I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hop Sing and Surviving Chinatown Saturday Morning Shopping

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Chinatown on a Saturday morning is like running a gauntlet, its every man/woman/child for himself.

Like many Chinese families that grew up in New Jersey, my family would have the hankering for that taste of the homeland and make that trek out to Chinatown and stock up on that taste of comfort. I remember waking up early and missing my morning cartoons as my parents would load me and my sister up in the car along with coolers for the bounty and cargo we would be hauling back. Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, walking down the streets of Mott or Elizabeth was a bit daunting and clueless experience. For one, seeing dried shitakes hanging up in the middle of the street or pots of crab and beds of fish lying out in the middle of the street was a far cry from what my other “white” friends were doing on their Saturday mornings. . I went to an elementary school were there were like, 6 Asian kids and that number included my sister and I. I was transported to another country within the country; it is like Inception without pretentious douches.

We would stop off at the bakeries and our go to spots for congee (rice porridge) and fruit and one of the spots that we went to was Hop Sing on 9 Chatham. It is a dim sum joint and they have a dining room but a bulk of their business is take-out. Hop Sing had a brief health department hiatus and reopened recently with a fresh “A” grade displayed proudly on the door, it was back to the usual for them. I recently came back here with my parents and it is noticeably cleaner (I do not let the health department dictate by the way, I rather judge it by volume of customers) it still had the same charm after all those years.
Running errands and shopping from place to place in Chinatown is not like picking up a gallon of milk and maybe some I don’t know, a bag of pasta from Dean & Deluca, this is a straight up gangster. 

 They want their food now.

You do not lollygag when you step into a place like this; it is like Mao’s Great Leap Forward: focus on what you want and get to it. That is the goal of everyone here, to get the tasty goods that you want before it runs and get out as quick as possible. The goal of a place like this is to get you what you want as quickly as possible, and get to the next person as quick as possible. Here are the quick tips for surviving and getting want you want as quickly as possible so you do not stand with a “duh” look on your face:
Tips and Food Porn after jump!
  1. There is no line. Accept it. Do not try and organize one because everyone will ignore you or frankly, won’t understand you.
  2. Get to the front of the counter by whatever means necessary. That is what everyone else is doing, you got to squeeze, sidestep, a 360 kickflip to get to the front of the counter, do it.
  3. If you can not get to the front of the counter, the next best thing to do is get as close as you can and somehow get the attention of one of the people working the counter. Sure you will have an old granny in your armpit and using a small Chinese boy’s head as an arm rest, but you are one step closer to getting your food.
  4. Once you get the attention of said counter person or in the front of the counter, know what you want or you will be left in the dust. They do not have time to sit there and wait for you to make a decision if you are have a fat day and want to super size those fries, people that know what they want are waiting and that means business so you have just be bumped.
  5. Even if you do not speak Chinese or have crap Chinese like I do, talk with authority and firmness and you will get what you want and be firm when you order or they will get fed up and go onto the next person.
  6. You are going to be cut and sidestepped and ignored, accept it, they are not purposefully being rude to you or maybe ignoring you because you are not Chinese, it is just how things are done and they take running their business and restaurant seriously.

Hopefully, that will help you get your dim sum goodies or whatever you are in the market for in Chinatown. The food at Hong Sing is comfort food for anyone craving a taste of the Far East. Mind you, this is not healthy organic food; this is comfort food, meaning that if you are on Weight Watchers, you are going to be broke on points like Greece was broke this pass summer!

 Worse comes to worse, point and grunt. If that doesn't work, POINT HARDER!

Here are some of the goodies that are essential dim sum classics and just general treats and I will do them all up in English (or Engrish if possible) just so I do not sit here and butcher up the ping ying spellings:

The Shrimp Rice Noodle Rolls
An order comes with 3 rolls with 3 shrimp in each roll. They are rolled in a Rice noodle wrapper and dosed in a sweet soy sauce.
 I personally like it drowning in sauce

Shrimp Dumplings
An item that is on any dim sum menu, it is wrapped in Har Gow wrapper made of rice glutton. The wrapper is light and gummy at the same time. 

 Lots o' shrimp

Fried Shrimp Balls
Name says it all, it is a tasty greasy shrimp ball with bits of chopped bamboo that give it a next textural contrast and deep fried.
 Late night snack, heartburn included

Shrimp and Chinese Chive Dumplings
These suckers are pad fried, giving it a nice crispy crust which is a good contrast to the sticky rice wrapper.

Chicken Feet
Dressed in a spicy, sweet soy sauce these suckers are flashed fried to loosen up the connective tissues and steamed to soften them up. Not a dish for everyone, it requires a lot of mouth work of sucking and chewing to get the tasty jelly, rich meaty taste. Do not eat this like a chicken wing and nibble on it like corn (shows total noob status), pop a portion of it in your mouth and work it.
 Calm Down, they cut the nails off...most of the time
Roast Pork Bun
Slightly sweet bun stuffed with a savory roast pork bits and onions in the middle. I am a particular fan of the ones here because they do not have that sickly Red dye No. 5 color to them and the roasted pork actually tastes like pork.

 No Red Dye No. 5 here, looks like pork.

Cocktail (Coconut) Buns
This is a sweet treat that has a buttery rich coconut filling. It is not really rich in coconut taste; the coconut is mainly a soaking vessel for butter and sugar

Egg custard Tart
Light and delicate egg custard tart. The crust is flaky with the balanced sweet custard. I personally like the tops to be slightly burned, kind of like crème brulee but these are good nonetheless.

 The intro food for those that are unfamiliar with non-America Chinese cuisine (translation: something that doesn't scare the shit out of the sheltered white folks!)
There are something that I was unable to get but I will save those for another time. Hop Sing like so many places is a place that has not changed much over the years and I hope with the best intentions that it does not.

 In between this mob is a lunch counter still. Classic. 

Hopefully, reading my verbal vomit not only entertained you, but gave you some quick tips on surviving Chinatown during the weekend mornings and you will be weaving up and down Canal Street and have your chicken feet or a fresh bag of eel in no time. 

Hop Sing 
9 Chatham Sq. 
New York, NY 10038

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