I had a really good time during the Lower East Side Food Tour that I decided to book another. The second food tour that I participated in with Free Tours by Foot (http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/new-york-tours/default.asp) was the Chinatown Food Tour. In all honesty, I did not know what to expect from this tour since Chinatown always seemed daunting to me with its large crowds and the diverse array of food options to choose from. Not being familiar with the cuisine only intensified my apprehension. However, many of my concerns were alleviated by the fact that I was being shown the ropes of how to navigate the Chinatown food scene by a tour guide who had lived her whole life in NYC and loved food.
We were all asked to meet at the Information Kiosk on Canal and Baxter. However, prior to meeting the tour guide and the rest of the group, I decided to do a little shopping. I consider myself to be the absolute worst bargainer. For some odd reason, I feel guilty when I get someone to drop their price. Insane! So this time I tried a different approach. First I did a little browsing and price comparisons since many of the shops carry the same products, and I settled on one store that had better color options for what I wanted to get. Specifically, there were 3 bags that I wanted and when I asked the price for the 3, I was told $80. So I said, no, I will pay $65. She said, $75. I said, $65. She said $72 and that’s final! I said $65. Then she said, “you have to try to meet me.” I said, “nope, this is not a negotiation.” And somehow she said, “ok, $65.”
Now to my logic. I knew that if I started to negotiate, I would start to feel guilty because I was “making” her deviate from the original price. During the negotiation process I would have started thinking about her 2.5 children, husband, dog, 2 cats and pet turtle, and how they need to be fed and an education…and God forbid, what if the pet turtle, who I would have at this point named “Mr. Pickles,” got sick? Veterinarians are expensive! The guilt alone would have led me to jack up the price and offer her $90. But it’s all good! I got 3 pretty bags for $65!
Several of the tour participants got coconut water. I am not a fan of coconut water, but I did find the coconut themselves to be cute.
Stop 1: Tai Pan Bakery
The egg custard tart, or otherwise known as an egg tart, was warm with a smooth creamy filling and a crust that was flaky and buttery, and it literally crumbled in my mouth. Amazing! The egg tart is often compared to the Portuguese egg tart pastries, known as pastel de nata. Here is a random piece of information, the egg tart was ranked as #16 on the top 50 most delicious foods. Wow, I still dream about this tart.
I did not know what this was, but it looked interesting. I pointed it out to my tour buddy, and she decided to purchase it. She was not a fan of the texture however. After doing a little research, I learned that sesame balls are made of glutinous rice flour and are coated with sesame seeds on the outside and in the inside they are either filled with lotus paste, sweet black bean paste, or red bean paste. This one was filled with black bean paste. This pastry is meant to taste crispy and chewy, but in this case, my tour buddy found it to be “too chewy” and “not very sweet.”
Our next stop was a dumpling establishment, and when I saw this dumpling shop I figured this was the one. So I asked someone to take a picture of me pointing to it. Well, I was wrong. This was not the stop.
Stop 2: Fried Dumpling
I had tried dumplings the day before on the Lower East Side Food Tour and I had loved those, so my expectations were high. These dumplings were “flatter” than the one’s I had the day before. Also, these were crisped up on either side. I found these chewy even though they had crispy parts to it. I was also not a fan of the pork filling, so by the time I got to the third dumpling, I removed the filling altogether and only ate the dough. Don’t get me wrong, they were good, but I did not find them to be as good as the dumplings from Prosperity Dumpling which I found to have a soft textured dough that was not too chewy, and a filling that was equally balanced with vegetables and pork.
Stop 3: Xi’an Famous Foods
I was full when we got to this Xi’an’s and I only ordered an iced tea. My tour buddy could still manage a bit more so she ordered a burger. She does not like lamb so she did not order the famous lamb burger. Instead she ordered the stewed pork burger which looked like a pulled pork burger to me. She noted that the bread was warm and chewy, but this time it was “chewy” in a good way, and the bun served as a perfect contrast to the tangy smoky pork. She mentioned later that the juices of the sauce seeped into the soft bun and it made the burger taste even better! I am good with the absorption bit as long as the bun does not get “too” wet. So yes, she was a happy camper.
Stop 4: Pork buns (name of establishment unknown)
Our fourth stop is known for their pork buns and unbeknownst to me at the time, I had failed to take down the name of the restaurant and I did not take exterior pictures of it either. I had never had a pork bun before so this was a huge leap of faith for me. I am always apprehensive about biting into something savory that has a filling I cannot first scrutinize. As many of you already know, I avoid eating onions. In fact, my great dislike for onions has fostered my love for cooking and learning about different ingredients and flavor combinations (thank you onions!). Growing up I was certain that people were sneaking onions into my meal, so I learned to dissect food (literally and theoretically speaking) and to distinguish the difference in the look and taste of ingredients pretty early on.
In this case, I was initially drawn to the shiny pork bun. I am sucker for bread, specially glazed bread. Plus it was warm! So I took a small nibble to decipher what I was dealing with. I already had plan B ready: dump the filling and eat the bun. I reminded myself that I have been joining these food tours with the aim to learn about food and to TRY new foods! So I took a few more nibbles until I got to the pork and lo and behold, I did not taste onions! So seconds later I devoured my bun. So good! The bun had a sweet and soft texture with enough caramelization on the exterior to provide a contrast to the soft and spicy filling. You could tell that the pork had been marinating for a long time in spices because the spices had been absorbed into the meat. If it had onions, they had been cooked well enough in the spices to render their taste non-existent. I am not naive enough to think that all pork buns will taste the same, considering that the filling will always deviate based on the recipe and cooking style, but my first experience eating a pork bun was good enough for me to seek out the “best pork bun” back home in Toronto.
When I go for dim sum I always have to get shrimp dumplings (har gow). I like that they are an interesting sticky texture with a somewhat sweet shrimp filling. I love the wrapper and I specially like how it is translucent and you can see the pink shrimps inside. On these I poured soya sauce over them, but back home I usually dip them in a spicy mustard, though on their own they are delicious.
Next, join me on my Greenwich Food Tour!