Truly Cheap Eats: Noodle-Rama at Sheng Wang

After months of prodding from his sister Jennie, Jimmy and I ventured to Chinatown last night to check out Sheng Wang's handmade Fujianese noodle soups. We zig-zagged our way to a section of Eldridge Street I'm not sure I'd been on before. Tucked behind the Manhattan Bridge, it was like we'd wandered into a festive, colorful back street in China (though we admitted we were glad we went there when it was dark...the daylight may reveal some unhappy realities). As we scanned the storefronts searching for a few words of English, we finally found 27, with the words "Sheng Wang" hidden in the right-hand corner of its very large sign.

We happily skipped down the steps into the beat-up space. There are a few tables, the walls are lined with the menu (in Chinese), and the noodle chefs are in a small kitchen right up front. We were ushered in, asked to share a table with someone else finishing up his soup, and handed take-out menus. After perusing a bit, Jimmy went for the beef hand-pulled noodle soup ($4), I chose the duck soup ($5), and we decided to share "Pain noodles with sesame peanuts sauce" ($1.50).

There were lots of condiments on the table: a big container of chili and Sichuan-style spices in oil (which I could have easily consumed in its entirety), Sriracha sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, and two mystery containers, one with a sherry-like substance, the other with the soy sauce concoction which seems to be decanted into Sriracha containers all over Chinatown.

Jimmy's soup came out first. The beef broth was rich, like an English roast with a little hint of Chinese spice (according to the Wikipedia entry, the Fujianese are all about umami, and Sheng Wang's food has it in spades). He said the beef itself was yummy, the noodles were good (though he preferred our next dish), and was ultimately happy.

The "Pain" noodles came out next (yes, I know they meant plain...). Fabulous. They had a wonderful chew (Jimmy remarked they were better than what you'd get at a high-end Italian restaurant, and I agree), and the sauce was simple, yet nice. Of course, we added some of the Sichuan chili condiment, which brought them up to the "insanely yummy" level.

Last to the table was my duck soup (insert Marx Brothers joke here). Turns out I'd pointed to the version under "Peel Noodle," which was a happy accident. At first I was like, "Crap! I accidentally ordered tripe soup!" But as soon as I took my first bite of the thick, mysterious white slices, I was very, very happy. The peel noodles have an absolutely wonderful consistency and didn't get mushy at all. I think this new-to-me style may be the discovery of the week!

The broth was flavorful and nice, but the duck was just OK (it was really boney and not all that special). There were a few pieces of bok choy, and the whole thing was topped with some sort of pickled vegetable. But the real surprise was hiding at the bottom: a fish ball stuffed with pork. It was an unusual (we don't seem to mix meat and fish in the West), yet yummy combination. Almost a soup version of a Cracker Jack prize!

I think next time I'll go for the peel noodles with beef, though I'm curious about "Fujianese Style." Anyone know what that might mean? Our server spoke no English, so he just shook his head when we asked... The steamed dumplings looked great, and I'm also intrigued by broth buns and Fujianese style wontons. Can't wait to go back! Anyone up for an adventure?

Sheng Wang is at 27 Eldridge Street, just south of Canal.

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