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Aug 27, 2012 10:36 AM

Bo zai faan (casserole) in Chinatown

So I've been introducing my friend to different Chinese specialties in Chinatown and Ive decided it's bo zai faan time. I went to A Wah when it first opened and enjoyed it. It was so long ago that when I ate at Yummy Noodle over the winter I couldn't really compare. Both I loved. Which spot do you guys think I should take her? Are there any other casserole purveyors worth checking out?

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  1. i originally highly recommended a-wah went it first opened as it was quite good:

    but then i started hearing that it wasn't good and unfortunately it took a huge step downward and i no longer thought it was good:

    Yummy noodle has also gone the same way and last time I went there i thought it was pretty bad (the chef from a-wah used to be the chef at yummy noodle


    so now the place i would go to would be noodle village while I think it's just decent on an absolute basis its the best out of the places in chinatown:

    i actually just got back from hong kong and had the best bo zai fan ive ever had by a long shot, so check the china & southeast asia boards (ive started posting some of my meals from my trip), the restaurants name is kwan kee, should be up in the next few weeks

    9 Replies
    1. re: Lau

      Ohh exciting. A new spot to try. Although a bit sad that casserole quality has fallen off. Any other your dishes you'd recommend there? Which bo zai faan, the salted fish? She also loves pumpkin so I was planning on taking her to the Golden Steamer for the pumpkin bao... Is it still the best pumpkin bao in Chinatown?

      1. re: clareandromeda

        at noodle village i like:
        - pan fried dumpings (these are very good)
        - spicy fishballs (see my blog for pics)
        - congee
        - cuttle fish ball noodle soup (they actually have very good cuttlefish balls b/c they make them in house not factory made)
        - wonton noodle
        - beef brisket noodle soup
        - i'd get the pork patty w/ salted fish + an order of chinese sausage for bo zai fan

        the other places don't even serve a passable version anymore unfortunately

        re: Golden Steamer - pumpkin bao is not a common bao and i can't even remember if i've seen it anywhere else in chinatown. i like it, but i don't love it though and you always have to buy a huge box of them which is way too many so i don't usually buy them. have you had it? its just mashed sweetened pumpkin in a typical bao

        1. re: Lau

          Thanks! The pork sounds yummy and chinese sausage is always my favorite. I've had the pumpkin baos a few times, including last week. My mentining of the baos is actually what spurred the trip the whole trip.
          I've never had to buy a box. Last week I bought 2 with the intention of bringing one to my friend but was unable to not eat it since it was oven fresh and I have terrible impulse control.

          1. re: clareandromeda

            ahh interesting, the last couple of times i went there (this was a while ago) they didn't sell them individually only by the box, so i bought a box, but it was just way too many

          2. re: Lau

            How does their soup broth compare to Noodletowns?

            1. re: AubWah

              i think its comparable, noodletown has a stronger fish flavor. the problem with noodletown is that its inconsistent...when its on its pretty decent, but it can be off and have too strong an alkaline taste from the noodles

              im going to write up a review on noodletown after im done with my asia posts and i need to write another post on noodle village although that wont be for a little while since ive got a huge amt of posts to write from asia. check the china and southeast asia board or directly on my blog, ill be posting there alot

              1. re: Lau

                I'm a long-time regular at Noodletown, going back to, I believe, the late 70s, and I find that they do some things great - especially their roast duck, which is the best I've had in Chinatown - and many things well. But one problem I've had with them is that the shrimp in their wontons is not fresh enough. Granted, I haven't had them for perhaps a year and a half, but that's by design - I gave up on them. Have they been better lately?

                1. re: Pan

                  oh that reminds me i was going to say that the shrimp they use at noodle village are definitely much better as well

                  also i found a better roast duck than noodletown, but i need to go back to the restaurant a couple more times, but ill write that up too soon

                  1. re: Lau

                    I look forward to hearing about that!

      2. Reporting back... The Chinese sausage bo zai faan or fan at Noodle Village is amazing. Although the casserole dish is smaller than at other places, the shape of it ups the amount of the crunchy burnt rice at the bottom ( that is the best part of the dish). It is way better than the version I had at Yummy over the winter. It was so good I declined the hot sauce which is a rare move for me.
        Couldn't find the pork party with salted fish on the menu so had some excellent soup dumplings. The milk tea was also delish.
        Dessert of pumpkin and egg custard baos at the Golden Steamer topped off a perfect afternoon in Chinatown. Thank you for the recommendation. I can see myself heading back very soon to try the soups on a cool fall afternoon.

        10 Replies
        1. re: clareandromeda

          glad you enjoyed; just to make sure you used the dark thicker soy sauce they gave you correct? that's a huge part of bo zai fan is using the casserole soy sauce (it's darker, thicker and a bit sweeter than regular soy sauce) and then mixing it all up with the crispy bits at the bottom

          ill make sure to post up this bo zai fan place in hong kong as my next post, if you're ever in hong kong you must go to this place, hands down the best ive ever had, knocks everyone else out of the water by a mile

          they definitely have it, just ask them next time or ask me and ill give you the chinese characters to show them what you want although chinese sausage by itself over the rice is a favorite of mine as well

          try their regular fried dumplings, they are a specialty of the restaurant and they are quite good

          1. re: Lau

            Why do you feel that they've gone so downhill (A-Wah and Yummy)? Is it really that hard of a dish to master. I make them at home occasionally and they're pretty good.

            1. re: mitchleeny

              hi mitchleeny - their food quality just got way worse compared to when they first opened like i dont think yummy or a-wah even make a passable version anymore

              its actually not an easy dish to make at all b/c you don't have the equipment at home to make it either (you need special stoves to get the rice right).

              also, you need to try it when its done right. Unfortunately its not that easy to find here. If you went and ate it in hong kong then you'd end up finding that the versions here are way below avg. It's the rice, the soy sauce and even the toppings. If you ever happen to go to hong kong, hit me up and ill tell you where to go to get it

              I was tellilng someone the other day that my taste buds for chinese food actually start getting dumbed down a bit if i havent been back to asia in a long time and i probably rate some food here too high if i havent been back in while. I was just there (got back 2 weeks ago) so everything is still fresh in my mind about how much better the food was. Obviously, i dont expect to get hong kong quality food in the US, but the differences are huge not small in some cases

              1. re: Lau

                Well said. Once you've dined in Hong Kong, the best of New York seems rather ho-hum.

              2. re: mitchleeny

                My last meal at A-Wah (this was a while ago), all of the meat was bone-in and cut in a way that it was all sharp, jagged shards of bone. Like they had just kind of hacked away at it, carelessly. Not a lot of meat on each piece and at least one piece was only bone (annoying). Kind of unpleasant to eat.

                One of our clay pots had barely blonde rice whereas the second was more golden brown, but the last one had a bunch of burnt/blackened spots that were inedible. Quite inconsistent, within a single meal.

              3. re: Lau

                We defiantly used the special soy sauce. They brought it out after we ordered. I tried to ask about the pork party but the women's English wasn't great so I just asked what she thought was good. Next time.

                My whole team just went to Hong Kong for dragon boat but I was unemployed until recently and was unable to go. It's killing me that I missed out on going to China with a bunch of native speakers and missed out on feasting. I'll have to live vicariously through your post. Was the dish like Yummy and a-Wah or like Noodle Village in HK?

                1. re: clareandromeda

                  the bo zai fan isn't really like either, i actually got one with eel + one type of chinese sausage and another with eel + another type of chinese sausage

                  the bottom of the rice is perfectly crispy and the whole bottom comes up when you poke at it. so what you do is take the toppings off, pull up the whole bottom of the rice and break it up, put the toppings back in, pour soy sauce on it then mix the whole thing up.

                  ill post up pics soon so you can see

                  1. re: Lau

                    A-Wah BZF was really good when they opened. They used to tell you the dish would take a while, and cook all the ingredients together. Then they got too much publicity too quickly and started pre-cooking the rice and slapping the ingredients on top.

                    Very sad.

                    1. re: AubWah

                      yah when i wrote the first a-wah post it was genuinely good. it would've been considered an avg place in HK which is saying alot in here, but then i started getting reports (i think the first one was from sgordon) about it not getting the hype, so then i went back and he was right the food had gone hugely downhill, in fact i thought the ownership changed or something, but then i realized that they just started cutting corners after all the media hype chowhound, NY times (dave cook wrote the article), eddie huang from bauhaus giving it a shout out


                I'm not the only one on a Bo zai fan kick. Although not having the special soy sauce makes me think this place isn't taking the dish seriously.

                8 Replies
                1. re: clareandromeda

                  interesting never heard of this although ive barely eaten at the chinatowns in brooklyn b/c they are such a pain to get to and i hadn't heard of anything that was spectacular

                  1. re: Lau

                    It doesn't seem like a glowing review. You havent done sunset park? I enjoyed Yun Nan flavor.

                    1. re: clareandromeda

                      i can never tell with his reviews, they're really short usually

                      ive been before but a long long time ago and there wasn't anything that i've heard about that was like i need to go there asap plus flushing is just easier to get to

                      1. re: Lau

                        Most of the posts that appear on Eating In Translation are based on too small a sample to qualify as reviews, and I don't call them that. Collectively, they're closer to an illustrated logbook of food encounters that I'm happy to leave open for everyone to see. When I can entice someone with better chops on a particular subject -- like Hong Kong cuisine in general and bo zai fan in particular -- to weigh in with their own observations, all the better.

                        I mentioned in my post, Lau, that Lian Won's chef comes from Guangdong. When abroad, have you ever tried bo zai fan outside of Hong Kong, or do you know of any regional Chinese variations? Or, would you say, does Lian Won just not make a very interesting-sounding bo zai fan?

                        Dave Cook

                        1. re: DaveCook

                          ive never had bo zai fan in guangdong. ive had it in HK, singapore and malaysia. In singapore / malaysia they make it different, i believe they use chicken broth and water to the rice instead of just water and i think they cook it at a higher heat or something b/c its even more crispy than the HK version where there are more black crispy bits and the flavors are bolder. it's quite good although i prefer the HK version which tastes more refined to me. Actually if you go watch the layover with anthony bourdain, he goes to a very famous bo zai fan in singapore which ive been to called geylang claypot rice (very good)

                          i cant properly judge lian won since ive never been there, but in general the key to a good bo zai fan is getting a good even crispy bottom, cooking the toppings with the rice so that the flavors of the meat run into the rice and lastly having a really good soy sauce, which is a darker thicker and sweeter soy sauce. alot of the good places make their own soy sauce or get it from a very high quality producer

                  2. re: clareandromeda

                    I haven't been to A-Wah lately. Do they now, or did they ever, provide the special soy sauce with takeout orders?

                    Dave Cook

                    1. re: DaveCook

                      hmm no idea haven't gotten take out, but id find it weird if they didn't give it to you

                      1. re: DaveCook

                        Not sure A-Wah is worth going back to at this point, unless someone's been recently and can say they've gotten back on their game? My last experience with them was horrid - we managed to get both overcooked AND undercooked rice in the same meal, the meat was butchered sloppily, as kathryn describes above, full of sharp shards of bone - and not much meat on them to begin with.

                        Is their "special" soy sauce good? I suppose, but I suspect it's something out of a jar they're re-bottling at the table, one of the various brands of "thick soy sauce" (醬油膏) you find in any number of local markets, which can contain a bit of molasses - even if it's not a pre-jarred brand, I'd lay odds it's a two-ingredient "secret recipe" at most (soy sauce + sugar, or perhaps corn syrup or some other sweetener)