Elegy for a Chinatown Coffeehouse

The people have spoken!
The people have spoken!Photo: New York Times

We have to admit that we saw news of the Meh Lai Wah Coffee House’s closing with a kind of frigid indifference. Another Chinatown bun shop we’ve never been to shutters; who cares? But now, after reading Eric Asimov’s eloquent post at the Pour, we see the folly of our way. For Asimov, the closing of Meh Lai Wah is a huge loss, a place of irreplaceable character and personality that also happened to have pork buns that were “glossy and pliable, with a savory, slightly sweet filling, and you could get three for $2.” The brand-new, Philippe Starck–designed cafés and lounges can stand up to any amount of Health Department attention, but it’s the small, ancient niches — the Meh Lai Wahs, the Di Faras, the Eisenbergs — that actually contain the city’s vestigial soul. The Health Department, in its way, is as dangerous to New York as inflation and far more so than any stray microbe that might be floating around the kitchen at Veniero’s. Such draconian precautions make it hardly even worthwhile to be healthy. Kudos to Eric Asimov for his stirring defense of dirt, character, and char siu bao.

Farewell, My Love Pork Buns [Pour/NYT]