Cheap Eat of the Week: Shu Jiao Fu Zhou

Written by Aurora Hinz, pictures by Sabine Smith

As a college student in NYC, having a cheap food connoisseur is essential. We all want to save money, but why sacrifice a good meal? We’re here to let you know that you’ve got options! From deals to discounts, we’ve got you covered.

CHINATOWN, NEW YORK CITY – I am, admittedly, following the footsteps of one of my favorite food editors at Bon Appetit. As they eat their way through the neighborhoods and boroughs, so will I (or I’ll attempt to). I’m sure you guys can relate, following someone on social media and taking mental notes of the places they suggest. Well, that is exactly how I came across Shu Jiao Fu Zhou in Chinatown/the Lower East Side. I use the slash because all of downtown kind of morphs together at one point, and then I can’t really tell the difference anymore.

One thing I can tell you for sure is that this place offers amazing flavors at a super low price. I bought two kinds of noodles, a soup of meat stuffed rice balls, and the famed pork and chive dumplings all for around $12. The most expensive item was $4, the lowest $2.50. This cash-only establishment is humble in every sense of the word. Customers in the store sit on mismatched furniture while slurping steamy noodles off of styrofoam plates, huddled closely next to other hungry strangers at a large center table.

The kitchen staff, a group of matriarchs, is gathered around three large boiling vats of water, each containing tons of dumplings and nests of rice noodles. You can smell the fragrant herbs that are seeping into the foods while you await and anticipate your own meals. The cashier writes my order down in Chinese on a pink piece of paper, no receipt, no computerization involved in the process besides a small calculator. This place is OLD-school old-school. That’s how they keep track of the orders – one single piece of paper. There are no frills, which allows you to focus on the bites of freshly cooked comfort food.

The food itself consists of clean and simple flavors. The food was not too oily or heavy. Everything – even the wafts of warm smells were drool inducing and delicious. The peanut noodles were savory, not sweet, with hints of fish sauce, and featuring the occasional crunch of a scallion. The peanut flavor was present but not overwhelming; both Sabine and I noted that it was not the flavor we were expecting. We both assumed it would be more of a sweet, heavy peanut flavor, but I actually think I enjoyed the more savory option more. I also may be biased because of my obsession with rice noodles, which need to be eaten piping hot to avoid them clumping together into one large patty.

The stuffed rice balls were like a kind of savory mochi afloat in hot water, so that they would stay sticky and chewy again, sans clump-age. Once bitten into, the challenge was much like that of eating soup dumplings, the liquid inside is boiling, so it required lots of chew-breathing. The pork fat melted and added flavor to the rice ball; the more you chewed, the more flavor was released. Just so we’re all keeping track, that’s two presents hidden in one little package.

Its humble exterior also allows people, who may not know how hard it is to make cheap foods, see the care it really takes to produce food that is often seen as “less than.” The pork and chive dumplings were some of the best that I have found in Manhattan, and at only $3.50 for ten huge handmade dumplings, this place can not be beat. Anyone who has tried to make dumplings before, or even seen a family member or friend make dumplings, knows that the process is not simple. It is extremely detail-oriented and meticulous. The fact that you can purchase 50 frozen dumplings for a whole $10 is astounding. In my mind, we should place more value on foods likes these, ones that are staples of culture and cuisine.

We value other kinds of foods differently. While we may expect dumplings to be cheap, and even get angry if they are not, when you translate this to other types of food from Western cultures, this tends not to be the case. How much would you be willing to pay for a handmade meal in general? Upwards of $20 or $30? How come this price either increases or decreases when we take into consideration the country of origin?

Think about it. We attach different value to certain food with non-western origins (like Indian food, Filipino food, Chinese food, Halal food, etc.), and value western food (like Italian and French food) at a much higher price. This seems to be regardless of the fact that both types of cuisine can be equally as deep in flavor, require meticulous technique or training, and would, in this case, be assumed to be made from scratch. This is something we all, including myself, participate in to an extent. Low price does not always reflect poor quality. This kind of simple food is what has kept countries of people happy and fed for generations – any immigrant can tell you that about their own, most likely scrutinized cuisine. It’s something I like to keep in mind while trying out these new places –  a simple reminder to not take this kind of cuisine for granted, good food is good food and deserves to be valued for being none other than itself.

Here are the facts:

Address: 118 Eldridge St. New York, New York

Vegan/Vegetarian Options – The vegetable noodle soup is vegan- Sabine loved it!

Delivery Options? –  NO – but you can call ahead and takeout!

Easy to Find? – Kind of – The address on Google Maps is a little confusing but keep an eye out for a white awning and you’re set!

Food Safety Grade – A, this place is 100% guaranteed tiptop food safe and sanitary!