As my editor Eric strides toward me on Grand Street, it occurs to me that I forgot to let him know our breakfast would be taking place outside. And based on the ominously accumulating clouds overhead, it's going to be a wet one.
I broach the subject tentatively as we approach our first destination of the morning: a cheong fun (Cantonese-style steamed rice roll) cart at 159 Hester Street.
"No worries. I've got a good hood," he says, and overturns an empty crate for our use as a table.
We're on a multistop cheong fun crawl, which was born out of one of those meandering midafternoon conversations about the very best thing we'd each eaten lately. I barely let Eric get through his description of some olive cake before launching into a fervid account of the steamed rice rolls I'd recently stumbled upon. My narrative was so detailed, I wouldn't have blamed him if he'd put on headphones midway through my "sauce selection" aria.
The rolls were from a storefront on Henry Street called Sun Hing Lung Co. (which I'd learned about from Elazar Sontag, who documents his solo Sunday breakfast adventures for Serious Eats' Instagram story). They were some of the best I'd had in years. At $1.75 a pop for my preferred flavor (pork), they'd already beckoned me back several times.
Cheong fun, a long-time staple of dim sum menus, seems to be having a moment in Manhattan, thanks to the opening of a second location of popular Flushing spot Joe’s Steam Rice Roll in Canal Street Market last November, which Ligaya Mishan reviewed favorably in The New York Times.
And it's no wonder—there's just so much to love about a steamed rice roll.
The basic concept is this: A thin batter mainly comprising rice flour, water, and some starch is poured onto a metal steaming shelf, and any selected toppings are added (various meats, shrimp, dried shrimp, corn, cilantro, green onion, and egg are all options I've come across at the locations I mention here). The shelf gets placed inside a steamer until the batter cooks through. It becomes one large, enticingly jiggly, chewy noodle, which is then rolled into a long, layered, somewhat translucent tube. That gets sliced into smaller pieces, and served with a shower of sweetened soy sauce—and sometimes other sauces and accoutrements, like sesame seeds.
At Sun Hing Lung Co., each order comes sort of smooshed into a high-sided takeaway container that provides excellent insurance against heavy saucing. The rice rolls are served through a storefront window where the sidewalk meets the tofu factory (which a proprietor told me has been in its location for 30 years).
There are 11 base flavors from which to choose, ranging in price from $1.50 (plain) to $2.25 (roast pork, fish ball, and Chinese sausage and vegetable), plus add-ins like egg and extra pork. On a recent visit, I was told by the person manning the takeaway window that their most popular flavor is the Chinese sausage. As opposed to Joe's, where the protein portions are hefty—the delicious "signature," which contains beef, pork, dried shrimp, and egg, could easily be a satisfying dinner—Sun Hing Lung Co. treats fillings almost as if an accent to the noodle, which serves to celebrate the delicate texture of the rice roll itself.
They're open from 7:30 a.m. through 3:30 p.m., which means it's an excellent breakfast option on the way to work—and it's how I got Eric to agree to meet me for this crawl before an early Monday meeting.
When we arrive at Sun Hing Lung Co., I'm forced to reveal my second omission of the morning: I'm all out of cash. He spots me $6 for a few flavors, plus a warm soy milk, and in turn, I benevolently concede the sauce management of one of our containers (Eric goes with more sweetened soy, a dash of peanut, and a healthy dose of Sriracha).
The ledge next to the storefront is auspiciously empty, probably due to the downpour. So we take our time, enjoying the best breakfast in New York City, and talking about how soon we'll be back.