A Walk to Chinatown (Lunch at Sheng Wang)

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I recently read an interview with my favorite food writer, Calvin Trillin, in which he said that when guests come to town, he walks them from Greenwich Village (where he lives) to Chinatown. Since I live in Greenwich Village, and since Saturday was beautiful and Craig was busy editing, I decided to follow Trillin’s lead and to walk to Chinatown myself. Granted, I had a leg up on the Trillin walk to Chinatown because once, as part of The New Yorker Festival, I attended Calvin Trillin’s “Come Hungry” tour (an event that sells out faster than you can blink) in which he leads hungry New Yorker readers on a walk from–you guessed it–Greenwich Village to Chinatown. So this was a walk I felt confident taking.

it’s been four years since the “Come Hungry” tour (that was in 2006), but I did remember one key element of the experience: many of Chinatown’s best bites are found under the Manhattan Bridge. So as I began my walk, I made that my destination (that’s what you see in the lead photo.)

Here’s some pictures I took along the way (this post is partially inspired by the post I did last week about Central Park that you seemed to enjoy):

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I have no idea what these are (they’re from the place that sells fish). Any ideas?

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Of course, you can’t miss the barrel full of frogs!

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Eels!

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Here it is, the Manhattan Bridge:

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Let’s make a right on Eldridge Street, right off Canal:

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Actually, before I left, I’d printed out this guide from Fatty Crab chef Zak Pelaccio on his favorite places to eat in Chinatown. One of those places was Sheng Wang:

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I took a look within to check it out:

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It looked good to me, so in I went.

This is the menu:

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And the menu on the wall:

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I took Chef Pelaccio’s advice and ordered the hand-pulled noodles with oxtail. The waitress, who only spoke a little English, saw where I pointed on the menu and repeated the word “oxtail” not because she was trying to remember my order, but because she wanted to learn how to say it in English. It was very sweet.

Here it is, hot from the kitchen:

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After such a brisk walk, this was very comforting, indeed. Chef Pelaccio suggests dressing it with lots of soy sauce, chili sauce, and fish sauce. The waitress brought the following and I put them all to work immediately:

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Here’s the chili oil up close:

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And here’s a condiment I couldn’t identify (fermented greens of some kind?):

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It added a great, pungent flavor to the proceeding.

Here’s my soup one more time, with the hand-pulled noodles lifted out so you can examine them:

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While I happily slurped, the waitress and another waitress began making dumplings at the table next to me:

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After I finished eating and I paid ($6.50 total with a bottle of water), I continued my walk and ended up at a bakery at the back of a mini-mall:

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Look at all these treats:

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I settled on one that Chef Pelaccio also recommended (though at a different bakery); an egg tart with a creme brulee top:

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This was very well made, though it did sort of taste like sweetened scrambled eggs. I went with that and enjoyed it.

After that I continued walking (ultimately, I’d walk across the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn, but I’ll save that story for my newsletter (sign up here!)) and saw a durian (it didn’t smell bad):

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Pork Fu and Pork Sung (what are they?):

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Kohlrabi and Daikon Radish:

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Bok Choy:

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What’s this?

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Persimmons!

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You wouldn’t believe the crowds of people gathered underneath the Manhattan Bridge (where I saw all this) lining up for produce. I’d never seen anything like it (and, yes, I’ve been to the Union Square Farmer’s Market on a Saturday.)

All in all, I hope to make a habit of walking to Chinatown from Greenwich Village. My real goal is to uncover hole-in-the-wall places on my own (without deferring, as I often do, to experts.) So though I’d like your suggestions for where to walk to next in Chinatown, don’t tell me! Part of the fun of going, I’ve discovered, is discovering new places to eat on your own.

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