One of the few things missing in New York City, and in Brooklyn, on the food scene is authentic Asian comfort food that is available outside of our three major Chinatowns (Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn). I always thought a good business idea would be for a great, Chinatown-style noodle shop in my own neighborhood, as one can find easily, for example, in San Francisco. And while Hey Hey Canteen is ‘Asian,’ there is a definite Chinese emphasis. If I want good Chinese at home but can’t cook it, I have always ordered from a good Brooklyn Chinatown restaurant, or headed to Chinatown in Manhattan to pick up a good meal or even a late-night snack of Singapore chow mai fun or won ton mein.
Well, I don’t have to go to Chinatown anymore!
Hey Hey Canteen, on 4th Ave. at the corner of 6th Street, opened in June of this year. Owner-manager Kay Ch’ien hails from Hong Kong (Hong Kong is to Asian cuisine what New York is to western food), but she now calls Brooklyn home. Marco and I, along with our good friend James, who is visiting from Melbourne, Australia, decided to give Hey Hey a go a couple of nights ago. It’s a very casual place, with a menu board behind a counter where you order your food and then find a table. The friendly staff brings the food to you when it is piping hot and ready. We ordered the roast pork lo mein, the Singapore rice noodles, the Hong Kong fried chicken sandwich, the vegetable tempura buns, and the eggplant fries. It’s the first time I think in many years (and never in Brooklyn) that I have had Singapore noodles and roast pork lo mein that measure up with a balance of flavors that I took for granted when I lived in Hong Kong 40 years ago. My experience with Asian food in the US is that the kitchens try to cater to the western palate, often get lazy, and the food tends to be over-spiced, over-cooked, or over sweet, greasy or, just as bad, too dry. It’s a particularly bad habit in Thai and Chinese cuisine.
At Hey Hey, however, the rice noodles and the lo mein were both perfect in consistency and moderately spiced, not too intense, and not too much heat, but delicate and aromatic letting the flavors of the ingredients blend without overpowering each other. The Singapore noodles, which are hard to get right because the liquid gets absorbed quickly often resulting is a dry dish, were flat out the best I’ve had outside of Singapore and Hong Kong, ever. The roast pork in the lo mein is not too sweet, and very tender and moist. And a new twist for me, the eggplant fries coated with panko and deep fried to a crisp, tawny color; are light, not greasy and a great new way to enjoy eggplant as finger food. It reminded me of the way the Italians enjoy fried zucchini (also hard to get right!). The Hong Kong fried chicken sandwich was crispy, moist and huge, with pickled mango and radish served on a steamed bun. A meal in itself. The shredded veggies (vegetable tempura) in a steamed bun were light and crispy and devoid of any sense of having been deep-fried, and lightly seasoned to give them a very fresh taste.
Another important aspect of the menu is that many of the noodle dishes are available in non-gluten and vegan versions – think zucchini and squash noodles. All salads can be made gluten-free – shiitake bacon, almond parmesan, crispy tofu, quinoa, and more.
They also offer a modest but creative cocktail menu. I opted for an iced herbal concoction of turmeric, ginger, and cayenne, three of my favorite things (I suppose I could ask them to add vodka to that to make it all four!) Delicious, but not for the faint of heart.
In my opinion, Hey Hey Canteen offers a very modern, creative and delicious take on Chinese comfort food, incorporating some healthy choices borrowed from Japan, whose authenticity puts it way above anything I’ve found so far in NYC, and at a very modest price. I’ll be taking my family and friends back regularly or ordering for delivery at the house (they are offering a 25% discount on first orders for delivery!). My Chinese mother-in-law is going to love it and so are my grandkids! I give it four “At Home In Brooklyn” stars!