[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="263" caption="Exit/entrance from the C train at Canal St. "]
Being crazy about food and ethnic food experiences in particular will lead you to do some weird things.
Things like running through two feet of snow the day after a Christmas blizzard and dealing with subways that look like this to get to Chinatown (Manhattan, not Queens).
I met up with my friend and former colleague Fong Wa (heretofore known as FDubs), who has known me since even before Mouth of the Border. FDubs recommended that we get together for some congee for lunch and then run around to pick up as many egg tarts as we could carry for a taste test at her apartment.
I'll never pass up an opportunity to eat an ethnic food with someone from that culture. Since Fong Wa is Chinese herself, I knew going out for congee and egg tarts would just be more fun than if I went on my own or with people from outside of that culture.
I can research egg tarts to my heart's content (and I did), but having someone who can run into a bakery and ask if they are out of "dan tat," in Chinese is just so much more rad. Also, you learn more about food by sitting down and eating with someone than you can in a book.
Before we went scouting for the best egg tart in Chinatown, we got away from the giant snowbanks and cold weather to warm up over a hot meal. We went to FDubs go-to spot for congee, Noodle Village at 13 Mott St. (212-233-0788). They have 21 varieties of congee on the menu including some intriguing ones such as mustard green and pumpkin and sweet corn and dried mushroom.
Congee is a most excellent rice porridge that Chinese folks enjoy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A little birdie also told me that congee's restorative, soothing powers make it an A+ hangover cure, too.
The texture is similar to oatmeal or slightly more soupy grits. You should read this great post
on congee in NYC - can't wait to try that place next.
FDubs prefers a more traditional dish of congee with dried scallop, so we got a bowl of that one. I also ordered congee with oysters, pork and black egg.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="This is my serious face. I'm trying not to mess up the congee."]
Fun fact: The slow-cooking method breaks down and release the starches in the rice to give congee it's smooth mouthfeel. However, if you stir it too much or otherwise mess with it, you'll break up those starches and it will get watery. Womp womp. Take spoonfuls from the outside of the bowl, and don't stir it up.
Everything was delicious (including the deep fried fish skin I tried based on Foodspotting's
recommendation). I look forward to going back and eating more congee.
But let's talk about the egg tarts! The concept of "dessert" doesn't really exist in Chinese cuisine and culture, so you can't really classify these tasty little custard pies as such. They are a breakfast or a snack; a little nibble you would find on the carts when you sat down to dim sum.
Because we are crazy, right after we finished our congee we bundled back up and hit up 11 bakeries in about 30 minutes, demanding dan tat at each counter. Three of them were out, but we were victorious in securing tarts from eight different places for comparison.
Here are the bakeries we scored egg tarts at:
1) M & W Bakery
25 E Broadway
New York, NY 10002
No Phone listed
2) Ka Wah Bakery
9 Eldridge Street
New York, NY 10002
3) Lucky King Bakery
280 Grand St
4) Natalie Bakery
271 Grand St, New York, NY 10002
5) Double Crispy Bakery (Macau style tarts)
239 Grand St.
6) Hon Cafe (and egg white tart)
70 Mott St.
7) Dragon Cafe
125 Walker St.
8) KW Bakery
No idea where this one is, which is sad because it was definitely third on our ranking of top tarts.
After grabbing up the tarts, we brought them all back to FDubs apartment, then set about eating and judging them.
We judged each tart on a scale of 1-5 based on the below criteria:
- Taste/flavor - egg tart should be sweet and eggy, but not overly sweet.
- Color - custard should be happy yellow, not totally burnt or neon bright.
- Crust - crust should be delicately flaky and substantial but not overwhelming.
Before this day, I had enjoyed congee but had never had an egg tart. Now I feel I know how to identify a superior specimen.
In the end, the clear winner was Hon Cafe's egg tart (we sampled both the regular egg tart there and an egg white tart - the winner was the regular tart). Hon Cafe turns out custard with a beautiful yellow hue that's smooth and sweet.
What really made this dan tat tops in the competition was its crust. While there were a few good crusts in the bunch, Hon Cafe's crust was not just substantial and flaky, but it was also just a tad savory. Just an alchemical amount of SOMETHING made that crust a perfect hug to the creamy custard within. ALL WIN, my friends. ALL WIN.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="375" caption="Remains of the Day"]
Listen, I know you're all anxious to hear about what went down with the Russians last week
. So stayed tuned next Thursday for more delish dishing on that excursion!
- In the meantime, tell me: Have you done anything crazy in the name of food lately? Share in the comments, on Twitter or on our Facebook page!
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