NOTE from Sincerely Ophelia: Due to personal reasons, I’m taking a break from the blog this week. However, the ever so lovely Christina has brought you guys this lovely guest post about her recent food tour in New York’s Chinatown! Enjoy the journey and have a bon appétit read!
To my dearest:
Having grown up with Chinese food, I usually steer away from them when I go out. There are too many new cuisines I have yet to try, and “to be perfectly candid,” as Rosa famously said, the selection in New York really isn’t that great.
The past few years have advanced the evolution of Chinese food, but like our own evolution, we still have a long way to go. Unlike American restaurants where a sous chef can relatively take over the head chef’s duties should there be an absence, Chinese cuisines rely on the head chef, and him alone for flavor profiles. We all know restaurant kitchens can get heated, both figuratively and emotionally. The only way to learn a head chef’s techniques is by thieving, and trust me when I say chefs guard their secrets with their lives.
You can’t cook Chinese food by measuring “2 tablespoons of sugar,” or “1 teaspoon of sesame oil.” It’s all about experience and taste buds. Chinese food isn’t gentrified cooking. If that’s what you are doing, you are doing it wrong.
The five most typical restaurants seen in New York are usually as follows:
- Panda Express-esque take out joints. General Tsao, chicken with broccoli, spring rolls, etc. This is unfortunately the most common view of such a diverse cuisine.
- Szechuan – Mapo tofu, wontons in spicy sauce, dandan noodles. They are famous for their tongue numbing spices. This is the fastest growing type in New York, the most recent was rewarded three stars from New York Times.
- Northern china – the infamous Xi’an, with hand pulled noodles, and lamb. Loads of lamb.
- Cantonese – Seafood with Xo sauce, wonton with egg noodles. Roasted pork. Aka Chinatown.
- Xiao long bao – It’s not a type of cuisine, but it has become so popular that it deserves its own category. Because who doesn’t like little pouches of thinned skin goodness, with glorious fat oozing out?
With immigrants and tourists flocking on a daily basis, garbage carelessly tossed on the ground, Chinatown has had a bad rep since the beginning of time. I’ll be the first to admit that while it is less than few blocks from Soho, I rarely trek down. There are simply too much traffic to make it worthwhile.
That is, until I get my cravings.
The best banh mi is inside a jewelry store, where you simply must grab #1, roasted pork, and eat it straight away. In fact, put your whole face into the delicious mess, like I did.
Few blocks away, you must have an egg tart, or 5. Disregard the terrible name(You can’t get more straight to the point than “Double Crispy Bakery” ); it’s the inside that counts. Famous for their Portuguese egg tarts, the milk tarts are also a treat. Still warm from the oven, the golden crust is still flaky. Take a dainty bite first to savor, and wolf down the rest.
Because you still have 4 left.
The char siu (roasted pork) bun is not to be missed either. A pineapple glaze topped the bread, and bits of caramelized pork are tucked underneath. Only years of experience can achieve these golden perfections.
There is an inconspicuous, and frankly, battered looking stall next door. You’d see a dozen people lining up for what appeared to be white cubes. They are freshly made tofu. Soybeans not only tastes good, it practically reverses aging. This is the best place to get them.
Still with me? Head to Keki Modern Cakes. Famous for their Japanese styled soufflé cheesecake and castella, the softest sponge cake. Their new individual tarts, aptly named “wow tarts,” actually made me utter “wow” out aloud. The crust is nothing to write home about (but imagine if they joined forces with the egg tart bakery. Unstoppable), but the filling is nice and gooey. The cheesecake’s richness is exemplified, but never overwhelmed.
Chinatown is known as a cornucopia for cheap and outrageously delicious eats; upon a recent visit, I’ve discovered it is also a surprisingly great place to get coffee.
Nickel & Diner is more than just a diner; it is a place filled with stunning lights, and a great cup of joe. With coffee beans from Nobletree, and an experienced barista, my latte is sinfully rich, even without any syrup. They also have a chestnut mocha special, and that beats pumpkin spice any day in my book.
Chinatown is changing, thanks to the new generation who are revolutionizing and challenging the boundaries of Chinese food. Their entrepreneur ideas (many of them revolving ice cream, incidentally) and brevity generated a huge following on social media, and encouraged economic growth. Chinatown is an example that the past and the future can be on the same block. It is both a place to get $2 peanut noodles, and a $26 steak and frites.
It may still be a slum, but it is ours to protect.
For reference, I am 5 feet 2 inches. I typically wear XS/S or 0-4 for apparel and 6.5-7.5 for shoes.
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