On Lunar New Year, a trip to Chinatown for bags of cheers and Malaysian beef jerky
And tell me what street,
compares with Mott Street in July?
Sweet pushcarts gently gliding by — ‘Manhattan’ by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers
It does not take Chinese New Year for us to be prompted to visit Chinatown, but it is always a good time to make that special trek to stock up on our all-time favorite: Malaysian beef jerky.
Why? Because there are other Chinese delicacies we could buy at friendly Lunar New Year prices, such as moon cakes, pork buns and dried fruit or ‘champoy,’ a wide assortment of ‘champoy.’ Restaurants are always packed, which is somewhat of a downer, and so are the subway stations. Grand Street by the B and D trains is where we get off to get to K.L.-Malaysia Beef Jerky on Elizabeth Street. Another store, Ling Kee Beef Jerky, by Canal Street is reachable by the F train. A third store, New Beef King on Bayard Street, is worth a visit. We have not been there.
I always tell my husband how Americans do not make jerky the way Asians do, which is usually pork, beef or chicken tenderized to a thin square slice and cured with seasoning.
“No preservatives,” the counter girl insisted. No mention is made of salt or MSG content. A sweet smile is her default ‘neither-confirm-nor-deny’ reply.
The jerky meat slices are grilled in an unremarkable glass oven with brightly heated lights as customers watch while waiting for their orders. They are freshly made every day. Sometimes you get them from the oven direct to your glassine bag, the heat still a strong sensation in the hands.
Elizabeth is never far from Mott Street, which is immortalized in the Hart & Rodgers music. They run parallel paths, one not much different from the other if the benchmark is the row of duck-specialty restaurants, banks, hair salons, and shops dispensing herbs, dried goods, and jewelry.
The Malaysian jerky – which sells for $21 a pound in Chinatown — is tender and chewy meat with its fat trimmed. It has a delicious sweet-and-salty taste, the burned sides giving it a smoky flavor. Spicy versions are available.
It is eaten as snacks paired with beer or ice cold soda, but some food bloggers have suggested making it into sandwich or slider. I wouldn’t be surprised if some Asians actually eat it with rice. It is, after all, carefully sourced meat — prepared by smoking or drying just like the Italian speck ham or the Spanish Jamon.
“It’s very flavorful and tender,” says the hubby, “Hindi matigas.”
Street food lore has it that the Chinese people brought this delicacy to Singapore and Malaysia but locals in these countries adapted it to their own taste and made it their own. It became such a popular staple and made coming to Chinatown a beloved treat.
Kung Hei Fat Choi!