|The special bo zai fan with Chinese sausage, minced pork, and bacon|
When visiting Manhattan’s sprawling Chinatown, we try to encourage our readers to branch out to the more exotic restaurants, which offer more interesting, regional Chinese cuisines, than your typical Cantonese noodle shop. Past favorites include the sizzling Sichuan cuisine at Old Sichuan and the unique “Spicy Big Tray Chicken” at Spicy Village.
|Three mushroom bo zai fan|
Situated right off Chatham Square, sits an unassuming shoe box-sized restaurant called A-Wah, named after its chef and owner, Wang Jian Wah.
Dining at A-Wah requires some nonverbal communication. On a recent visit, our waiter wordlessly handed us a paper copy of the menu and a pencil. He made circular motions in the air which we took to mean we should circle what we wanted and give him back the menu. It worked.
Within its 300+ item menu, A-Wah specializes in bo zai fan — steamed clay rice pots with numerous toppings. (They’re listed on the menu as “World Famous Rice in Casserole”). The best are the house special of Chinese sausage, minced pork and fatty bacon, and the “three kinds of mushrooms” (it’s unclear which kinds), which infuse the rice with a burst of mushroom flavor.
Top your bo zai fan with the slightly sweet soy sauce and minced chilis in oil that are on the table and mix. The rice that clings to the sides of the pot is deliciously charred, similar to paella’s socarrat.
|Hong Kong-style lo mein with roasted duck and soy sauce chicken|
Apart from the bo zai fan, A-Wah also has excellent Hong Kong-style lo mein, which is far different from the typical “American” version (which they also have). The noodles are thinner, close to mai fun, and come topped with your choice of roasted meats. Choose a combination of roast duck and soy sauce chicken. (We did this by circling “Your Choice of Two Kinds BBQ Lo Mein” and drawing arrows to the BBQ section).
The dish comes with a soy-based broth that you are supposed to gently dip the noodles in and NOT, as the waiter told us with unsuccessful non-verbal communication, pour it on top. (We did it anyway).
|Peking duck buns|
The massive menu also features other highlights. For starters, order the Peking duck buns with cucumbers and a tangy hoisin, or the seriously crunchy fried shrimp dumplings. Sauteed string beans are well-pared with minced pork.
Other, more unusual items, abound as well, such as a vinegary jellyfish salad, and some steamed razor clams with chopped scallions in a thin soy sauce.
For dessert, try the rice balls filled with goey black sesame — or head down the street to Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
5 Catherine Street (Off East Broadway)
Recommended dishes: Bo Zai Fan with Chinese sausage, bacon, & minced pork ($8.95) and with three kinds of mushrooms ($6.95); boiled razor clams ($12.95); jelly fish salad ($8.95); Hong Kong style lo mein ($4.95-$7.95); Peking duck buns ($2.95 for 3); pan fried shrimp and chive dumplings ($3.50 for 4)