Do you know why I gave up on my PhD so prematurely? It's because innovating shit is hard. Every time you think you've come up with some pimp-ass novel idea, you go online to Google that shit, and 10 times out of 10, I bet you some butthole in Turkmenistan has already done it. I frequently found myself thinking "fuck that guy, why didn't I think of that?" What does this stupid story about one of my life's greatest failures have to do with food? Well, the French toast that they serve at Cha Chan Tang is kinda like that. For the majority of my life, I've enjoyed my French toast the traditionally defined (and already delicious) way - simply bread that's fried in an egg-laden batter. Butter, oil, bread, and eggs... that shit was pretty dope already, when suddenly, some guy halfway around the world in Hong Kong decided "shit son. All junk tastes better when peanut butter is involved!" and proceeded to go ape-shit in the kitchen and fucked some PB between some bread, fried it, and put some syrup on top. Not just any syrup... golden maltose syrup. Why is that better? Because butter. No, seriously - hell if I know - it just is.
What treasures might hide inside that golden crust of heart disease and high cholesterol?
On the exterior, this appears to be a regular piece of French toast. Sure, it looks perfectly goldened, and yeah it looks crispier than a freshly ironed shirt, but to say that it's "slightly better than that junk that you get at IHOP" would be like slapping your mother in the face. Legitimately disrespectful to how sick this dish is... also to your mother, who is probably a lovely person. But inside this crisp, oil-drenched, butter-laden, deep-fried egg on carbohydrate love train is a dark dark secret, one full of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Ooh baby. I love it when foods get all chemically sexy and jizz.
What's really good? Peanut butter. I think they actually butter the insides of the bread (in addition to the giant pat they melt on top) before applying the peanut butter, so it's got that going for it too. Actually, to be honest, I can't really tell, because basically the entire thing is a hot mess of porous bread soaked with various types of oil products. When you that small dish of maltose syrup on top... GG, shit gets intense. Like camping. Maltose syrup has somewhat of a distinct taste and is far more viscous than the standard grade-A maple you might get from a squeeze bottle - combining it with the subtle notes of savory from the egg and the sweet saltiness of the pb makes for a strange flavor profile that's as delicious as it is confusing. Let's put it this way, it's kind of similar to how you might feel if your best friend's little sister is really attractive, but at the same time looks kind of like him, so it's as creepy as it is awesome. Exactly like that.
They also have pork chop sandwiches (obligatory G.I. Joe PSA video...). Now I'm not going to talk shit about $4 sandwich that has a pork chop inside, but I wasn't exactly as impressed with this as I was with the PB French toast. In Hong Kong, they do pork cutlet sandwiches too... which at the time I wasn't so hot on. Now, thinking back, those bitches are pretty great for $2 a piece. At Cha Chan Tang, they put healthy stuff in there. Vegetables and whatnot (WTF tomatoes). I'm not really okay with that. They also use non-buttered plain white bread, which is kind of a confusing to me since they butter the crap out of everything else. Lame. At least they cut off the crust. I guess I lied, I pretty much talked shit about this sandwich for an entire paragraph - don't get it if you go.
Apparently, people in Hong Kong also know how to cook Portuguese stuff (probably from being occupied for so long. Haha owned). There's this dish on the menu called 'Portuguese chicken casserole' which, unsurprisingly, comprises of chicken, rice, and cheese. I don't really know what else really goes into this dish, but I know when it came to the table... all I could think was "holy crap, that looks like someone took a dump over some rice and reheated it in an oven with cheese." Good thing it didn't taste that way. Flavorwise, it's like a cream of chicken blend mixed with cheese that also has hints of curry. The strong taste of spices complements the smoothness of the dairy pretty well, and I really have nothing but awesome memories of this aside from the visuals. Again, this just solidifies my unified theory of "foods that look like shit taste dope."
Have you ever had fried squid with pepper and salt? No? Wow, your life up to this point must've sucked pretty badly. This is one of those dishes that's synonymous with street food in almost all of Asia. I know Taiwan has it, and I guess Hong Kong does too. I bet Koreans love this 'ish too. It's nothing complex in execution, but there's something fantastically delicious in the simplicity. The squid itself is kind of rubbery and provides that eraser-like texture I want in all of my foods. With just a hint of seafood flavor, what you're mostly tasting is breadcrumbs doped with salt and pepper. It's kinda like eating fried chicken skin (the best part), but having something elastic to chew on at the same time. I realize this all sounds pretty stupid and probably off-putting, but I assure you it's not. Cha Chan Tang's version certainly could be better (it's neither crispy nor spiced enough), but it's adequate for satiating that slight bit of nostalgia. Additional unnecessary commentary: yes, I did start scratching shortly after consumption. Kind of worth it.
tl;dr - Innovating shit is mad hard. Good job to the guy who decided to add peanut butter to French toast. Also maltose syrup instead of maple. Maple can eat a dick. Basically, go to Cha Chan Tang and get yourself some French toast and bubble tea. Dope combination is dope.
Cha Chan Tang
45 Mott Street, New York, 10013