HAKKA ON BROADWAY - LAMENT
It is a very great loss.
[Mon Kiang was just below Stockton, opposite where Hing Lung is now, next to a place which sold dimsum to go. At that time it was far better than any other restaurant on Broadway between Columbus and Powell. Even the Golden Key, and most certainly that famous restaurant that all the white folks love - you know the one I mean.]
I particularly remember several delightful dishes that this Hakka institution used to feature - wine lees chicken, salty fried fatty pork, red fermented bean curd pork belly, salt-baked chicken, and pork-fat noodles, as well as for a while an absolutely stellar stuffed beancurd.
The odd thing is I started eating there before I spoke Chinese. Well, other than the standard mis-pronounced "ni hao" (howdy), "wo hsi-wang la de" (I like spicy), "hsieh hsieh ni" (thanks), and "tsai lai yi wan" (another bowl, please). None of which they understood.
I may have previously mentioned my ghastly accent in Chinese? In that day and age it was far far worse, even in textbook Mandarin (which I will still not admit to speaking, seeing as my pronunciation remains pretty darn futile).
[I could already write quite a bit, but there were (and still are) many characters that I knew the meaning of, but not the sound. Not all phonetic elements hold true, some aren't even close.]
I really wish I had been able to speak Cantonese then like I do now - I would've been able to ask them about their food, rather than merely guessing what they did, with what ingredients, and how.
I particularly miss their "plum vegetable knock meat" - 梅菜扣肉 (mui tsoi kau yiuk).
Unlike the ghastly rendition at so many Cantonese establishments, where the gravy is gloopy and murky, their version was juicy, tender, nicely sauced.......
I've been imitating it ever since.
Pork belly really needs to be treated carefully - the flesh should be melting, but the fat jellified rather than greasy in texture. Just the merest surface tension to the layers of yellow fat between the succulent meat. And the mui tsoi (梅菜 = actually salt-preserved Tientsin cabbage, used to accompany rich meats as a condimental ingredient) needs to be both rinsed and parched for optimum flavour. Rice wine is also an essential component to the dish.
All of these things come together best if the fat has not been allowed to pool, which is where pre-gilding and sealing the hunk of flesh comes in.
[I make a mean Tung Po Yiuk (東坡肉), by the way. Black mushrooms, scallion, ginger, sherry, and a touch of soy sauce - sealed claypot, very low heat. The same idea yields a superior pot-roast.]
I once ate at Mon Kiang with Manindra and Jones - they loved the place!
Even though they came from entirely different food backgrounds, the food was that good. They loved the fatty pork. They loved the chicken. They loved the mustard greens. The shrimp! The fried crunchy whatever the heck that was. They loved the preserved vegetable soup!
There was more love that evening than at a Valentine's orgy.
We ate and ate for over an hour.
We were younger then.
It was one of the few times I've been giddy on food alone.
The essence of Hakka cuisine (客家菜) is making the most out of fairly pedestrian ingredients by judicious use of flavourings like nam-yu (red-fermented beancurd), mui tsoi, chili peppers, wine lees, and even fresh herbs. But largely the entire spectrum of Chinese salt-cured and preserved ingredients.
Plus pigs-trotters and pork belly.
It's hearty, yet not unrefined. Good honest food, prepared in appetizing ways.
A bit salty at times....... as is suitable for hardworking folks with gusto.
Just have some more rice and hotsauce to balance the food.
They changed years ago. More than many restaurants, the old Mon Kiang is a restaurant I truly miss. Broadway is much the poorer for their departure.
[The restaurant that is in that location now goes by the same English name, but the Chinese name is something else entirely: 住家食方 (jiu-ga sik-fong) - "residential food place". They deal in take-out dishes at the lower end of the scale, and have nothing on the menu that even remotely qualifies as Hakka food. The term 食方 (sik-fong) does not have connotations of civilized eating, being a rather casual and slangy term. 'Diner' is probably the closest approximate in English.]
We need another Hakka restaurant in Chinatown, dammit!
There's apparently a Hakka place out in the avenues. Cabrillo at forty-fifth.
It's supposed to be good.
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