Okay, so we razzed Anthony Bourdain for seemingly shunning the “phantom menu” that China 1’s Chris Cheung mentioned at Hop Kee, but it looks like we owe him an apology — according to his blog post about tonight’s eagerly awaited “Disappearing New York” show, Tony did hang in there to eat the good stuff. Indeed Cheung tells us they spent a few hours at the Kee. In case all that doesn’t make it into tonight’s episode, we asked Cheung, who grew up in Chinatown and has been going to Hop Kee for 30 years, what to order if you’re not going the nostalgic MSG route.
Cheung says he has always gone with the pan-fried fluke, the salt-and-pepper squid, the Peking-style pork chops, and the spring chicken. So what about this “phantom menu”? According to Cheung, certain dishes are made in both a Cantonese style and an American style. For instance, you should order the crab “dry” if you want it authentically slathered in ground pork mixed with crab eggs and seasoning instead of with a corn-starch sauce.
“There are classic dishes that a lot of Chinese restaurants make that aren’t really available to a Westerner,” he says. “There isn’t even an American word for egg don yuk beng.” It’s a dish of pork chopped from the loin or near the shoulder, fried, finished off in the steamer, and mixed with hundred-year eggs. “Salted fish tends to scare people away,” Cheung says. “It’s preserved fish on a salt curer. The strong odors are the same ones you get from fish sauce.”
Among Cheung’s other favorite dishes are the som bo faan (“three-treasure rice”) at Yuen Yuen (61 Bayard Street, near Mott), the barbecue at Big Wong (Cheung says Dai Wong, as it’s pronounced, has the “best barbecue in Chinatown,” and our Everything Guide to Chinatown agrees), and, until it closed recently, New Southwind’s pork-chop rice.
As for why Cheung didn’t take Bourdain to Wo Hop, given its rock-and-roll rep, he insists, unsurprisingly, that the food is significantly better at Hop Kee. “Wo Hop is frequented by people who’ve never eaten in Chinatown before 2 a.m.” But Wo Hop does have this going for it: “They make a better atmosphere for rowdy drunk people.”