Wah Fung #1 Fast Food - Where The Locals Get Their Shao La (Cantonese BBQ)
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There are a few places in Chinatown that I would classify as “local restaurants” because they are filled with mainly Chinatown locals (meaning they are Chinese and are from Chinatown) and they are usually pretty good. Places like Poon Kee, Yuen Yuen and South China Garden fall into this genre. Wah Fung #1 Fast Food is also one of these places and although I’ve been there before for some reason I’ve never written about. So last weekend while I was picking up some food for lunch, I decided that I needed to write about Wah Fung.
Wah Fung specializes in shao la, which is Cantonese style BBQ. I believe it originally started as a street cart many years ago, but became so popular that they eventually opened up a small restaurant. Actually, “restaurant” is probably the wrong word because it’s more like a take-out stand that happens to be inside.
When you walk inside the area by the window is occupied by the owner who stands with a cutting board chopping meat. He offers 4 types of meats: roast pork (cha shao / cha siu), soy sauce chicken (jiang you ji / see yau gai), roast duck (kao ya) and roast pig (huo rou / siu yuk). Further inside there is a woman (who I believe maybe his wife) who has a cart that has steamed rice rolls (chang fen / cheung fan), fish balls (yu dan) and fried thin rice noodle (chao mi fen). There is also one very small table with two seats, but that is it. The place is tiny and can barely fit that constant amount of people waiting for food, so there is usually a line forming outside.
- Combination Plate With Sauteed Cabbage Over Rice: I ordered the combo platter with 3 meats and because there were so many meats in this platter I’m going to break this down meat by meat. The sautéed cabbage while typical was quite tasty and paired nicely with the meat and rice. This platter is also ridiculously cheap at $4.50 and it could easily feed two people.
- Roast Pork (Cha Shao / Cha Siu): Wah Fung is known for their cha siu. Cha siu is a type of Cantonese roast pork. Cha siu literally means “fork roast”, the reason being is that pieces of pork are skewered on long forks and then roasted in an oven. The meat is seasoned in honey, five spice, soy sauce, hoisin sauce and red fermented bean curd. Also, red food coloring gives it its distinctive red coloring on the outside. This is literally one of my favorite foods ever, when I was a kid I used to just eat plates of this with rice, wouldn’t eat any of the rest of the food my family cooked and was totally happy. Normally, you see this hanging in windows, but at Wah Fung its sitting is metal steam plates filled with sauce. The marinade sauce here is excellent; it’s sweet, salty and generally good tasting. The meat is tasty although it should be a bit more tender. In Hong Kong, when you have really good cha siu, its melt in your mouth tender. While it’s tender at Wah Fung, it’s not as nearly tender as it should be. Although overall it is quite tasty and I think I might ask him to pour even more sauce on it next time. 8/10 (7.75/10 for the meat, 8.25/10 for the marinade
)- Roast Duck (Kao Ya): The meat was nicely flavorful, but skin wasn’t as crispy as I prefer. Also, it was a little leaner than I prefer, I like my duck a little more on the fatty side. Overall, it tasted good, but wasn’t amazing. 7.75/10
- Soy Sauce Chicken (Jiang You Ji / See Yau Gai): The chicken was a little disappointing. It had good flavor, but was too dry. There are better soy sauce chickens in Chinatown. 7.25/10
- Fish Balls on Steamed Rice Rolls (Yu Dan Chang Fen): The fish balls were definitely homemade and had good flavor and texture. The chang fen (steamed rice crepe) was nicely cooked and tender. The sesame sauce and soy sauce were also quite good. I should’ve asked them to put on some hot sauce, but overall this was quite good and pretty comparable to Poon Kee, which has been my gold standard in Chinatown. 8/10
Overall, this place is solidly good and it has to be one of the cheapest places in Manhattan. Their roast pig (huo rou) also looked good, so I’ll be back to try that soon.
Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food
79 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002