HUNAN SLURP SHOP
NOW OPEN IN THE EAST VILLAGE
By Annie Bi
Hunan Slurp Shop is a contemporary Chinese eatery in New York’s East Village and just recently opened this past May. The menu is comprised of regional Hunan rice noodles and plates designed by Artist/Chef Chao Wang, who seeks to bring his hometown flavors to New York through his artistic sensibility.
Chef Chao Wang
Born in Hengyang, Hunan, a Southern province in China, Chao Wang began to practice oil painting at 4. Ever since he graduated from China’s best art institute, China Central Academy of Fine Arts, Wang has worked with many Chinese virtuosos as well as American artists including Roy Nachum, who is known for creating Rihanna’s ‘Anti’ album cover.
After 25 years of living as a painter, Wang set down his brushes and opened Hunan Slurp Shop in the heart of East Village. “Rather than a transition from painting to food, the eatery is considered as an extension of my art, only through the form of food,” Wang explains. It is also worth mentioning that Chef Wang’s hometown is famous for having a rather epicurean taste of culture. Wang remembers, “We wake up to the slurping sound from rice noodle shops in little alleyways and go to bed with warm rice noodle soup in our stomachs after a night-long of drinking and chatting.” It is in this environment that Chef Wang came to develop a passion for the food culture in his region. Thanks to this source of homesickness that can only be cured by indigenous cooking flavors, Hunan Slurp Shop is now open in New York City and is locate at: 112 First Avenue.
Hunan Rice Noodle
Though many versions of rice noodles already exist in the city, Wang is hopeful that he is introducing something new. Hunan cuisine is geographically influenced by its neighboring provinces. It inherited the pepper heat from Sichuan, the master stock from Guangdong, and the rice noodle from Guizhou. Specifically, Hunan people share the same passion with Yunnan’s, whose rice noodle scene has been on the rise in New York City recently. Yet Chef Owner Chao Wang is particularly proud of his hometown’s rice noodle (mifen) and believes that it’ll garner much enthusiasm in the city. While “slurp” sounds are applicable to all soup noodles, it is translated directly from the Hunan dialect “suō” when they refer to the action of eating rice noodles.
Compared to Yunnan rice noodle, which usually has either a citrusy or a spicy touch, Hunan rice noodle (mifen) has a distinguished, well-rounded flavor. The noodles are not veiled by heavy flavors, and instead complements the freshness of each ingredient. Take the Fish Fillet Mifen as an example, only Hengyang people have been able to pair fish with rice noodle without risking choking on a fish bone—they live by the Xiang River, where there is an abundance of boneless fish. For this dish, Wang simmers the pork bone broth on low heat overnight, and later adds in the wok-fried fish, and together boils the broth until the lucid soup turns milky white. Then he lets customers themselves plunge mifen and raw fish fillets into soup with seasonal greens on the side.
Food & Art
To Wang, food and painting have a symbiotic relationship and the memories of the two are inseparable. Every day after art school, Wang would get a Hunan Donut, a deep-fried dough made with scallion and rice flour; or Hunan Baba, a sticky rice cake in floral brown sugar syrup, from the same snack peddler while waiting for his father to arrive (Both items are on the menu). His days always began and ended with a bowl of his favorite rice noodle, which he later named Hometown Lu Fen. Lu fen is made with sliced beef, char su, peanut, cucumber, bean curd, and crispy soybean. The flavor is described by Wang as simply and profoundly a taste of home.
Another dish that hints at Wang’s artistic nature is The Palette (which will be on the final menu). Instead of mixed pigments, Wang paints a set of dumplings in five colors. He dyes the dough with beets, spinach, carrots, squid ink, and fills them with pork, beef, chicken, and shrimp.
Wang’s artistic vision also elevates Chinese grassroots’ everyday meal while flavors remain true to the region’s humblest dishes. Take the Hunan Salad for example, a classic presentation would be century eggs on a bed of fried peppers; knowing that the dark-colored preserved eggs can be intimidating to first-timers, Wang wraps the eggs and peppers in eggplant skin and tops them with traditional dressing. The slight twist is not only a visual delight, it also combines the funky, sweet, and umami tastes into one bite.
Wang’s love for his hometown culture is also visibly channeled through the restaurant’s interior presentation. The logo is the Chinese character “slurp,” slightly tweaked with a circle representing a bowl, and a winding line next to it portraying the noodle. The interior is contemporary with a soft wooden tone. Wang recruited the same studio who also carried out the designer for Tang Hotpot and Hao Noodle by Madame Zhu’s Kitchen. At Hunan Slurp Shop’s storefront, a French window frames the light-filled space. Streamlined pale wood slats span from the ceiling to the floor, a rendition of the elegant shape of the noodle. The dining room is largely occupied by communal tables, a reminder to people that the food is rooted in the most quotidian lives of Hunan people.