Yesterday I had the pleasure of being invited along on one of SF Weekly critic Jonathan Kauffman's many stops through Chinatown. Kauffman is a man with a mission: For a relatively new blog series for SFoodie called "Rice Plate Journal," he's tackling Chinatown's hole-in-the-walls one by one, revealing the mystery within. I love this kind of thing.
I used to work a few blocks from Chinatown during my days at cookbook publisher Weldon Owen back in the mid 90's. I fondly recall the discoveries I made doing just what Kauffman is doing now (though not half as efficiently). I used to spend my lunch hours wandering around and just ducking into any place that seemed busy.
If you haven't been to Chinatown for a while, rest asurred that it still teems with life—and I don't just mean the tourists staring in both horror and intrigue at the glossy, burnished, tongueless, whole-roasted ducks hanging by their necks in the windows of delis. (The tongues are used for things like duck tongue salad with XO sauce—why waste a good thing?)
In some ways, it seems as if nothing's changed since I was hanging out there 15 years ago. If you take the wrong step you can still run into a whole pig being hoisted into a butcher shop. Little grandmas everywhere will still elbow you out of the way to get at the best eggplant or bittermelon or water chestnuts. It's the land of pink plastic bags.
Kauffman and I sat down to Vietnamese My Canh yesterday and you can read his report here. I don't feel like he's hit Chinatown gold yet, but I tipped him off to a few places he has to try. Golden Flower and Golden Star for Vietnamese and an old favorite of mine New Hong Kong Menu tucked away on Commercial Street. I haven't been there for ages, but it used to be my absolute favorite. I'd sit down at the communal round table, get out a book to read (I specifically remember relishing this one), and order the rich "special soup" afloat with lettuce and noodles followed by dessert of cold coconut milk with tapioca. If the Kauffman makes it there, I'll definitely want to go with him. And if I do, I'll make sure to report back.