PROFILE: Midtown Lunch’er “Wai” (PLUS The Dumpling Book Giveaway)
Every Tuesday I turn over the site to a different Midtown Lunch’er for his or her recommendations for the best lunch in Midtown. This week it’s Wai, a breakfast loving cooking instructor who has redefined dumplings with a brand new cookbook: “The Dumpling: A Seasonal Guide”. And after he gives his recommendations for lunching in Midtown, we’ll give away a copy…
Occupation: Cooking instructor and co-author of The Dumpling: A Seasonal Guide
Where in Midtown do you Work?: Officially, I guess I’m downtown. But while researching my book, I spent many long days at the 42nd Street Library. Additionally, I worked in midtown for many years at 43rd Street and 6th Avenue, Worldwide Plaza on 50th Street and 8th Avenue, and the most food desolate of all, at 59th Street and Lexington.
Favorite Kind of Food: Before any great lunch, there is of course breakfast. I love a tasty breakfast. Fried eggs over medium with fresh tomatoes and chunky home fries, a big bowl of noodles in steaming hot broth, an omelet or frittata with roasted vegetables and mushrooms, congee (heavy on the cilantro and ginger) dipped with a fried cruller, or any crusty, chewy bread toasted or not with some butter. I also love asopao (a type of soupy rice) and fried sweet plantains for breakfast.
There are a few restaurants in Chinatown that specialize in Hong Kong-style breakfast. This includes a quirky assortment of western-inspired dishes like HK-style spaghetti, ham (or Spam) and egg sandwiches, elbow macaroni with soup, 1-inch thick toast with almond paste or condensed milk, as well as more traditional Cantonese dishes like rolled rice crepes with scallions and dried shrimp, congee, steam buns, noodles, and one-pot rice casseroles. And, of course, there’s Ovaltine or Horlicks to wash it all down.
Least Favorite Kind of Food: Overly spicy foods, like when something is hot to the point where you can’t taste any of the other flavors of the dish. I also vehemently dislike any dishes that contain baby corn.
Favorite Place(s) to Eat Lunch in Midtown: Café Edison (on 47th btw. B’way+8th) wins me over every time. Maybe it’s the no-nonsense service or the giant matzo ball-beach ball dangling from the ceiling. I love coming here and eating at the counter. The fried fish sandwich is big and generous enough for 2 meals. And the matzo brei and matzo ball soup are among the best in the city. I always try to save some room for the overstuffed cheese blintzes.
I love starchy things in general and Japanese noodles in particular, which makes Men Kui Tei (on 55th btw. 5+6th) a favorite. The ramen there is not as salty or fatty as you’ll find at other places in the city. Mostly, I have the Miso Ramen, Vegetable Ramen, or the Hiyashi Ramen Salad, but I recently discovered their fried rice…naturally sweet and chewy Japanese rice, lightly fried, and delicately seasoned with soy sauce.
More favorites after after the jump…
Other places I enjoy: Woorijip (on 32nd btw. Mad+5th) for their buffet and boxed rice combinations, Han Bat (on 35th btw. Mad+5th) for their lunch specials and banchan (those small dishes served at the beginning of a Korean meal), Moishe’s $2 falafel plate (on 46th & 6th), Le Pain Quotidien for their tartines and quiches, and Smorgas Chef at Scandinavia House for their seafood chowder.
My favorite midtown lunch memory was at Chikibu on Japanese Unagi Day. For one day a year, you could get a prix fixe lunch (marinated grilled unagiâ€”or eelâ€”over rice, complete with vegetables, miso soup and beer!) for only $4.95 at this otherwise pricey Japanese restaurant. The line always snaked around the block, but it was worth the wait. Sadly the restaurant has been closed for a few years now, and no others have carried on the unagi tradition.
“Go-To” Lunch Place You and Your Coworkers Eat at Too Often? When I’m researching at the 42nd Street Library, I usually don’t have much time for lunch. I often end up running across the street to Pret a Manger where I’ll buy a sandwich or soup and a piece of fruit. I’ll try to score a table (or at least a rickety chair) at Bryant Park if it’s not too cold.
Sometimes I go to Café Zaiya, but I prefer the smaller branch inside Kinokuniya Books (on 6th Ave. btw. 40+41st.) I like their egg salad sandwich for only $3.50 with a small pot of their pyramid-shaped tea. There’s also a nice selection of cookbooks to read after you enjoy your meal.
Place(s) you discovered thanks to Midtown Lunch? I tasted the tamales from the tamale lady on 39th Street for the first time the other day (btw. Park+Madison in front of the Mexican Embassy). If not for the mention here, I would have walked right pass her. I almost did still. No sign, no fuss, just honestly good cheese or chicken tamales. At $1.50 each, you won’t find a better deal anywhere.
If you could work anywhere (just because of the lunch) where would it be and why? It would probably be Singapore. Nowhere else will you find such a variety of foods (Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, Japanese, and more), cooked to very high standards yet completely affordable, in centralized hawker centers.
Is there anything you’d like to ask the Midtown Lunch readers? Where do you find the best dumplings in midtown? Do you like them dropped or rolled? Filled or solid? Steamed or simmered? Wrapped in leaves or cooked in a mold? Served in a soup or with a dipping sauce? Savory or sweet? Tell us all about your favorite dumpling.
Want to win a copy of Wai’s Dumpling book? Just post your favorite dumplings in Midtown (or I guess anywhere for that matter) in the comments and you’re automatically entered to win. Keep in mind, his definition of dumpling is any “dough, batter, or starchy plant fare, solid or filled, that is cooked through wet heat, and is not a strand or a ribbon”. So it can include a ton of different things like tamales and pierogies. A winner will be drawn at random on Monday, 11/9 at Noon. Good luck!
And as always if you would like to be next week’s Profiled: Midtown Lunch’er (or know somebody you’d like to nominate), email me at email@example.com.