Doron Wong, executive chef of NYC’s Yunnan Kitchen and the new restaurant Northern Tiger within the Hudson Eats food court, recently returned from a research trip to the Yunnan Province and Beijing in China. The whirlwind trip lasted just two-and-a-half days. In between eating, he wandered around market places, cookbook stores, and even had a Mian Shi (dumpling/noodle/flour) master teach him some new tricks. The trip inspired two new items on Northern Tiger’s menu: The aromatic beef with Anaheim pepper, vidalia onions, and cilantro that gets served on house-made shao bing—a traditional flaky bread that’s similar to a scallion pancake—and the cold eggplant with sesame dressing, a very authentic to Northern Chinese dish. At Yunnan Kitchen, he’s now introduced a traditional Yunnan mushroom hotpot, too. Here, he shares other highlights of the trip.
1. Eating at the Open-Air Markets
“My favorite part of my trip to China was walking through an open-air market in the Chaoyang neighborhood. A lot of these types of markets are starting to shutdown. This one was just off a main road past a crumbling brick wall in a large courtyard. What really struck me was the strong colors and quality of the produce. Surprisingly, a lot of what was there is also available in NY markets and groceries. Some things that we might think of as unique here, like sunchokes, are prevalent in Chinese cooking. We called one vendor the ‘Micro Greens Lady’ because she had the most beautiful tat soi (or Shanghai bok choy), which we see a lot more of in the U.S. Hers were ‘under grown,’ which theoretically concentrates the flavor of the vegetable and is also less fibrous. It was really revelatory to see how similar the farmers market aspect was over there as it is here. It’s how we approach our food at Yunnan Kitchen—that kind of idea of how would someone from this province in China cook when transplanted to NYC?”
2. Madame Zhu’s
“This is a Sichuanese restaurant where you see the younger Chinese generation representing their cuisine in a fresh way and at a high level of execution. It’s so exciting to see that happening there, as it is happening simultaneously in NYC. Madame Zhu’s is in the basement of an office building, with lots of white brick and plants and artwork. Their rice cakes blew me away—lightly stir fried with spinach and mushrooms. It was so simple, subtle, and well executed. We also had a classic dish of chilled pork belly thinly sliced with tons of chili, red oil, and garlic that was delicate, rich, and crazy flavorful.”
B1/F, Bldg D, Vantone Center A6 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie Chaoyang district, +86 10 5907 1625
3. Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu
“This is a slightly gimmicky dumpling house that locals love. You enter through a dark, narrow hallway into a fake garden area where the dining rooms are decorated with stone, wooden tables, and plastic flowers. They have hundreds of different dumplings with fillings like cucumber and egg or lamb and carrots. Heads of garlic are on the table for you to peel and eat with the dumplings. However, the dish to get here is their shui zhu yu, which is water boiled fish. This dish consists of thin slices of fish in a pot of pure hot oil and chilies and tons of green Sichuan peppercorns. It’s amazing—these delicate, soft pieces of fish have soaked in this incredible clean chili flavor that result in a numbing sensation from the peppercorns. It’s such a fully sensory dish and absolutely addictive.”
6 Maizidian Jie, Chaoyang district, +86 10 6586 4698
4. Din Tai Feng
“You kind of have to mention Din Tai Feng, a chain restaurant. I don’t even eat soup dumplings here in the U.S., I just hold out until I go to a Din Tai Feng in Asia. My next trip is Shanghai at the end of the year and I’m already dreaming of the thin multitude of dumpling folds. Dessert there is often overlooked, but I highly recommend their almond tofu over shaved ice with condensed milk.”
Shanghai Center, No. 1376, Nanjing West Rd., Portman Branch, +86-21 6289 9182, dintaifung.com.tw
Doron in the open-air market.
“Wangfujing is a giant pedestrian mall with a row of street snacks and cheap eats. The hawker stalls sell fried buns and noodles, quivering savory soymilk and even toast with fried ice cream. It’s fascinating to see the mix of traditional street foods with novel dishes and the influence from the West. A very classic street food is shao kao, typically grilled skewers like lamb dusted with cumin spices, and squid dipped in soy. They even have fried starfish. I’m pretty sure things like fried starfish are there for shock value, but I decided to try a skewer of scorpions, which decidedly taste like potato chips. Very sharp potato chips.”
Wangfujing Street starts with East Chang’an Avenue in the south and ends with China Art Gallery in the north. It is in the Dongcheng District of Beijing
6. Lu Rou Huo Shao
“This no-frills shop in Beijing specializes in slow-cooked donkey meat sandwiched in a Chinese laminated dough called shao bing [pictured above]. The bread is super thin and crispy with soft, delicate layers. The donkey meat is chopped with peppers and cilantro and surprisingly served cold. You have to eat it with a simple egg drop soup, which melts the gelatin in the meat as you eat it. The experience was so memorable, like nothing I’ve had in America.”
Hepingli Zhonglu, next to Wushan Roast Fish in the Dongcheng district
7. Xiangcao Xiangcao
“I was traveling with my restaurant owner and chef de cuisine and we actually almost poisoned ourselves here. Like any other hotpot, you choose what type of soup base you want like spicy or medicinal. The difference here is that there is one chamber with a special variety of mushrooms that cook down for a highly concentrated mushroom stock. The catch is you have to wait a certain amount of time before tasting it so the toxins will cook out. We didn’t know that and our server forgot to set the timer. Despite this mishap, we still love mushroom hotpots and are offering some large-format specials on our menu that include a mushroom hotpot with a variety of shao kao.
Floor 2, Fuxing International Center, 237 Chaoyang North Road, Chaoyang district, +86 10 6585 1976
8. Dumpling Lessons with certified Mian Shi Master, Master Hu
“Lessons began every day at 8a.m. making dumpling skins, shao bing, and a variety of pancakes with Master Hu, who is one of few certified Mian Shi masters. She could roll out three perfectly round and even dumpling skins at a time while we slowly worked on one. She also taught us how to make the Beijing zha jiang mien sauce so we can bring back the authentic flavors to serve alongside our dumplings at Northern Tiger.”