We joke around our house that our father is a dyed in the wool China Man, especially when mealtimes are concerned. Like me, dad is an adventurous eater (you can’t call someone who’s had dog meat otherwise), but nowadays, he is happiest when there’s rice on the table.  Consequently, we incorporated an Asian meal everyday while we were in Paris. Paris is not exactly known for the diversity of ethnic food options, but with some tips and a little sleuthing, we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Asian food Paris had to offer.
The 13th arrondisement was our stomping grounds for Asian cuisine, being where Pari’s original Chinatown (another has sprung up in Belleville) is located. Over the course of 3 nights, we became intimately familiar with the triangular patch of urban area marked by Tolbiac, Porte d’Ivry and Porte d’Choisy metro stops, each almost equidistant from the row of restaurants that line both Avenues d’Ivry and Choisy.
pho special at pho 14

pho special at pho 14

Vietnam was part of the French Indochine, so we were not surprised to see a good representation of Vietnamese cuisine in Paris. I found Pho 14 by way of chowhound, and the pho was just what the doctor ordered on a night where temperatures had plummeted 10 degrees celsius from the night ago. The lines were spilling out of the restaurant as we arrived and people actually opted for quicker but chillier al fresco dining in sub 40s weather. A neighboring Vietnamese pho shop happily absorbed the spillover from Pho 14, but for those who wait, they will be treated to steaming bowls of pho. Both the beef and chicken broth, while a little less scalding hot than I prefer had meaty, concentrated flavors and were topped with fresh meat and the bounciest meatballs I’ve seen in a while. We also ate freshly fried spring rolls wrapped in lettuce and dipped in sweet and smelly dipping sauce and some rice crepes served with Vietnamese pate and irresistibly fragrant fried onion bits.

roasted platter
roasted platter

While P was studying abroad in Paris, he used to eat roast duck at a Chinatown restaurant and would constantly reminisce about it after he returned to the US. This bit of memory drove my appetite for roast duck in Paris. Unfortunately, P’s memory has blurred somewhat, so instead of a defined address, we chose our roasted meat restaurant based on the shininess of the lacquered ducks on displayed, ending up in Restaurant Imperial Choisy. While the roasted meats are Cantonese, the restaurateurs are Teochew (yes, Teochew seems to be the dialect to know in Paris). The roast duck turned out well, with a crisp skin and flavorful meat, but the roast pork was too chewy. Cooked dishes fared better, and we enjoyed a simply steamed bass and a very good rendition of claypot tofu devoid of the brown gunk that mar too many chinatown dishes. 

steamed bass
steamed bass

A couple days later, we wanted to return to Restaurant Imperial Choisy, but due to a wait decided to venture over to the restaurant across the street to Likafo. What a stroke of luck, because the latter was even better. The room, decorated with strips of chinese menu signs (its authentic!) was packed with mostly Chinese diners tucking into a myraid of dishes. We started with a seafood and seaweed soup and was pleasantly surprised to find the fishballs bouncy and not the gummy specimens found in the US. A bowl of steamed tofu was packed with homemade tofu and the vegetables stir fried with fermented beancurd had excellent “wok hei”. The steamed pork patty topped with a huge chunk of salted fish reminded me of a favorite restaurant in Geylang, and we were treated to a delicately steamed flounder, exhorbitant for chinatown standards at 40 euros, but done really really well. Possibly the best steamed fish I’ve ever had outside of Asia. In general, we found the cooking style in Parisian Chinese joints to be lighter than those in US chinatowns and much less dependent on oil and sugar. Once again, the servers spoke a mix of Chinese, Cantonese and Teochew, and my dad felt right at home being called “ah hia” meaning big brother by the middle-aged waiter.  

Japanese - Chinese at Ebis

Japanese - Chinese at Ebis

Ebis was our only non-Chinatown chinese pick, and came highly recommended by WiWi, our friend from Chicago days. She joined us for dinner at this restaurant in the 1st arrondisement, a cross-culture marriage between a Chinese kitchen and a Japanese front-of-house, or a Taiwanese proprietor and his Japanese wife. While lunchtime crowds get to eat ramen, the dinner menu is purely Chinese, with a focus on Sichuan cuisine. Only the green tea ice-cream with azuki beans was Japanese. WiWi had so eloquently described her favorite dish, S15 on the lunch menu, prior to dinner that we had to order it. S15 turned out to be chicken, roasted and then fried with crispy skin and impossibly moist meat. The scallops in black bean and chili sauce were big and fresh tasting in the slightly spicy sauce while the mixed tofu and seafod patty were fried greaselessly to form golden nuggets that spurt savory juices in one’s mouth. Rice at Ebis was excellent, fragrant and not too sticky, and takes the ribbon for “best rice”. That rice was not free. Neither was tea. But that seemed to be modus operandi in Paris. Finally, in Paris, you do not get fortune cookies after mealtime either, but that is no real loss when dinner is good!

Names and Addresses:

Pho Banh Cuon 14 (129 Ave de Choisy)

Restaurant Imperial Choisy (32 Ave de Choisy)

Likafo (39 Ave de Choisy)

Restaurant Ebis (19 rue Saint-Roch)

Danny Ng’s appears to be party central on Saturdays. All the round tables were filled with large raucous parties and whilst my friends and I were there last weekend, we heard 3 renditions of the birthday song being sung at every corner of the tight room. I was mercifully spared by my dining companions from the humiliation.

It seems to be a curious case, at least on the outset, because Danny Ng’s looks like any old Cantonese restaurant in Chinatown to me. It is small and cramped, not particularly festive looking (discounting the red table clothes and wall displays of dried shark’s fins), service is as Chinatown advertises – quick and brusque- and the menu choices verged on staggering but that is nothing too out of the ordinary. But after working through the sprawling menu (with suggestions by Lily’s mum, Mrs Chan), my crew and I enjoyed an excellent meal without a big dent in the pocket afterwards.

The pace of service is frenzied, and no longer then 10 minutes after ordering did our food arrive, without any distinctions between appetizers or entrees. As in most Cantonese restaurants, we got the soup of the day (ginseng chicken) and desserts (red bean and sago soup, oranges) on the house.

Next up – a barrage of food pictures:

Baked conch

Baked conch

Baked conch: Michelle and I wanted to cut down on the conch orders from one each to one for every two people to avoid over-ordering. In the end it was a futile attempt as those who did not get one each decided to take matters in their own hands and order their share because it was super tasty. The conch shell was filled with chewy meat that had been sliced up and filled back into the shell and then broiled. The hot soup trapped in the shell was particularly delicious and umami packed.

Fruit Salad Jumbo Prawns

Fruit Salad Jumbo Prawns

Fried shrimp with walnuts and fruit cocktail: How long have I not ordered this childhood favorite? The Chinese love mixing sweet and savory and this is a textbook example of how to do large bouncy shrimp with mayo and condensed milk, sitting on a mound of fresh fruits. Non-Chinese may be a little irked out, but I tell you, this is crazy stuff.

Chicken

Chicken

Chicken with preserved vegetables: Very moist roasted chicken with thin, crisp skin and a coating of salty preserved vegetables. Rustic and great with rice.

Beancurd roll

Beancurd roll

Beancurd roll: Because one has to counter all that meat eating with a bit of greens. But the packet of mixed vegetables wrapped with a steamed beancurd skin is both virtuously healthy and delicious that even the most avowed carnivore gladly dug into it without being strongarmed.

Prime Rib

Prime Rib

Prime Rib: Some of the menu items sound more Western than Oriental in the menu. Examples are Pastrami Fried Rice and the Prime Rib, which one typically associates with a steakhouse. The meat is tender and swathed in ubiquitous brown sauce. Unfortunately, it was bland and not very memorable.

Ee fu Noodles

Ee fu Noodles

Ee-fu Noodles with mushroom and chinese leeks: My special order. Noodles on a birthday symbolizes long life, so a platter of noodles at any birthday banquet is de rigeur. I love ee-fu noodles, and Danny Ng’s was non-greasy and packed with ingredients.

Steamed Crab

Steamed Crab

Dungeness crab steamed over glutinous rice: Loved the sucked in breath of anticipation and the united sound of exclamation my friends made when the top of an oversized bamboo steamer is lifted up to reveal, under a puff of steam, an orange crab packed with fresh meat sitting on top of a mound of soft, sticky glutinous rice, the crab juices staining the rice a uniform golden color. Curiously, people demolished the rice but left a good amount of crab alone as it was a messy endeavor cracking crabs. It meant a ton of leftovers for crab omelette, crab rice, crab noodles that I fed myself with the next week.

Eggplant

Eggplant

Egglant Casserole: The dish to make it 8. Good luck that eggplant’s my favorite vegetable too? Excellent on rice.

Danny Ng’s Place

52 Bowery (Bet Canal and Bayard St)

char siew bao

char siew bao

When it comes to Chinese food, I am a perpetrator of reverse snobbery. I do not believe, at least in
chinatowns across america, that good food and trendy interior decor go together. Therefore I must admit my expectations for the food at red egg, a newish chinese peruvian restaurant, whose design is more fitting for the LES than chinatown, was decidedly low. So imagine my surprise when my friends and I dove in to the better than average dim sum that was refined, piping hot and varied. The carrot cake had a good crust, the pork buns light and fluffy with a savory, not gunkily sweet filling, and the beef cheung fun packed with juicy, fresh meat. They also had a dessert section within the dim sum menu, which had, on top the staple ma lai gou and egg tarts, hot chinese desserts such as a very smooth egg custard. We opted out of entrees, but the fried noodles our neighbors order had good wok hei. No, we did not order from the peruvian side of the menu, absent as it was last sunday afternoon, and no, they did not have carts rolling around the slickly decorated room, colored pink with silver accents. But a serious contender of dimsum if there ever was one in the city. Who would have thunk?

Red Egg

202 Centre St (at Howard St)

http://www.redeggnyc.com/

Its been two years since P visited New York and as the customs officer rightfully remarked, “What took you so long?!” The length between each boyfriend visit notwithstanding, we had a wonderful week together that moving 15 boxes cross-town to my new place amidst the horrid heatwave only made mini dents on our moods. As usual, our week was punctuated by good food and P’s endless quest for the best minced beef porridge in the city. 

Minced beef congee

I am always bemused that he would fly all these miles across the globe and request a mundane bowl of Cantonese congee but apparently Singaporean restaurants do not serve the simple but time-consuming dish. That or the fact that beef isn’t Singaporean’s protein of choice. Our searches brought us to Big Wong King, where the rice gruel is smooth and almost devoid of visible rice bits, the beef is tender and deep fried vermicelli strands added texture. The deep fried crullers was piping hot and great dipped in the hot congee. My century-egg and pork congee was full of flavor and ingredients but a tad too salty. Unsatisfied with just one bowl of minced beef porridge, we then headed to Great NY Noodletown for their version of the congee. Here grains of rice mingled with the soupy gruel, adding welcome texture, while the beef was soft and chewy. We supplemented the congee with a big bowl of wonton soup, the stock deeply flavored with a seafood base; a plate of tender stewed beef brisket, a big plate of roasted pork on rice doused with a dark sauce that tasted faintly of citrus and some green vegetables for posterity’s sake. P declared the winner to be NY Noodletown’s bowl for the grains of rice that provided an uneven texture and more heft and truth to be told, they were both satisfying and compared to the non-existent bowl in Singapore great.

Big Wong King

67 Mott Street (Bet Canal and Bayard)

Great NY Noodletown

28 Bowery St (At Bayard St)

It must be Ying’s impending departure that’s sparking a state of nostalgia and broodiness. Last night we ate at Cha-an, where I wrote my second food blog entry the Friday after I returned to New York with my trusty camera. The attendees were the same, Yanru, Ying and I, and the topics of discussion were probably similar too, that of work and of men. The sesame creme brulee was as good as ever, creamy with a slight smoky flavor, and just sweet enough. The 3 course dessert set did not disappoint either, except for perhaps overly icy chestnut icecream that had the unappealing consistency of frozen milk. The warm chocolate pudding/cake was wonderful, and so was the red bean choux pastry, and the green tea macaron, albeit a little tough to chew was redeemed by the bitter-sweet green tea cream. We left the tea house and hugged good bye in a torrent of sudden snow that quickly turned into icy rain. I’m going to miss these dinners without Ying terribly.

Today I met up with friends from college and had dim sum again at Jing Fong, where the food was reliably cheap but more salty than usual. A girl was visiting from Chicago and I asked her about changes in Hyde Park. It was sad to find out that the Hyde Park Co-op, where I’ve bought way overpriced and not too fresh groceries during my time had/was closing, to be replaced by a chain called Treasure Island. There goes another neighborhood institution.

And tonight, feeling even more antisocial than not, I begged off dinner with Yanru and her friends and wandered alone in Chinatown, blissfully vacant at 8pm. I found Teochew food at New Chao Chow Restaurant just off Canal Street. The soy-braised duck called out to me and I ordered that in a bowl of hor fun (rice noodles) and ordered a side of stewed pork innards. The noodles were only ok, the duck was pale brown and not deep chocolate like what I’m used to, and the soup resembled salty water. But they had 5 types of chili sauces on the table, including the traditional condiment for duck rice, a murky red chili sauce that’s grainy with the inclusion of chopped dried shrimp and umami packed. And thankfully the innards – including pork intestine, ear and stomach – were braised well and much more flavorful, in a rich sweet and salty black soy-based braising liquid. The innards were also clean tasting, and all the textures were there, crunchy ears and chewy stomach, with some sweet pickled vegetables to clear the taste in between bites. I ate and remembered the sunday brunch tradition shared long ago with my parents, when we’d frequent a kway chap stall in the CBD area, below a multi-storey carpark adjoining a now-forgotten Ministry building. Ruoyi and I were not innard shy and would eat everything with gusto, while Ruoying would go for the braised egg and tofu. Regretfuly, that happened way back, before Chicago, before my mum became vegetarian, before we became too busy/ too far away to have lunch together on Sundays.

After dinner, I ended up at Quickly and bought a cup of milk tea (with egg pudding and tapioca balls) despite the chilly weather, and reminisced about high school, my pals in choir, Marina Square and the quickly shop in that poorly designed and unattractive shopping mall we once hung out in between carolling sessions at the Ritz and the Raffles. Too bad there’s not a single branch left in Singapore.

I’m not quite sure whether the food invoked the memories, or if the memories induced me to seek out the foods. It could be circular, but should nostalgia strike again, I’m comforted to know that I can find it all in the city. 

Cha-An

230 E9th St (Between 3rd & 2nd Aves) 

Jing Fong

18 Elizabeth St (between Canal & Bayard Streets)

New Chao Chow Restaurant

111 Mott St (between Canal & Hester Streets)

Quickly Restaurant 

237 Grand St (Near Bowery St)

cheap beer

If you can read Chinese, you will understand the sign at the bottom half of the whiteboard that got my friends all excited. They kind of missed the point of being at Skyway, touted to be the best malaysian restaurant on the island by alot of chowhounders, but its reassuring to know that even if the food the food disappointed, we would always have inexpensive beer. rendang

Luckily for us, Skyway does serve some decent chow that is on par with the tze char stores I sometimes frequent when at home in Singapore. That is admirable because Skyway’s menu is at least twice as long as a regular hawker store that tends to specialize. You seldom find a shop in Singapore or Malaysia that sells rendang along with oyster omelette, but you have that in Malaysian food restaurants overseas who have to cater to every form of culinary homesickness. Usually it means some dishes are dunces, but we must have ordered well because both the beef rendang, slow-cooked to melting softness in a rich, piquant sauce, and the oyster omelette studded generously with plump, fresh oysters were extremely well-received. We were also pleased with the char kway tiao that was coated in oil and sweetish yu shengblack sauce, had a springy bite and suffused with the “parfum de wok”; a soon-hock (marbled goby, a freshwater fish commonly found at Chinese dinners in SE Asian) cooked two ways, its head immersed in a spicy curry broth and its body simply steamed cantonese-style; and a deep-fried yam basket filled with sauteed vegetables and seafood.

I felt compelled to order the yu-sheng, a celebratory raw fish salad created in Singapore and Malaysia couple decades ago, it being Chinese New Year and all, and it was overpriced good fun as expected as my friends and I tossed the profusion of colorful vegetables with the 10 odd slices of thinly sliced salmon and abalone into the air while half-heartedly muttering some auspicious sayings. It should be disclosed too that while the lady was extraordinarily accomodating for a chinatown establishment, she also did her best to upsell us some special New Year dishes that have slightly higher margins. Besides the yu-sheng, we did get the fish (30-40% of our total food bill) and a huge chicken dish with vegetables, stuffed mushrooms and an ostentatiously lucky-sounding title that was tasty, but probably no more so than if we had gotten a platter of plain old hainanese steamed chicken at half the price. And a deep-fried squid dish was pretty tasteless. But with so many rights offsetting a couple of wrongs, its not difficult to imagine another visit to Skyway in the very near future.

Skyway Malaysian Restaurant

11 Allen St (near Canal St)

(212) 625-1163

jfOur dim sum lunch at Jing Fong last weekend ended up being the victim of its own success. When Lily and I first started casually asking people to hang out on Chinese New Year’s weekend in Chinatown, we did not expect a 26 people turnout. And on a day that was purported to be frigid (but turned out not to be thankfully), we were fully expecting no-shows. But contrary to belief, everyone showed up and more, including Rosie and her beau who drove in from Queens and ended up leaving without eating, no thanks to my third rate organizational skills resulting in the lack of available seating. I am so sorry, jiejie.

Coordinating 20+ people in a popular restaurant that does not take reservations is a logistical nightmare I do not plan to repeat soon, but it resolved itself miraculously with help from Lily’s dad. Thank God for well-connected parents! If not for him, we would have been condemned to a 2 hour long wait instead the 45 mins that we dealt with quite stoically. Once past the ordeal of seating everyone and their significant others, we got to ordering and eating. The waiting sure did wonders to one’s appetite. Some friends new to the dim sum deal were mostly game at letting their Asian counterparts order pretty much everything that caught our eye. TPS even managed to get the people on her table to try red braised chicken feet, which c-ry pronounced tasty, particularly when paired with boiled beef tripe. My table wasn’t quite that adventurous, but I still managed to steer Angel, Dodd & Sara towards slimy looking steamed rice rolls studded with funky mini shrimp, some very good shrimp dumplings with chives in a shimmering translucent skin and deep fried taro balls that were very popular. The one unqualified hit on all three tables were the mini rolls of “ma lai gou”(马拉糕) or the steamed yellow cakes that were fluffy and custardy at once.  

After demystifying the rituals of dim sum, we of course engaged in a game of “guess how dirt cheap your meal was” while eating some tangerines (representing good luck, or 吉利)that I supplied in recognition of my southeast asian chinese roots. Looks of disbelief ensued when my friends realized they’ve just eaten royally in one of the most recognized Chinese restaurant in the city for less than a salad from a midtown deli. This is one Chinatown trip I’ll remember for a while.