Yeah, so Momofuku means “little peach” we’re told. A happy coincidence given that the sweary name also echoes chef/owner David Chang’s well known love of dropping “F-bombs” all over the shop. It also happens to be the name of the man who invented instant ramen, Momofuku Ando.
David Chang is currently the darling of the New York culinary scene, a chef who has created a remarkable brand of noodle and pork bun obsessed restaurants pumping out street food for the masses.
Alan Yau’s Wagamama was an inspiration during a college trip to London, followed by a gig in a Tokyo ramen shop, and then a stint at Café Boulud gave him the experience of cooking with French technique and high sentiment – then a cock-sure leap into the unknown with a $130,000 loan. He’d developed his own style that fused simplicity with some jiggery pokery where it was needed, while keeping asian flavours to the fore-front in gutsy, ballsy dishes that had crowds clammering outside at 5.30pm for a seat – no reservations drives some people a bit loopy.
I saunter into Momofuku Ssäm Bar, the second restaurant to open, and take a seat at the bar. I’m early. I’m loopy.
Steamed Pork Buns, hoisin, cucumbers, scallions – these are the reason I came and what Momofuku has become most famous for. Fluffy, open white buns, two slices of braised pork belly nestling inside, subtle ginger and haunting star anise notes, laced with dark and sticky hoisin, zinged up with cucumber and onions. Messy, sloppy, simple, and devastatingly satisfying. I would have eaten five if I didn’t have a list as long as Manhattan. Genius buns.
Seasonal Pickles – Pickles? Am I on drugs? This was the suggestion of the server as something I needed to try. I trusted her. This was a gallery of pickles that paraded themselves like it was New York Fashion week (it was that week). Fiery Kimchee, the Korean fermented cabbage, and then a procession of turnip, cutely turned carrot, a mysteriosly smoky shitake mushroom, celery, pear, fennel. Cleansing, vibrant flavours that engaged me and forced me to eat slowly, gazing at each pickled morsel
Warm Silken Tofu, Heirloom tomatoes, Myoga, Watermelon - “We do not serve vegetarian friendly items”. You won’t find many vegetarian dishes at Momofuku, Chang is deliciously dismissive, with a “fuck it let’s cook what we want” attitude. Rightly so. Again, a suggestion of the staff, this didn’t miss a beat. Heirloom tomatoes singing with intensity, leaving a broth behind melding with obscenely textured tofu – silk indeed. Myoga being a gingery herb of Japan and South Korea, playing a subtle riff in the background, some crazy intense mint playing in there, and watermelon. Clarity of flavours, clean, so simple it seems stupid. It ‘aint.
The menu goes on with cured country hams, oysters, crab, Fried Duck Necks, Spicy Honeycomb Tripe, various sausages, all flirting with asian ingredients, culminating in the behemoth dish you would need to eat with friends that you love, Bo Ssäm, whole roasted pork shoulder over eight hours, served with oysters, kimchee, and lettuce to wrap the whole sordid smorgasbord up in.
Open late, small plates, drop in, pull out – casual dining, clever cooking.
Chang is a clever boy alright, and self-effacing with it. But forget all that, check out his fondness for the F-word as he enthuses with maniacal fervour about cookbooks in a bookshop on the Upper East side.
207 Second Avenue
New York, N.Y. 10003
East 13th Street in East Village