Saturday, December 09, 2006

My Chinatown ... Discovered

I spent this rainy day in San Francisco's Chinatown. I rarely get to this classic, urban Chinatown because when you live in the Bay Area, you can get your Chinese product fixes anywhere in the city and surrounding areas. From the many shops in "new Chinatown" on Clement Street to all the megastores like Ranch 99 in the various suburban cities.

But since I was doing my Christmas shopping at Union Square (woo-hoo, all done!), I thought I'd head up north to my Chinatown.

Maneuvering through the swarms of people on Stockton Street, I picked up a few groceries at the fresh produce stores. Chinatown is a great place to pick up fresh vegetables that are cheap! And they have a lot of Asian vegetables such as gai lan and bok choy that I rarely get at my Safeway because it's usually not the best quality. But in Chinatown, you get farmer fresh produce. My only complaint as the Single Guy Chef is that you sometimes have to buy the vegetables in those prepackaged packs that's almost like shopping at Costco.

For lunch, I was dying for a good bowl of noodles. When it's cold, nothing hits the spot like a bowl of hot noodles. Now, there are tons of little noodle shops spotting along Stockton Street (the locals' Chinatown) and side streets. But the thing about eating at Chinese restaurants is that you can't really tell which ones are good unless you get a good recommendation.

That's why when I hit Chinatown, I head for Hing Lung Restaurant, a noodle shop and roastery at 674 Broadway (just a few yards from Gold Mountain, which is popular for its dim sum).

My mom and I discovered this place several years ago and I always go there for a quick lunch. It can sometimes have long lines of people waiting, but the service is fast so you don't have to wait too long.

When you go in by yourself, be prepared to be seated with strangers, kind of like a working man's version of Town Hall's communal table.

I ordered a big bowl of roasted duck won ton noodles--hot thin soup noodles with roasted duck and dumplings. The noodles are just right for me, thin like angel hair but with an al dente consistency that makes them so yummy. And the roast duck (while the skin was not really crispy sitting in the soup) had the right deep flavors of Chinese all-spice.

Hing Lung is also popular for some of its fried noodle dishes and chow fun. But for me, it's a great noodle shop. And it looks like over the years, the word has gotten out because today the restaurant was filled with a mix of people of many races enjoying themselves. This probably explains why it seems like Hing Lung has increased its prices by about $2 for everything. I paid $6 for my noodles while you can go around the corner and get a similar bowl at Yee's Restaurant on Grant for only $4.50. Still, you can't beat the brightly lit and piping hot food of Hing Lung.

On my way back to Market Street, I walked along Grant and saw a line outside Golden Gate Bakery (1029 Grant Ave.). This bakery has been popular in recent years, surpassing the once popular Eastern Bakery a few blocks south on Grant.

Golden Gate makes traditional Chinese pastries with several Americanized baked goods like chiffon cakes and Napoleans. I decided to pick up a snack for later, and stood in line. (Again, the word is out because there were several non-Chinese people in line. My Chinatown has been discovered!) I ended up getting a lo-poh bang, which translated means Wife's Cake. It's typically eaten as a wedding cake. It's traditionally made with a melon paste and I love the subtle sweetness. (Kind of ironic, huh, for the Single Guy Chef to love eating wedding cakes? :) ) If you ever think about trying it, it's listed at Golden Gate Bakery as a Melon Cake instead of the traditional name of Wedding Cakes.

With my wedding/melon cake in hand, I headed back home. One day I'm going to return to Chinatown and try to discover some unknown gems. For now I guess I'll share. :)

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