Chinatown, My Chinatown

October 19th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

The explosive growth of the Chinese population of New York has led to the creation of a number of new “Chinatowns” scattered throughout the five boroughs. The Flushing neighborhood of Queens is much larger than Manhattan’s Chinatown and far outclasses it in terms of quality and variety of cuisine. (Along Northern Boulevard and in the surrounding community of Murray Hill, there are also many good Korean restaurants and supermarkets). SJ is a Flushing expert and has led HG and BSK to some extraordinary eating adventures. There are also growing Chinatowns in Brooklyn. Sunset Park is the largest. But, for nostalgic HG there is only one true Chinatown: Manhattan’s Chinatown. HG has been dining in that Chinatown for 76 years. It all began when 10-year-old HG and his late beloved sister, Beulah Naomi, would board the Third Avenue El at the Fordham Road station in The Bronx. The leisurely train voyage had its delights. We would peer into tenement windows along the route (saw some remarkable family scenes). A highlight was the huge shiny brass brewing vats of the Jacob Ruppert Beer Company in the East 90’s neighborhood. (A sidebar: Ruppert, which went out of business in 1965, was once America’s best selling beer and Jacob Ruppert, son of the founder, was the owner of the New York Yankees baseball club. He brought Babe Ruth to New York, a move which led to decades of baseball supremacy.) HG and his sister descended from the El at Chatham Square. Chinatown was quite small in these days (bounded by the Bowery and Canal Street with Mott, Pell, Bayard, Elizabeth and Doyers as its principal streets. It was many years later that Chinatown metastasized, taking over much of Little Italy and the Lower East Side.) The street scenes of Chinatown delighted little HG (they still do). The strange and often inscrutable foods spilling onto the sidewalks. The exotic, musical language. The appearance of the neighborhood inhabitants (Years ago, many older Chinese men still sported pigtails). Luncheon choices for HG and sister were conservative. Won ton soup. Egg rolls. Barbecued spare ribs. Chicken chop suey (or chow mein). Rice. Tea. Almond cookies. It was a feast. The cost (for two) was 65 cents (with tip). The El fare was 5 cents. A wonderful day of sightseeing and feasting for less than a dollar (for two happy people). HG’s Chinatown food tastes became more sophisticated through the years. Shrimp in lobster sauce, Moo Goo Gai Pan, stir fried beef and broccoli became favorites. Chinatown remained wonderfully cheap, the perfect venue for college dates. In the 1950’s, HG and pals would dine at Yuet Sun. Our table of six or eight would devour shrimp in black bean sauce, pork livers, fried dumplings, garlicky greens, stir fries of pork, beef and chicken; noodles, rice. On the table were many cans of icy beer purchased from an nearby grocer. The jolly meal cost about 2 dollars a person. Later, HG’s favorite restaurant was Bo-Bo’s on Pell Street.Esther Eng, an imperious lady of the theater and one of the first (and greatest) female directors of Chinese language films, ran Bo-Bo’s. Bo-Bo’s was one of Ms. Eng’s five restaurants and enormously influential in exposing the sophistication of Chinese cuisine to America — the lobster rolls and steak dishes were outstanding. HG took BSK to Bo-Bo’s on their first date in 1963. When living in New York and New Jersey, HG/BSK and children were weekly visitors to Chinatown. Oriental Garden for great squab and pepper-and-salt grilled shrimp. Hong Fat for fried crabs. Phoenix Garden for flounder in black bean sauce, HSF and Nom Wah for Sunday dim sum brunch. (For years, Nom Wah on Doyers Street was the only dim sum eatery in New York). There were other places on the Bowery and elsewhere (names forgotten) that specialized in fried chicken, snails, clams in black bean sauce, etc. Chinatown changed and grew. Big Hong Kong-style dim sum palaces. Bubble tea store fronts. Congee made an appearance. Shanghai soup dumplings became a craze. HG still likes Chinatown food. Sad news is that Full House on Bowery near Hester has morphed into Flaming Kitchen. This super-modern, hi-tech space prepared superb Cantonese fish dishes and now caters to the hip, new style of Szechuan heat. However, Dim Sum Go Go is still dispensing good dim sum. Big Wong does superior congee and maintains the funky, old time Chinatown flavor. Nom Wah has been spruced up but retains its original vibe although foodwise HG/BSK had one good and one bad experience there. Bo Ky on Grand serves very good Vietnamese food. There’s good ethnic eating from a variety of Chinese regions on Eldridge, Chrystie, Allen, Forsyth and East Broadway. Yes, Flushing and Sunset Park have stolen some of Chinatown’s food luster but, HG remains loyal. And, it’s easier to get to than Flushing.


Maybe If They Wore Shoes…

September 27th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Ring those bells. Make noise. Shout happy new year wishes. Rosh Hashonah is upon us. Though not a practitioner of very orthodox Judaism, HG’s Mom would always make a tasty, multi-course dinner to welcome the new year. A feature was tzimmes, a sweet and savory carrot stew. The sweet element was supposed to induce a happy new year. Among the ingredients were chicken fat (of course), ginger, honey, a touch of cinnamon. And, plenty of chicken feet. HG”s Mom thought they brought a rich, glutinous quality to the “tzimmes.” HG loathed them. They looked very much like what they were — scaly feet, with nails — and were unpleasantly gristly and nasty. HG ate his way around them. HG still hates chicken feet. The Chinese love them, serving them up as snacks at Taiwanese movie theaters and, of course, they are a standard on dim sum carts the world over. HG likes every other part of a chicken–liver, heart, gizzard–so last year HG tried to give them another chance by tasting them at Nom Wah, the venerable dim sum eatery in New York’s Chinatown. Terrible. For some obscure reason, the word “tzimmes” is a Yiddish idiom for a fuss or tumult. HG’s Mom didn’t believe in coddling. When little HG sought sympathy for a cut or a scrape, Mom said: “Don’t make a tzimmes. It’s only a scratch.”

DCF 1.0

Tasty Chinese Goods

December 20th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Bao, that puffy Chinese bun often filled with a savory or sweet interior, is becoming New York’s new trendy nosh. HG has always loved Bao since his first encounter with the tasty treat — stuffed with savory pork — at Nom Wah Tea House in New York’s Chinatown during the early 50’s (at that time, Nom Wah was the only place in New York serving dim sum). HG is not suffering Bao deprivation in New Mexico. Ziggy’s, a splendid shop in Santa Fe, stocks frozen pork buns from O’Tasty Foods, Inc. (along with scores of other international culinary items). O’Tasty’s Bao is a great product (HG likes them with his morning coffee). O’Tasty is a leading supplier to good Chinese restaurants throughout the United States (you’ve probably enjoyed their products without being aware of their origin.) The company produces gyoza, dumplings, su mai and potstickers in addition to the buns. They are mostly a wholesale supplier but if you want them to ship some good dim sum products to you, give them a call. 1-800-953-1229. (Company is based in California).

The Dumpling Explosion

November 4th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

Years ago there was only one New York restaurant specializing in steamed Chinese dumplings and other staples of the delightful dim sum menu. The eatery was Nom Wah Tea Parlor, tucked away on Doyers Street in Chinatown. It was refurbished recently and is very good. Now, Nom Wah is but one of scores of restaurants in Chinatown, Flushing and Sunset Park specializing in dim sum. There are modest little joints and sumptuous, vast Hong Kong dim sum palaces. HG is delighted. There are few things better than sharing dim sum with a table of friends. Also heartening is the explosive growth of small Beijing-style dumpling restaurants (many also offering soups and basic noodle dishes) along Eldrige Street, East Broadway and Henry Street. Cheap and tasty. Two or three dollars buys a filling, delicious meal. HG also likes the fact that many Chinatown places are offering Fuzhou hand pulled and peeled noodles. Winter is fast approaching and these joints are poised to offer steaming bowls to the chilled and hungry folks on strict budgets. They deserve applause.

An Extended Love Affair With Chinatown

September 30th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

HG has had a long standing love affair with Manhattan’s Chinatown. It all began when eight-year-old HG and his beloved older sister, the late Beulah Naomi K., would climb the steep steps at Fordham Road in The Bronx and ride the scenic 3rd Avenue Elevated train (fare — 5 cents) all the way to Chatham Square in Chinatown. Little HG was fascinated. The strange language. The exotic (to little HG’s eyes) people. The vast variety of food being sold in shops, outdoor stalls and by itinerant vendors. And, the restaurants. Ducks hanging in the windows. Fish swimming in tanks. Barbecue experts slicing pork. At first, HG and sister were timid eaters — won ton soup, chicken chow mein, almond cookies for dessert. Ridiculously cheap, of course — 20-25 cents. But, the two fledgling gourmands quickly became more adventurous. Shrimp in lobster sauce. Roast pork over rice. Moo Goo Gai Pan and much much more. In his late 20s (some 56 years ago!) HG discovered dim sum. Nom Wah on Doyers Street was the only dim sum restaurant in Chinatown (now there are scores). HG became an addict and every Sunday morning devoured Nom Wah dim sum while reading the hefty Sunday edition of The New York Times. (Blessedly, Nom Wah has been revived by a new generation of the original owners and they have maintained the wonderful charms of the original decor while giving the place a much needed spruce up.The dim sum are as good as ever). HG realizes that Flushing (and maybe even Brooklyn’s Sunset Park) have replaced Chinatown as the great centers of New York Chinese cuisine. HG and BSK have rented a Chinatown apartment for one week this December and there will be a thorough exploration of the current Chinatown food scene. HG relies upon three Chinatown culinary guides: SJ, David Sietsma of the Village Voice and the blog, HG remembers when Chinatown only had Cantonese cuisine. Now there are many restaurants featuring regional cooking — Chiu chow, Fujianese, Szechuan, etc. Dumpling and noodle restaurants (many strictly hole-in-the wall) have proliferated. There are many Vietnamese restaurants, including an HG favorite, Nam Son. Chinatown has expanded into the Lower East Side and Little Italy. Mission Chinese, an adventurous California/Chinese venture, has a pastrami dish on its menu. Does this represent a challenge to Katz’s?

New York Is Chinatown

December 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Yes, New York is world capital of culture, finance, style, skyscrapers and virtually everything else. But, to greedy HG, New York means Chinatown, dim sum, congee and other treats. So, after a night’s sleep following some 11 hours of air travel from Bologna it was off to Chinatown for a dim sum lunch with Gorgeous Restaurateur Daughter (Five Points, Cookshop, Hundred Acres) Vicki F. Destination for HG and BSK was Nom Wah (SJ recently posted a memorable piece of prose about this vintage eatery).

Talk about a trip down Memory Lane. As SJ has remarked, the old place got cleaned up but retained every bit of its funky appearance. HG was startled. It seemed nothing had changed since he first ate there some 56 (!!) years ago. Vicki ordered brilliantly and though the decor had not changed, the food was better. Har Gow and Shu Mai were among the best HG had ever consumed.

That night the trio was joined by SJ. Exquisite Maiko, Adorable Haru and Vicki’s husband and partner, Marc M. The site was Congee on 98 Bowery. Yes, there was congee. But, also fried squid, a couple of large, steamed flounders, clams in blacks bean sauce, sauteed greens, etc. Lots of food. Lots of joy.

Don’t Believe the Hype.

October 2nd, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

SJ here and a disappointed one at that. After my great joy in returning to Nom Wah (see the earlier Now Wah posting) I decided to try out another reincarnated old favorite — 456 Shanghai Cuisine which has been getting superb write-ups (including a great New York Times review). I headed off to eat there with visions of extraordinary soup dumpling gallivanting through my cerebral cortex. No such luck! Soup Dumplings were somewhat bland and lacking in that funky tang of crab roe; they were undersized and honestly not soupy enough as if the chef were a miserly curmudgeon trying to save a few bucks on broth and dough. Finally, they weren’t properly heated temperature wise. Which is a bit criminal in my mind. Soup Dumplings need to be blazing! Salt and Pepper shell on shrimp were fine, yet lacking in that spicy umph that would have made me take notice and — not to sound too much like Groucho Marx — the portion size was a bit small for the price tag. Spicy Double Sauteed Pork was neither spicy nor did it have any of the velvety tenderness that one would associate with something that has been “double” sauteed — what the hell is double sauteed anyway? Maybe that one is my fault for ordering something so sloppily named. The final insult came with the Shanghai Won Ton Soup. This should have been an easy one. Alas, nothing about the Won Ton was Shanghainese and the broth tasted of bouillon cubes with a healthy dash of MSG. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

Maybe all this is due to the hype? 456 Shanghai just reopened and it has been swamped with people drawn by great reviews and nostalgia. Maybe the kitchen just couldn’t keep up with the demand? Could be! Could also be that hype is hype and next time I want some fine Chinese chow, you’ll find me in the totally amazing Food Court at the New World Mall in Flushing!

Return To Nom Wah Teahouse – An SJ Post

October 1st, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

Nom Wah Teahouse — the birthplace of my dumpling obsession and the oldest Dim Sum restaurant in New York City (serving since 1920!). Back in the 70s HG and I would often spend an early afternoon there hailing the Dim Sum carts and loading up our table with varieties of dumplings, folded rice crepes and buns while studiously avoiding those scary dishes of chicken feet. We would eat and drink tea until our stacked plates began to sway like skyscrapers in the wind. Back then your check was determined by the amount (and type) of plates left on the table, and crafty HG would often “joke” with the surly waiters by “hiding” the majority of plates on his lap. A practice guaranteed to cause great embarrassment to your children. It was the spot where I first used my barely learned chopstick skills to SLOWLY convey a slippery Har Gow (shrimp dumpling) to my waiting lips. Suffice it to say that Nom Wah is responsible for making the rattle of a loaded Dim Sum cart the most hunger inducing sound that I know of.

So it was with great joy (and some real trepidation) that I read in HG’s earlier posting (“Nom Wah. A Great Tradition”) that Nom Wah had re-opened with new ownership and a revamped menu. I could not wait to try it so I gathered up Exquisite Maiko, Mr. Haru and my sister, Victoria (the Restaurateur!) — a hard-hitting posse of Dim Sum lovers if there ever was one — and headed off to the Bloody Angle of Doyers Street.

It was with real relief that we walked in and found Nom Wah to be essentially unchanged. Relief because it is just a wonderful space — a 1930s luncheon spot with red checked table clothes, coat hangers at every table and the warm patina of age. The new owner is the nephew of the previous owner and his love for the restaurant allowed him to somehow do the impossible — renovate and clean the space without changing a thing. The result is that Nom Wah verily hums with joy — It is old fashioned without seeming nostalgic or forced; it is packed with tourists, but absolutely genuine. It is in the details: the mismatched plates and tea cups that have been in service for decades, the tray of condiments (duck sauce, worcestershire sauce, Chinese mustard) that no new dim sum palace would allow on a table, the dappled surface of the mirrors, the tiny bathroom sink with hot & cold faucets. What has changed is only positive. Gone are the surly wait staff and gone are the rickety dim sum carts. In their place are made-to-order dim sum and a group of people (owner included) who just seemed happy to see you, happy that you decided to come into a restaurant that they themselves seem to love.

So…the food? Well, it is totally fine. The Egg Roll is clean and not greasy. The Steamed Pork bun was fluffy and generously stuffed with sweet & savory meat; the Har Gow were silken skinned and the shrimp snapped with freshness. The rice rolls were okay; and I happily gnawed on some steamed spare ribs. There were some menu nods to modernity with notations for “gluten-free” items, some clearly marked vegetarian and kosher options and a quite wonderful “new style” dumpling stuffed with snow pea leaves and shrimp. Without a doubt, I’ve had better dim sum in Sunset Park and out in Flushing and even at Dim Sum Go Go a few blocks away. But, for the two un-rushed hours me and my wonderful family sat in Nom Wah, talking, eating and laughing at Victoria’s stories about throwing dumplings at her first Nom Wah visit, there was simply no other place — no other restaurant! — that I would have rather been. It is an absolute testament to the great job that Nom Wah’s new owners are doing that this old standard has been reborn as a restaurant that I can’t wait to get back to.

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