Left: Wah Mei’s pork chop over rice; Right: Hua Ji’s version of the same
This week’s Battle of the Dishes pits two renditions of Taiwanese fried pork chop over rice against each other–one from Wah Mei Pork Chop Fast Food and the other from Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food. Obviously, both establishments specialize in pork chops, but they also offer other Taiwanese fast foods, like black pepper chicken leg over rice, fried noodles, noodle soups, and fusion-ish pastas with pork chops or chicken leg. Hua Ji is newer than Wah Mei, and looks it.
Pork chop over rice is a beloved, simple dish that’s made with a chop that’s marinated, usually in a mixture that includes five-spice powder and soy sauce, and then fried–without a batter–until burnished. It’s served with pickled vegetables and ground pork sauce, along with a heap of rice. For a few cents extra, you can get a soy-sauce-cooked egg on the side. A good pork chop over rice should feature a chop that’s neither too dry or gristly, is nicely browned, and lightly spiced from the marinade.
In one corner, Wah Mei: The pork chop here was about a centimeter thick (average) and fairly juicy. But its surface wasn’t golden or crisp, and it tasted mainly of salt, with no hint of five-spice powder. The serving of ground pork sauce and pickled vegetables was generous, heavy on the cabbage. However, those sides were slightly too salty. Wah Mei is a popular spot, so maybe today just wasn’t its day. (Anyone with a different experience?)
In the other corner, Hua Ji: This chop looked better from the get-go. The surface was burnished, and the thin strip of fat along the outside was very crisp. Like the competition, it was also about a centimeter thick, but was more succulent, and tasted faintly of aromatic five-spice powder. The pickled vegetables and viscous pork sauce ably played their supporting roles–pickley, cabbagey, porky. The steamed white rice at both Hua Ji and Wah Mei was fine and unremarkable.
It was a rout today folks, with Wah Mei collapsing early, a piggy mess on the mat. But its venerable pork chop will live to fight another day.
An aside: Both versions of the dish cost $4.50–definitely a cheap eat–but everything on Hua Ji’s menu has increased by about 50 cents since November, when the pork chop was $4.
Wah Mei Pork Chop Fast Food
190 Hester Street, 212-925-6428
Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food
7 Allen Street, 212-219-9876
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 8, 2009