Rong Hang on Eldridge Street, a Fujianese restaurant
Two years ago, I spent a couple of weeks checking on the state of Fujianese restaurants in Manhattan’s Chinatown. There were particularly rich collections along East Broadway and on Eldridge Street, and I must have visited a dozen. My crew and I received a warm welcome in all of them–except one.
Lichee pork contains no fruit.
I was attracted to Rong Hang–just north of the corner of Eldridge and Canal–not only because of its comparatively sumptuous premises and expansive Fujianese menu, but because of the name itself. But when I tried to enter, my friends and I were turned away in halting English with no explanation.
A few days later, I returned with two native speakers of Chinese, one expert in Mandarin, the other in Cantonese. Fujianese is a dialect distinct from either, but with more in common with Mandarin. Nevertheless, it was my Hong Kong friend who ended up speaking with the restaurant’s front-desk person.
But once again, we were refused admission. As on the previous occasion, the place had some filled tables, but there seemed to be room for many more diners. My Hong Kong friend, who was even more flummoxed than the rest of us, took the extreme step of getting her mother in Seattle on the phone, and putting her on with the restaurant’s greeter. A heated discussion ensued, of which we could only hear half.
The result was the same, and the mother later reported that she couldn’t persuade the Rong Hang employee to seat us and was given no convincing reason. At the time we speculated as to the reason, but I won’t repeat our ideas here, because we had absolutely no evidence for any of them.
Frog-legs casserole at Rong Hang
Last evening as two friends and I were strolling along Eldridge, stopping occasionally to eat fried dumplings, we passed Rong Hang’s bright-yellow awning, and I repeated the story. “Let’s go there,” one of my companions said enthusiastically, perhaps desiring to have the experience of being refused entrance to a restaurant.
I quickly assented, and before we knew it, we were sitting at a splendid table with a view of the fish tanks, in which some pretty lively specimens were swimming around. We ordered and drank beers as we waited for the food to arrive.
The dish perhaps most beloved of Fujianese was magnificent. Lichee pork, I must hasten to explain, contains absolutely no lichees. Rather, it’s nuggets of pork braised in red rice-wine lees and then fried with mushrooms, pea pods, bamboo, and other vegetal ingredients.
We also had a fine casserole of frog legs, which contained big squishy muscles as well as smaller bony pieces, to be chewed like chicken feet with care and determination.
The place merits another visit because the menu is vast. But going there with friends, I’ll always wonder if we’re going to be admitted.
38 Eldridge Street
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 14, 2012