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Monday, December 03, 2007

Ong's in Chinatown

UPDATE: Ong's closed in January 2009 -Although we don't have any replacement for the Chiu-Chow style of food that they served, its replacement, Sakura Mandarin, is a good restaurant, serving specialties from Shanghai, including Xiao Long Bao, so it's not a total loss..

We were reminded of this restaurant by a recent article in the Inquirer by Rick Nichols. Located on the corner of 11th and Race, we always forget about it, except when driving into Chinatown, thinking "oh, right, let's check that place out!" then forgetting about it again...

We finally got around to it on saturday, and Im sure we'll be heading back. According to the Nichols piece, they specialize in "Chou-Jou" style cuisine, often referred to as "Chiu-Chow." It's a specific regional style of Cantonese, but the menu is also heavy with Vietnamese offerings. Apparently the cook's family is ethnically Chinese, but had emigrated to Vietnam, so both styles are represented.

We started with a Beef Satay soup. The diner can choose from a variety of noodles in the soups, we went with the rice noodles that were suggested. The broth was fresh and clean, and a little spicy, but we were expecting a little more intensity. The beef was impossibly tender and flavorful, despite being in slices much thicker than one might see in a Pho. And the noodles were terrific, so the whole thing added up to a very enjoyable soup, just right on a chilly day.

From the Vietnamese side, we got Fried Spring Rolls, which had a hearty pork filling, and perfectly crispy wrappers. We also got a dish of Pork with Caramel and Black Pepper. They did a great job with this Vietnamese classic: the pork was tender, pleasingly still a little bit fatty, and the sauce had a sweet edge, but was not tooth-rottingly sugary, offset by the subtle heat of the black pepper.

In the interest of being at least passingly healthy, we also got some Chinese Broccoli with garlic. This was very nicely done, and served as a great compliment to our other dishes, offering some crunch and bitterness alongside the sweetness and spice.

The place itself is much fancier than I had perceived from the outside. The decor, furniture and dishes are a step-up from the average Chinatown place, as are the prices, although they're not bad at all. But this is not a cheap, basic, $5 noodle soup joint. Service was quite good.

I'm looking forward to going back and trying to explore more of the Chou-Jou offerings, if only because it's not all that common, although the Vietnamese stuff is quite tempting too!

1038 Race St.
Menupages Listing


  1. Anonymous1:42 AM

    With all due respect to a most knowledgeable food critic, I think you may be creating a somewhat artificial distinction between Chiu Chow and Vietnamese menus. People from Chiu Chow created a huge diaspora into Southeast Asia, in the process meshing local ingredients into their traditional cuisine. As they have moved back to Chaozhou and to other countries (many fled Vietnam and Cambodia in the seventies)they've introduced this diasporic version of the regional cooking. So I think it's not so much a case of having a Chiu Chow menu plus Vietnamese dishes, but a case of Chiu Chow cuisine being fairly polyglot at this point. In LA it's pretty typical at Chiu Chow places to see menus in Vietnamese or Cambodian as well as Chinese, and to see traditional Cantonese-type fare, traditional Vietnamese or Cambodian fare, and hybrid fare all on one menu.

  2. Thanks for the clarification, we don;t have much exposure to Chiu Chow cuisine in Philadelphia.

    The point I was attempting to make about both cuisines being represented, is that Ong's had many dishes one would expect to see in other Vietnamese restaurants, cooked in ways that seemed pretty typical of a Vietnamese style.

    It would be interesting to explore some of the dishes unique to this particular group, as opposed to mainstream Vietnamese, even if it means Chiu Chow interpretations of Vienamese or Cambodian dishes.

    I know that's a murky distinction, but it would be fascinating to explore the differences, as well as the similarities.

    Thanks again for the info!