This past Friday night the Openhouse Gallery on Mulberry St. hosted a quick and dirty showdown among a diverse mix of Chinatown eateries. The event – held by Time Out New York to celebrate their Chinatown Issue of the magazine – was a salute to long-held tradition, and a welcome to new neighbors with fresh ideas to add to the block. Nothing fancy – this was pure street food, showcasing buns, balls, shu mai and shaved ice. The lineup of vendors included Nom Wah Tea Parlor, Hong Kong Street Cart, Mamak, Mimi and Coco NY, Empies, Los Perros Locos, and Outer Borough, and tickets included one Taiwan Beer. Patrons were asked to vote for their favorites after an hour or so of tasting – here’s a look at what went down:
Hong Kong Street Cart and Outer Borough
If the voting was based on line-length alone, then Hong Kong Street Cart with its pork belly buns was the clear winner, and Outer Borough, serving up “Taiwanese Shaved Ice,” would scoop up second place. Though the event was of a more intimate size, the wait time for both these vendors still reached 20+ minutes.
Hong Kong Street Cart has garnered a lot of attention from its participation at various street food fairs, notably Madison Sq. Eats and LIC Flea and Food. The pork bun was good, and it was clear they’ve mastered the art of its assembly-on-the-go, as all parts were cooked and steamed to perfection – nothing worse than a dried-out slice of pork belly. But I wished they had brought something different to the table, considering how much NYC’s appetite has grown for ground-breaking asian cuisine as of late, and the variety of delicious offerings this vendor serves. Still, who can argue with a good ol’ pork bun?
Outer Borough featured the only dessert option and came with a cool spin on taiwanese comfort food, doling out cups of milky shaved ice and green tea flavored ice cream topped with crushed peanuts and sweetened red beans; they, too, have made a splash at LIC Flea, and are a very recent addition to the Williamsburg Smorgasburg.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
Nom Wah Tea Parlor stood for tradition and brought their can’t-fail steamed shrimp shumai – while this wasn’t the most “exciting” offering of the night, we were really looking forward to it, and had to admit it was just what was needed at an event like this: the perfect old-school Chinatown bite, and it tasted just great.
Los Perros Locos
Los Perros Locos features Colombian hot dogs on Allen St. and the kind of food you absolutely must have at 3AM. I told myself I would not eat the whole hot dog being prepped at their stand, but they smothered it with mac ‘n cheese chili, and then apple chipotle mayo, AND THEN FRITOS. I have no regrets. It was a bit hard to eat; luckily the hot mess was contained in a carton and no scraps fell on the floor, otherwise 100 innocent bystanders would have witnessed something appalling (but justified).
Mamak’s rendang curry was the sole source of heat at the event, bringing out plenty of spice. The double kick from the chicken stew and accompanying chili sambal was offset by some pineapple achat (a sweet and sour condiment), aromatic coconut-pandanus rice and a cool slice of cucumber. The dish was loaded with complex flavor; a great addition to the evening, and to the NYC food cart scene – this new truck hangs out in Hanover Square and Bedford Ave.
Mimi and Coco NY
The teriyaki balls from Mimi and Coco NY (from their website, a twist on the “traditional Japanese comfort food, Takoyaki“) peaked my interest due to their presentation. They just looked delicious. Topped with teriyaki sauce, light mayo, crunchy tempura flakes and sliced almonds, they would be the perfect little snack, excepting the inside texture, which we found a little spongey. To combat this, I recommend the shrimp version, which added a better textural contrast than the sausage or potato.
Empies NYC – probably the newest street food vendor of the bunch gathered that evening (their Facebook page was started only 2 months ago) – dreamed up the most surprising combination of the night: a flaky empanada they call the “Flushtown,” filled with kimchi, bulgogi (beef), and mozzarella cheese.
These were the most fun to eat, especially with a dash of sriracha, and earned our vote for best of the event. This is also my new preferred way of eating kimchi – the mozzarella and buttery pastry toned down the sharp, fermented flavors, and with everything packaged up nice and neat in an edible envelope such as an empanada, it was a winning combination that had us using our “Wild Card” ticket to get just one more bite. We’ll be looking for them around town in the future!
All-around it was a great event: a big thanks to Time Out New York for showcasing all that Chinatown has to offer; to Openhouse Gallery for hosting the event, and to all the vendors who came out and showed us that there’s way more to Chinatown than meets the eye – and that NYC should keep those peepers focused on this area for quite a bit longer.