Saturday, March 7, 2009

Hua Ji Pork Chop is indeed fast... but is it good?

Hua Ji storefront

Friday night, I open my minifridge to prepare dinner, and what do I find? Nothing. That's the problem... I had no more ingredients (for someone who likes to find cheap eats, I do a lot of cooking), but I digress, no cabbage, no bean sprouts, hell, I was down to 3 bags of ground tenderloin... am I supposed to just eat pork and rice?!? No, desperate times call for desperate measures... I was going to make a special trip to Chinatown. Okay, so maybe I just wanted to go to Chinatown, can you really blame me? The food is ridiculously good there, and oh so cheap, plus I could get my more 'exotic' grocery shopping done as well.

I had originally planned on going with some friends to Hua Ji (華記), since I knew their pork chop over rice combo was of ridiculous proportions, and splitting the rice while getting extra chops, but alas... everyone bailed on me, either citing the fact that they had to study, or that they didn't want to wake up early... weak. Anyway, first thing in the morning, I get up, go to the gym, forgetting that I had planned on running there, and doing a good half hour of stairs and lifting before I remembered, so I quickly stopped and got ready to leave. The run downtown was gorgeous on Saturday, high 60's weather (after about a week of midteens), virtually no wind, no overcast, basically perfect running conditions. I travelled light, with just my camera bag holding my camera, my id, a metrocard, and $30 bound together with a rubberband (ha, in retrospect I probably should've brought more money), but yeah... 10 am leave, 10:45 arrival on Canal Street... pretty good time for me on a 10k (or is it 11k?).

First thing I had to take care of was the groceries, which looking back, I should've handled after lunch. I'll explain why later. Onto the corner of Elizabeth and Hester I went looking... for Hong Kong Supermarket (there are a few in Chinatown, and I've been to the one on East Broadway, so I figured I'd go to a different one). Go inside, and handle the grocery business... 8 pound head of napa, check... some greens (油菜, literally 'oil vegetable') for stir frying, check... add to that list beef tendon, cured tofu, pork chops, eggplant, and panko bread crumbs and I was done. Paid the $14 dollars (wicked cheap right?) and I was on my way to lunch. Now, why I should've reversed the order of events should be obvious. Listen, I don't care how jacked you think you are, 8 pounds of cabbage is heavy when you're walking in Chinatown, with another solid 5 pounds of assorted other groceries, your hands will get tired. I learned my lesson and will plan accordingly in the future, I hope haha.

Hua Ji menu

After walking a solid half mile across Chinatown to Allen Street, I finally get to my 'Mecca,' a hole in the wall place that is no larger than my dorm room that serves Taiwanese style pork chops. As I walked into the shop, again... my authenticity meter peaked. Sitting to the right, along a thin strip of counter with only 5 stools were two old Chinese men speaking in Taiwanese, gawking at a small TV overhead while enjoying their lunches (I think they both got the pasta dishes which are inappropriately named 意粉). What were they watching? Hakka news of course! Haha, it was like I died and ended up back in Taipei, this shop was legit for sure. Looking at the menu, even though I knew exactly what I was there for, I found it short and simple... pretty much chicken/pork over rice or noodles (yeah they have beef noodles and dumplings, but come on... it's called pork chop king in Chinese). I ask for the regular pork chop over rice (豬排飯) and within 30 seconds, the woman in the back produced a takeout container with my order, steaming hot.

Pork chop over rice

I'd like to point out that I did tag this post with 'friend.' Why? Because the first thing she said was, "The box is too full, I can't close it... can you eat some here before leaving?" When I responded that, that was my intention, a huge smile beamed on her face, as she told me "Oh, why didn't you say so? I would've given you more!" Chinatown hospitality is pretty amazing sometimes. So back to the food, the standard order for $4.50 will net you the giant box of rice and pickled vegetables (酸菜) with a crispy fresh pork chop, as well as a cup of soup (I think it was pork broth, since I found bits of meat and gelatinized marrow, containing some red dates and other things I'm clueless about). This was a meal to be reckoned with, I was planning on splitting it originally and felt slightly intimidated, but hey, I just did 300 flights of stairs, lifted, ran 6+ miles, and carried groceries all around Chinatown... I was hungry damnit!

How was the food? Let's just say it was as good as any pork chop I've had in Taipei. The meat was piping hot, juicy, and had a nice crispy skin (check the cross section, you can see the oil glistening in the artificial lighting, and the thin layer of breadcrumb fat). The meat to bone ratio was terrific, and best of all it didn't really cling, so there was little wasted. The soy sauce blend that they pour on top was just as I remembered... sweet and tangy, just a complement to the pork's natural fats, and the saturated transfats that it was fried in. Oh, and maybe the best part... the pickled vegetables... I really could've just eaten the rice with the veggies alone haha. To sum up in one word... amazing. To top it off, I finally can end my search for that take out container for repeated use since this one is both massive and sturdy (har har, yeah... I'm sure that's what she said). The soup was a nice complement, nothing special, but it didn't have to be. It was meant to be subtle, and was good to have as a means to cleanse the oil from your lips (except not really, since it was pretty heavy as well). In any case, I finished my pork chop, but only maybe 1/4 of the rice... so I asked the woman if I could have some more preserved vegetables, which, of course, she obliged to... proclaiming that, "The 酸菜 is free! Have as much as you want!" After downing some more rice, I decided to just pack it in and bring the rest home for cooking dinner (I was defeated by the massive platter).

Chinese popcorn chicken

Before I left, I remembered that Wayne mentioned he wanted fried chicken... completely unrelated, but whatever. In any case, there's a dish in Taiwan that is traditionally street food called 'salt crispy chicken' (鹽酥雞) that I saw on the menu. Figured since their pork chops were delicious, that anything from that that's fried in the same oil must be delicious as well. Got an order for $2.50 (not nearly as much a steal) and headed back with bags a plenty in tow. I didn't have any, but Wayne said that they were pretty good. I'll take his word for it. Final verdict? I'd go again... and again... and again, and then maybe in between I'll try 'Excellent Pork Chop House' and compare the two, but this is definitely a place I would revisit whenever I'm in the area (and that's knowing that Super Taste and Sheng Wang are right around the corner).


Terri Mayson said...

Very good post. Very nice blog

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oh snap. I can control the text here?