Given my carbohydrate proclivities, it was only a matter of time before I made my way to Taste of Northern China after reading Ligaya Mishan’s New York Times review and her subsequent declaration that their griddle pancake was one of her best cheap eats of last year. Sign me up for cheap, warm bread anytime.
On Saturday night, I headed south to taste north. Taking a wrong turn out of the subway, I had the occasion to see Mission Chinese Food for the first time. The people all looked so beautiful, cool, and serene behind the glass and under the dim lighting. A stark contrast to the bright awnings and fluorescent lighting of the restaurants and hair salons I passed as I made the correct way to my destination. Mishan points out that Taste of Northern China is not actually located at its address of 88 East Broadway, but is instead on Forsyth. I turned the corner to find nothing, worried that it might be no longer. But then I looked across the street to see a lit “China Local Cuisine” sign, and my worries dissipated. As I crossed, I soon read “Taste of Northern China” on the door.
The space is basically all kitchen with a small adjacent counter area for eating. The orange wall being the main distinguishing feature. The street was rather quiet at 8:30 and I was currently the only patron, but the three pairs of hands in the tiny kitchen were busy working. Basic English menus were all over the space, but only a few words were spoken. As I placed my order for three skewers (lamb, cauliflower, and the griddle pancake), Chinese characters were written out in a small notebook as I pointed to each item on the menu. The lamb was $1.50, the other two, $1.25. I kept the order short as this was just an appetizer stop before heading elsewhere for dinner. Now, Taste of Northern China might not be a place you would bring your clean freak mom to, but as someone who easily uses too much Purell, I was not deterred by anything I saw. And once the smells of the grill started to fill the small space, my hunger negated all other feelings.
Getting my order to stay meant that my pancake was placed in a bag, and my skewers were presented on tin foil. The cauliflower was tender crisp and nicely touched with salty spice and vegetable oil. The lamb was on the tough side and best eaten straight from the stick, but perfect for getting my appetite going with its meaty savouriness. I am always unsure what the descriptor “gamey” means, so never use it. But if it means an undeniable and delicious taste of flesh, only enhanced by fire, then the lamb was gamey.
I wonder now if I ordered a bread different from Mishan’s because mine did not come with spice or on skewers as hers did. There was another bread-like skewer on the vegetarian section of the menu (grilled rice cake, I think it was), so perhaps I went down a different rabbit hole. No matter, I loved the pancake I was presented with, and for this post, we’ll say I ordered right, but only receiving something a bit different. The bread I got (and was expecting, just without spice and not on two skewers) is that used for the Chinese “burgers” filled with sautéed meat like pork or lamb that Xi’an Famous Foods made, well, famous. Taste of Northern China also serves them. The bread was dense yet still had some fluff, like mantou or naan (my Instagram photo shows the interior). Even without the house spice, the exterior was salty and contrasted with the natural sweetness of the dough. It had me swooning. It would have been delicious sandwiching lamb or some other savoury filling, but you know me, I was completely in heaven with it plain. And did I mention it was only $1.25?
Taste of Northern China is only minutes away from both Lam Zhou and Sheng Wang, so I might be making a pancake stop the next time I go for noodles instead of complementing with dumplings. I dream of ripping into that warm circle again and being flooded with all the happy hormones that come with being served a perfect carb. But next time, I won’t be confused by the address. I know to make a beeline for the orange wall on the west side of Forsyth. I’ll also order the other bread just to be sure, and because… more bread, please.