my week in NYC: carb overload in Chinatown

What trip to NYC would be complete without a visit to the legendary Joe’s Shanghai for their famous xiao long bao? I’ve been to Joe’s before, some 14 years ago and even back then, the XLBs were seriously decadent, especially outside of Asia.

Even though they have several locations now, I wanted to go back to the one I visited more than a decade ago on Pell Street. On this particular trip, we were joined by Michael Muñoz, a local NY blogger The Gay Gourmet, to indulge in XLBs and more.

Our goal was to get in, get out with a belly full of XLBs and then move on to something else. Our party of four ordered three baskets of XLBs — two crab and one pork. I saw Duck Webs with Celery ($5.95) on the menu and ordered that as well.

The cold appetizer arrived first and I had expected a mustard dressing with it but it was kind of bland. The Shanghainese version I’m accustomed to is tossed with a pungent hot mustard so I was disappointed it wasn’t the one from my childhood.

Nevertheless, the XLBs($4.95/8pcs) arrived shortly after — pork first — and they were larger than the usual ones we get here in OC, and definitely a lot larger than the ones from Din Tai Fung. However, the minute I bit into one, I realized that these were the authentic ones, the original ones, the ones with that richly, greasy, sinfully thick soup that us Shanghainese know as the “correct ones”.

When the crab XLBs ($6.95/8pcs) arrived, there was utter silence at our table. Everyone was focusing on how mindblowingly good these were — moreso than the pork ones — and every one of us taking great care not to break the pouch for fear of losing a drop of the precious liquid.

After eating six dumplings each, we were pretty stuffed, not because of the quantity, but because of the sheer richness of these morsels. A few sips of tea later, we walked towards A-Wah, a hole-in-the-wall known for their award-winning claypot rice, something I’m always craving for.

A-Wah is unassuming and easy to miss. We squeeze through the narrow walkway into the small room and were quickly given menus. We ordered the Chicken and Mushroom ($6.95) clay pot rice, enough for the four of us, or enough for two (who have not already eaten) to share.

We also ordered some stir fried vegetables. Preserved Tofu with Water Spinach ($10.95) was delicious, and we were craving vegetables after days of gorging.

Pea Shoots in Broth ($14.95) was also tasty, but damn expensive. I couldn’t believe how much they charged for a dish of vegetables we pay half the price for here in California.

I was so pleased with the claypot rice. The crispy rice on the bottom was ample and oh so good. It is always mind-boggling that restaurants in OC aren’t able to make this dish correctly. I was in heaven enjoying the burnt rice.

After the two restaurants, I was kicking myself because I was so full I wasn’t able to eat anything else the rest of the afternoon. I wish I could have one of those claypot rices right now.

Joe’s Shanghai
9 Pell Street
New York, NY 10013
Tel: 212-233-8888

Joe's Shanghai on Urbanspoon

A-Wah Restaurant
5 Catherine Street
New York, NY 10038
Tel: 212-925-8308

A-Wah on Urbanspoon


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