We’ve had Chinese food on the brain–and dim sum in particular–since just before Christmas, when we covered the long-standing love affair Jews have had with Chinese food on our first Heritage Radio Network show on December 23rd. So we asked one of our favorite Manhattan Chinatown experts, Mark Bello, to take us out to one of his favorite dim sum shops.
Bello, you might recall, is the home pizza professor who we profiled in the last issue of Edible Manhattan for getting his Thanksgiving turkey done Peking Duck-style at the noodle and roast meat shop on his block. But not only does he live smack in the heart of Chinatown, he grew up eating there with his Jewish mother. (That’s him in front of that shop there to the left, as shot by our photo editor Michael Harlan Turkell.)
Instead of all those ornate dim sum palaces that get slammed on weekend mornings, Bello suggested we–the third party being Amy Thompson, the cheesemonger at the new Lucy’s Whey in Chelsea Market–hit the simply named 9 Chatham Square, one of the neighborhood’s many incredibly cheap old school dim sum diners, for breakfast early one INCREDIBLY COLD weekday morning.
But it’s totally worth it, trust us: 9 Chatham is the kind of place where you have to get there early to snag a seat, the booths are brownish red pleather, there’s a few spinning stools at the counter up front, and old men sit over paper cups of tea and (actually pretty damn good) cheap coffee for hours. You can flash back to the early years of Chinatown in the 20s and 30s, when Chinese immigration laws hadn’t let yet in women and the nabe was nearly all male.
While women very slowly come by with carts of fried shrimp rolls, rice stick rolls with shrimp or meat, fluffy steamed beef meatballs (always eaten, Mark explains, with a splash of Worchestershire sauce) and chicken feet, you have to get the buns from the steam boxes up front. 9 Chatham has one of Bello’s favorite baked pork buns, and it is stellar: a massive golden brown square that cooked to perfection so that it isn’t doughy, and filled with well-flavored meat that’s not too sticky sweet.
After our carb and protein-packed breakfast–meaning 10 a.m.–Bello took us over to his new pizza work in progress. We promised not to talk about it till given word, but we can tell you it’s gonna be cool–Bello is something of a storefront design whiz, for starters–it’s gonna revolutionize home pizza making, and it’s within walking distance of Chinatown.
Oh! That reminds us we have to fix an embarassing error in our story about Bello. We noted that his grandfather worked at a printing shop at Lafayette and Bowery, when any Manhattanite worth their Metrocard should know those two streets are parallel! D’oh! The shop was at Lafayette and Kenmare.