January 2020 marked the time when I first heard about the Coronavirus. Reading about a normal day in the Wuhan market gone totally wrong filled me with dread. I wondered what was to come for the rest of the world. It wasn’t just about the quarantining or walking around everywhere with a mask on. I knew this would mean that Sinophobia (and relative Anti-Asian sentiments) would rear its ugly head. It did. In some of the most disgusting ways possible. Street harassment, graffiti with racial slurs, and microaggressions against many Asian groups increased dramatically. The more the media made coverage on the virus the more aggression increased.
Chinatowns nationally became desolate, NYC’s Manhattan Chinatown is no exception. What was once crowded and lively with hustle-and-bustle became unusually deserted. Only a few lone masked figures here and there sweeping the area around Canal Street like phantom tumbleweeds. This lack of traffic made all businesses in the area take a serious hit.
Many food establishments in Chinatown are cash-only places that don’t use food delivery apps. This enables them to keep food prices low, which under normal circumstances would attract more customers. Unfortunately, a mix of Sinophobia and generally decreased budgets for eating out hit hard. The Coronavirus epidemic has caused many of these businesses to compromise their hours and workforce.
If you are able to show some support for some of these businesses, here are four of some of my personal favorite places to grab some grub from:
- Wah Fung No.1 Fast Food
I once believed that I could be a pescatarian because most meat-based dishes had never really stood out to me as anything special. I use the past tense because Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food came into my life one fateful day in my sophomore year of high school. A bite of their pork belly had me laughing at the very idea of never eating meat again.
Wah Fung is not a sit-down establishment. You look at the succulent meats hanging in the window, you look at the menu, and you tell the butchers what you want. You can order meat by the pound, or you can choose up to three types of meat in a container and have it over your choice of rice, noodles, or vegetables in either a “small” or large size.
No matter what you order, you will not be disappointed. To get the most delicious bang for your buck, I recommend getting the large “pork” (char siu aka bbq pork), “pig” (pork belly), and duck over rice. Normally I’m more of a noodle fan (and their noodles are good), but the rice absorbs the juices of the meats better (and the rice boxes are cheaper). Ask for the ginger sauce on top.
Wah Fung is no Mickey D’s, which is why it really is some No. 1 fast food.
- S Wan Cafe
Cozily situated near a flower shop on Eldridge Street, this place serves a variety of Hong Kong fare. They serve all-day breakfast combos at inexpensive prices without compromising flavor. They also have snacky fare such as curry fishballs. Many customers enjoy their authentic HK style milk tea, distinguishable by a bold, creamy, sweet taste.
S Wan opens early but also closes relatively early (their hours normally run from 8 AM-5 PM) especially when considering the hours of NYC’s restaurant culture. On particularly frigid, unforgiving winter afternoons where I had no after school activities, my frozen body and heart would thaw with a steamy cup of hot savory congee. I was always grateful that they never skimped on the preserved egg, something some other places selling congee were prone to doing.
While S Wan serves a mean congee, and while those breakfast combos are a good deal, an underrated dish that’s a real steal is their eel over rice. You get a large piece of it with some chopped takuan (chopped yellow radish) and sticky white rice for under $10.
- Chinatown Ice Cream Factory
Flavors such as “Pandan” and “Ube” are categorized under “regular flavors” whereas “chocolate” and “vanilla” are categorized under “exotic flavors” here. The irony causes many customers to snap pics of the flavor boards. Regardless of what your sweet tooth prefers, this ice cream shop has something for everyone.
The Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is a family-owned business, with its current owners being the second-generation. It has served its customers for nearly forty years. With four decades and three locations, it’s a scoop you should let yourself in on.
If you’re not familiarized with flavors such as durian or ginger but still want to try something semi-novel, I’d encourage you to get a cone with “Zen Butter,” a peanut buttery ice cream infused with sesame. It has a rich, roasted flavor that hits the spot on a hot day.
- Kam Hing Coffee Shop
It’s discreetly hidden and easy to miss, but this place is something you shouldn’t walk past without coming in. Hands down, it has the best sponge cake you will ever eat. And unlike neighboring bakeries, Kam Hing makes their sponge cakes in several flavors. The varieties change daily, so try their original first and then come back often to try them all.
The sponge cakes are very inexpensive, too: at just 70 cents a pop, they’re a steal. It pairs well with a steaming cup of milky coffee or a cold tall Thai ice tea. And while their sponge cakes are their specialty, their other fare is also delicious. (I personally would recommend their curry fishballs.)
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