I often forget about Chinatown. Not because it is easy to miss, but rather because I subconsciously avoid it the way most New Yorkers avoid the Times Square hustle. Daytime Chinatown calls to mind a crowded mess of tourists shopping for I Heart NY t-shirts and fake Ray Bans and being followed by some man incessantly chanting “Rolex. Rolex. Rolex. Prada. Prada. Prada.” I’ll pass.
Last night, however, I was pleasantly reminded of the Chinese food and culture that this part of town so perfectly preserves as my friends and I ventured out for a traditional Chinese/ Dim Sum meal. A quick litmus test of quality in a Chinatown restaurant is how many Asians are dining there. The more Chinese people in a Chinese restaurant clearly indicates an authenticity of the cuisine, and presumably taste. Last night at the Red Egg, the crowd was maybe 70 percent Asian. Well done.
My favorite feature at Chinatown restaurants is the Lazy Susan. The big wheel of sharing immediately indicates family style dining, which is my personal preference because this means you have the pleasure of tasting multiple dishes instead of committing to one entrée for the evening. The first thing placed on the Lazy Susan is usually loose-leaf tea, complimentary, to prepare your stomach for the deliciousness about to ensue.
Appetizers are a must and I prefer to begin with a nice set of juicy buns, also known as soup dumplings. I never had these before moving to New York and they are now a staple of my Chinese food order. They are like typical steamed dumplings, only they look a bit more spherical and have soup inside them. They can be quite tricky things to eat, thus calling on the creativity of the diner for the best way to attack them. Some people bite a hole and suck the soup out and then devour the rest of the dumpling. Others try to go for the whole thing at once. Either way, they soup dumplings are an entertaining and delectable part of my Chinatown meals.
As for the entrees, most menus are about 10 pages long so any combination of seafood/ chicken/ pork/ tofu/ veggies can usually be found or assembled in some fashion. You may have to put healthy eating agendas aside for the evening because authentic Chinese restaurants do not offer brown rice- jasmine or fried rice only! (You’ll get a good eye-roll from the waiter if you ask for brown rice.) Also, most good Chinatown restaurants use MSG in their food. Get over it. Prepare for the sodium overload and a night of hella vivid dreams (a side effect of MSG consumption).
Get ready to smile when it comes time to pay the bill. Last night each of us only owed $20 for food, including tax and tip! This is basically unheard of in NYC unless you are eating pizza or a hot dawg for dinner. If still feeling inspired by the Asian ambiance, then you can continue the night with a journey to a karaoke bar, or two.