Here it is again, another rare 4-apple review! This time the title is bestowed upon an unassuming greasy spoon that is not only a hole-in-the-wall, but an underground one at that – one of my favorite Chinatown joints, Hop Kee. Yes, there are “We ate here” photos on the wall featuring Anthony Bourdain and Bill Cosby, but I was a customer way before these famous dudes! What kept me coming back? It’s that finger-lickin’ dish above. But first you’ve got to know how to order…
The first clue is that there are two sets of menus. Yes, it’s a bit old school, but they’ve got the real menu and the “Authentic Chinese Dishes” menu. Which menu you get will depend on how the waitstaff sizes you up. It seems like they can’t quite figure me out, as I get both menus, plus tea AND icewater (a drink reserved for those deemed “amateurs”), PLUS crispy noodles (also reserved for amateurs) AND the off-the-menu free soup reserved for pros. They probably figure they’ll throw everything at me and watch carefully to see if I’m a tourist or not.
Anyway. Back to the ordering. I always order two dishes here. The first is the Crabs Cantonese style:
Cooked with bits of pork, garlic, ginger and scallions in a briny sauce, the crabs sell out quickly – if you arrive too late, you’re out of luck. Impress your waiter and order in Cantonese – say “chow hai” with conviction! If anything, you’ll share a good laugh and be one step closer to the free soup of champions.
Hop Kee’s must order dish (besides the crab) is the sweet and sour pork (first picture). Before you get your panties in a bunch, this isn’t the syrupy sweet fruit cocktail sweet-and-sour of lunch specials across America. This is crispy, juicy tender pork in a red-brown sauce that is just amaaaaazing! Tricky tricky Hop Kee serves both the “American-style” sweet and sour and the authentic version. You’ll want the authentic. Order “Geeng doh pai gwut” and you’ll be golden.
I’m assuming you’ll want to balance this meal out with some carbs, so go ahead and order the fried rice. There are six varieties after all, but I favor the Young Chow fried rice:
The rice is light and flavorful – with morsels of shrimp, peas and egg. Hey, it’s carbs AND veggies – does this count towards my Veggie Resolution?
By now you’ve impressed the waiter with your authentic Cantonese ordering, but before he walks away to put your order into the kitchen, be brave and ask for the free soup!
They may say yes, they may say no – but it’s worth a shot, right? The soup, while not mind-blowing, is reminiscent of the soup made of “good-for-you things” that mothers and grandmothers across the world have been brewing for centuries. I do find that waiters are more likely to give me the soup if I do bring my genuine, real-life Cantonese mother. If you have one, bring her along. 😉
Yes, you’ll be eating underground and under the wary eye of judgy waiters. But if you order the right dishes with confidence and eat with conviction, beginners and pros alike can enjoy an authentic delicious Chinese meal at Hop Kee.
You’ve gotta know what to order – but if you do, you’re in for a treat.
Hop Kee 21 Mott Street (@ Mosco)