A Famous Rice Noodle Roll Chain From Guangzhou Opens An Outpost In Chinatown
Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Bayard Street for rice noodles and fried fish skins.
Yin Ji Chang Fen, a rice noodle roll and congee restaurant which opened last week on Bayard Street, is — as several of my fellow diners were eager to point out as I ate amid the surprising weekday-afternoon clamor — “very famous” in Guangzhou, China, where it was founded more than 50 years ago. Today there are around 45 outlets across that city. Which explains the small forest of prosperity palms, welcome gifts from local businesses, spilling out of the space, as well the round-the-block lines last weekend.
Once you make your way through this impressive display of both flora and fauna, you’ll find that Yin Ji Chang Fen is a bright, bustling place whose utilitarian tables and chairs prove to be quite comfortable. There’s an air of excitement in there right now, and the staff clearly knows how to handle a crowd. Service is helpful, happy, and efficient, turning tables fast without rushing anyone.
Rice noodle rolls have really upped their profile in this neighborhood of late, starting with the first Manhattan outpost of Joe’s at the Canal Street Market, and the limited-hours Yi Ji Shi Mo on Elizabeth Street. Yin Ji Chang Feng, with its built-in fan base and prominent corner location, is likely to deepen the embrace.
The Yin Ji Chang Feng menu consists almost entirely of Famous Guangzhou Rice Noodle Rolls stuffed with all kinds of different things, mostly meats; and big bowls of creamy congee, studded with the same. There are a few “Asian Snacks” available, and some soft drinks, but the place is basically a two-trick pony. The traditional order, apparently, is to get one of each, but you better be hungry if you go that route.
The rice noodles come in either “plain” or “egg,” though I couldn’t really taste the difference once all the vinegary sauce and ample stuffings were thrown in. And really, they (along with the congees) are packed with meat, to the point where many bites are just chunks of, in my case, pork liver, or kidney, or marinated beef, or shrimp, or pork loin. All of these were cooked with care, so it wasn’t a bad thing, necessarily. But the balance felt off; as three separate Guangzhou old-timers complained to me, unprompted, it’s all a bit bland.
So instead of getting both a rice noodle roll and a congee, maybe throw in a snack instead, like the crackling and addictive Deep Fried Fish Skin, a huge mound of exactly that, as full of flavor as you expect, with a bowl of fish broth to amp up the sensory experience even further. The semi-spicy Hong Kong Style Curry Fish Balls were also a solid choice. I tried the Hong Kong Style Frozen Milk Tea, served in a bowl of shaved ice (to keep the drink cold, without diluting it), but it was too tannic for my tastes, and not worth the three pieces of plastic (cup, lid, straw).
There’s definitely a safe, fast-food feeling to Yin Ji Chang Feng’s two primary dishes, but it all still tastes pretty good and will definitely fill you up. It’s a good spot to keep in your back pocket when you’re in the area.
Yin Ji Chang Feng is located at 91 Bayard Street, at the corner of Mulberry Street, and is open from noon to 8 p.m. daily (Facebook)