As someone who often spends every waking moment seeking out and ingesting “authentic” Chinese food—Muslim lamb chops, gui lin mei fen, Sichuan cold noodles, Shanghai xiao long bao, to name a very few—I sometimes forget where I came from. I cut my teeth on Long Island strip mall Chinese—chow fun, lo mein and General Tso’s—along with dishes with names like “happy family.” To this day I think my mother—ever the peacekeeper—ordered the stir fry of beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, and scallops mixed with vegetables just because she thought the name had some sort of magical powers. Whatever domestic strife there may have been growing up, we were mostly certainly a happy family when eating Chinese food whether dim sum, Peking duck, strip mall Chinese, or one of my favorite spots of all, the subterranean den of American-Chinese splendor that is Wo Hop.
I blame monthly visits to Wo Hop with my parents and basement Thanksgiving feasts for engendering an obsession with delicious food served in basements that would reach fruition with my forays into Flushing’s Golden Shopping Mall decades later.
“You have to get the egg rolls,” my buddy Tim said to our rowdy group of big eaters who’d convened to celebrate his birthday a month ago at Wo Hop. It’d been five years since I’d been to Wo Hop and probably another five since I had an egg roll. Wo Hop’s are gigantic and crispy, packed with mixture of shredded cabbage stuffed with pork. They’re great dipped in the accompanying duck sauce and hot mustard. I’ve learned to be careful with the latter, too much of it can be a literally breathtaking experience.
Spare ribs—meaty and sticky sweet—are another a staple of the American-Chinese canon, and no birthday dinner at Wo Hop is complete without an order. Are they the best in New York City? Probably not, that distinction goes to Nancy Lee’s Pig Heaven. Our crew of hungry dudes ordered many of the classics like shrimp in lobster sauce, the fried duck in gravy known as wor shu opp, and sweet and pungent pork with fried wontons. The latter bathed in a sickly sweet orange sauce complete with my pineapples was one of my contributions to the table. It was not my favorite.
The other dish I ordered ginger and scallion lo mein was a real winner though. The noodles were shot through with bits of ginger and snow pea pods, and bok choy. Truly a lovely dish. So lovely that I returned to Wo Hop few weeks later by myself to order it. As I was eating I noticed the design of Wo Hop’s classic black T-shirt had changed. From across the room I thought the circular design was a yin yang. As I approached the cash register I noticed that it was the Chinese zodiac sign of the Monkey. And I immediately forked over six and change for a shirt that reads “Year of The Monkey 2016. How could I not, it is my year after all.
Wo Hop, 17 Mott Street, 212-962-8617