If you want to kindle a fierce debate among “bottom-feeding” foodies, as they’re derisively called (and I’m certainly one), just ask what’s the cheapest and best item of food for the money in one borough or another.
My choice this month would have been the hot-and-sour soup at Inexpensive Delicacies. This place is the successor to Fried Dumpling, the iconic stall on Allen Street that introduced the cheap fried-on-one-side northern Chinese dumpling to Manhattan, and also represented the most extreme incursion of Chinatown into the Lower East Side at the time.
Sure, the dumplings are great, but you don’t always want to eat five (now four) gobs of greasy pork, even though they only cost $1.
Much more delicate and nuanced is the soup, which used to be a dollar, but is now $1.50. It comes in a large cup, and is seething with solid ingredients: two kinds of mushrooms, cloud-ear fungus, lily shoots and other lily parts, and fronds of egg drop. Sure, it’s corn starch thickened, but the thickener is sprinkled in with a sparing hand.
Moreover, the taste of the soup is subtle in the extreme, only slightly sour and slightly hot, with all sorts of woodsy flavors knocking about. And one cup is a good light meal. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that, and for lots of mushrooms, too.
99 Allen Street