flavor hinted at lemon. Photo below.

        Lee Chung Cafe
        82 Madison St, New York, NY 10002

        1. re: DaveCook
          InfoMofo RE: DaveCook Apr 15, 2011 09:14 AM

          Thanks for the picture. It certainly looks appetizing, I don't see the banana stems I might normally expect, but it looks close enough! I have got to try that!

          1. re: InfoMofo
            DaveCook RE: InfoMofo Apr 15, 2011 11:13 AM

            Not in my current listing of food-friendly events, but soon, I'll post details for the New Year Celebration of the Burmese Missionary Society, in Queens. Last year they served a Rakhaing riff on mohinga called mon di, both dry and in soup. Other good stuff, too.

            1. re: DaveCook
              InfoMofo RE: DaveCook Apr 28, 2011 08:00 AM

              Please do! This part-Burmese chowhounder would appreciate it greatly.

              1. re: InfoMofo
                DaveCook RE: InfoMofo Apr 28, 2011 01:38 PM

                My weekly list of food-friendly events appears on my blog, and I regret that the New Year celebration took place last Sunday, on Easter. There is, however, another Burmese event in Queens this Sunday; possibly it will be larger, too. I'll post word on my blog, and via Twitter, after I publish this week's events listing.

          2. re: DaveCook
            kaetzchen RE: DaveCook Dec 7, 2011 05:05 PM

            Thanks for the photo! I've been trying to find a place for good mohinga too, especially in this rainy weather! Has anyone tried Cafe Mingala? Any other leads? I will head over to Lee Chung to sample theirs soon.

        2. sgordon RE: Chandavkl Apr 11, 2011 08:34 AM

          I'm under the impression that there isn't a common thread.

          My gf and I were eating at Nom Wah Tea Parlor the other day (great, by the way, though we ordered too many things off the "fried" menu and should have stuck more to "steamed") and were talking about the two places - both taken over by younger descendants / relatives of previous owners, and not recent immigrants but American-born descendants looking to revamp the spaces. She brought up an interesting point: that with the economy sluggish, these kids - who might normally go out and get regular jobs doing whatever - might not be doing as well as they could, so why not revamp the family business? Chances are the overhead is low - family might own the buildings, they might pay next to nothing in rent, etc - so it could be a good opportunity to try something out while the job market is pretty dry.

          In the case of Wilson Tang at Nom Wah, he kept the original menu and just cleaned the place up. In the case of the kids running Lee Chung Cafe, they're just making the kind of food they like to eat. So it started as a boba house and they just started adding things they could make. I don't know if any of them are trained chefs, but it doesn't take one to make a sandwich or a bowl of soup. It's really a place, at heart, for other kids like them who live in the neighborhood - since it's so off the beaten path, it'll never be a destination resto. But for a little neighborhood joint, it's cute, fun, and the mishmash of different cultures and foods makes it quite representative of the surrounding area, I think.

          Nom Wah Tea Parlor
          13 Doyers St, New York, NY 10013

          Lee Chung Cafe
          82 Madison St, New York, NY 10002

          1. s
            SomeRandomIdiot RE: Chandavkl Apr 11, 2011 09:10 AM

            You can get the cheung fun/fishball combo at any of those street vendors that sell cheung fun.

            1. l
              Lau RE: Chandavkl Apr 12, 2011 07:42 PM

              ive never eaten at lee chung although i have looked at it before. alot of the food you're talking with the exception of the burmese fish broth noodle soup are fairly common in HK, its sort of young people comfort food. there are examples of places like this in ctown too like coluck and XO kitchen except they're much better in HK. it's sort of this weird cross between cantonese food, western food and sometimes with even some japanese in the mix

              here's a couple examples of places in HK serving some of this type of food (there are better examples of this, but i'm forgetting which places specialize in it completely:

              - tsui wah: serves chinese, but has alot of stuff like this http://www.openrice.com/english/resta...

              - sing heung yuen: this place actually specializes in cui cui and this macaroni soup http://www.openrice.com/english/resta...

              i reviewed a fishball place that must be the same place AubWah was talking about b/c i dont think there is much else on monroe (it's very good btw): http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/773122

              9 Replies
              1. re: Lau
                Chandavkl RE: Lau Apr 13, 2011 08:36 AM

                Tried going by Poon Kee on three consecutive days and they were closed each time. Don't know if they're on vacation or what.

                Poon Kee
                39 Monroe St, New York, NY 10002

                1. re: Chandavkl
                  Lau RE: Chandavkl Apr 13, 2011 08:52 AM

                  im pretty sure they are closed on sundays and i know they close pretty early like i think they might be closed by like 3 or 4 at the latest (they run out of food pretty fast).

                  also there is a poon kee (that might have been their old location) on market street between madison and monroe that is on the east side of the street that is closed down although it looks like its still open. The actual one that is open is on monroe between market street and catherine.

                  fyi, i go on saturdays early at like 11-12, don't go later than 1-130 as they start running out of the good stuff...you'll usually notice of a line of people coming out of the place

                2. re: Lau
                  Polecat RE: Lau Apr 13, 2011 12:22 PM

                  "it's sort of this weird cross between cantonese food, western food and sometimes with even some japanese in the mix"

                  This kind of stuff has been getting more and more popular in Queens, by the way, especially with Asian teens. Places like the Tea Shop chain and the newly opened Hi Tea in Bayside are like fast-food versions of HK comfort food, like Portuguese Chicken over lo mein with cheese melted on top, stuff like that. It looks to be the new hot business model, following on the heels of boba tea joints.

                  1. re: Polecat
                    scoopG RE: Polecat Apr 15, 2011 02:33 PM

                    Exactly. What the sociologists Zhou Min and Lin Mingang define as an ethnoburb. As far as I know the only two in the USA are in CA (the San Gabriel Valley) and Queens. As opposed to the old "Chinatowns", ethno-burbs are "new, cosmopolitan and vibrant, transcending territorial and national boundaries." ("Community Transformation and the Formation of Ethnic Capital: Immigrant Chinese Communities in the US". Journal of Chinese Overseas 1,2, Nov. 2005.)

                    They are not dominated by a single ethnic group and the socio-economic background of the immigrants is much more diverse. And the ethnoburb is better connected to the outside world in social, political and economic terms.

                    It means the Korean-American kid of 16 can pop in an get a Lamb Burger from Xian Famous Foods, wash it down with a Taiwan Tapioca Tea and then head for an Indian meal or get the Portuguese Chicken over lo mein with cheese!

                    1. re: scoopG
                      Polecat RE: scoopG Apr 15, 2011 02:49 PM

                      "It means the Korean-American kid of 16 can pop in an get a Lamb Burger from Xian Famous Foods, wash it down with a Taiwan Tapioca Tea and then head for an Indian meal or get the Portuguese Chicken over lo mein with cheese!"

                      Damn. They better have antacid tablets in these ethnoburbs.

                  2. re: Lau
                    Chandavkl RE: Lau Apr 13, 2011 12:24 PM

                    Are these Canto/Western places different from the standard Hong Kong cafes we see all over the San Gabriel Valley?

                    1. re: Chandavkl
                      Lau RE: Chandavkl Apr 13, 2011 12:35 PM

                      ummm yah they're kind of like that, like a JJ in monterey park although lee chung is probably a little bit more fast foody than those places

                      i mean i guess this has sort of always been around i think (although cant say for sure) that its sort of like an evolution of old school cha can ting (which is mainly chinese, but with some western influence like coffee tea and some of the buns) --> hong kong cafe type stuff that has been evolving over time that is alot of these baked cheese pork chop rice, macaroni noodle soup fried egg breakfast sandwich things etc

                      1. re: Lau
                        Polecat RE: Lau Apr 15, 2011 02:51 PM

                        Don't forget spam sandwiches. You gotta have that spam. I left that out in my post above.

                        1. re: Polecat
                          Lau RE: Polecat Apr 18, 2011 03:23 PM

                          haha yes that too....i really love all things spam actually

                  3. a
                    AubWah RE: Chandavkl Apr 28, 2011 08:19 AM

                    are the soups at lee chung worth trying

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: AubWah
                      kaetzchen RE: AubWah Dec 5, 2011 10:04 PM

                      Thanks for all the delectable commentary! Does anyone know if the fish balls at Lee Chung have pork inside them like the Fuzhounese fish balls?

                      1. re: kaetzchen
                        Chandavkl RE: kaetzchen Dec 6, 2011 08:48 AM

                        These were the regular small unfilled fish balls.

                    2. s
                      small h RE: Chandavkl Jun 12, 2013 06:20 AM

                      Finally made it over here last night to try the fish broth noodle soup with fish and vegetable. I brought it home, so it wasn't as pretty as in Dave Cook's picture, but it was very good. I don't think I've ever had hard-boiled egg in soup before, except for borscht. The staff seemed to be a mother & daughter, getting ready to close up for the evening (it was around 7:15).

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