Welcome to the first post in my Boston Morning, Noon and Night series. The goal? Highlight the best things to see, eat, drink and do when you have a few hours to explore the best of “my fair city.”
Our first stop? Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.
When it comes to cuisine, Boston is usually associated with clam chowder, baked beans, Boston Cream Pie, and lobster rolls. But after eating your way through this blog post, when you hear Boston you’re gonna dream of delicious Chinese food. Good news for Stay Alfred guests, not only is Stay Alfred on Washington Street in Chinatown, Seaport neighborhood’s Stay Alfred on A Street is within walking distance, too.
Good morning Chinatown
But first, coffee… Start your day at Thinking Cup. I have a lot of love for Thinking Cup – their staff is friendly, they’re open on holidays, (check their Twitter), and their coffee is THE best. I’m normally a cappuccino devotee, but their hazelnut latte (available hot or iced) is seriously divine. Never had a hazelnut latte? Well, this is the place to start. Thinking Cup makes their own hazelnut base using ground nuts, resulting in a not-too-sweet drink. Looking for a quick bite? I also endorse their morning glory muffins, salted chocolate chip cookies and macarons. But no time for those today, we have Dim Sum to eat!
Winsor Dim Sum Cafe
If you’ve never had dim sum, think of it as Chinese brunch tapas: basically, delicious little dishes that are eaten mainly in the morning.
Winsor Dim Sum Cafe is the place to go to get “sum.” This tiny restaurant packs a giant flavor punch. Don’t let its small size scare you, the tables usually turn pretty quickly. So, don’t hesitate to put your name on the waitlist.
One thing… you might get seated at a shared table. If you’re not used to “family-style” dining don’t worry! This is a great way to make friends with your neighbors and maybe be invited to share food. At the very least you’ll get some menu recommendations.
If you have experienced Dim Sum before, you might be on the lookout for food carts. But not at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe! Instead, you’ll get a paper sheet to mark off the dim sum you want. Don’t be intimidated by the gigantic menu. There are pictures to help guide you (and make you extra hungry). To get you started, here are a few of my favorites.
Meg’s favoritest Dim Sum picks:
- Steamed pork buns - You can’t get more traditional than this. And, at Winsor, the bao exterior is light as a cloud and filled with sweet-savory barbequed pork. They are incredibly delicious, and you can order them baked instead of steamed on the weekends.
- Vegetables in bean curd sheet roll - To say I crave these is an understatement. These are sort of like a big, fat spring roll, but made with a tofu (also called bean curd) wrapper instead. I love them with a little soy sauce and chili oil, which are in the condiment caddy on the table.
- Pan fried white turnip cake with XO sauce - The fried white turnip cake with XO sauce is what keeps me coming back here. They are squishy little pillows of deliciousness, pan fried with bean sprouts, green onion and a deeply savory seafood-chili sauce called XO.
- Steamed pork and peanut dumplings - You can never order too many dumplings! These translucent beauties are filled with pork, peanuts, radish, shrimp and mushrooms. Dress them up with soy sauce and chili oil.
- U-choy with oyster sauce - If you like spinach or broccoli, you’ll love u-choy. It is a leafy green vegetable related to bok choy with a mild, slightly bitter flavor. Here, it comes steamed with oyster sauce, which is savory and a little sweet.
- Shanghai chow mein - Whenever possible, I like to round out any meal with a plate of noodles, because, well, they are delicious. These chewy udon-style noodles are stir fried in an unctuous sauce, along with pork, onions, cabbage. Who doesn’t love unctuous?
Trust me. You can’t go wrong with this six-plate combo, it’s destination flavortown, USA, and you get to try a wide variety of dishes. I recommend ordering 3-4 dishes per person to start – you can always add more if needed. Once you’re completely stuffed and jittery from your tea, flag down a server and they’ll help you get out the door in no time.
On to the next stop.
Hing Shing Pastry
So, what do you do after you’ve eaten your weight in Dim Sum? Get dessert, obviously. If you think the only Asian dessert is a fortune cookie, you’re in for a sweet surprise. Asian pastries aren’t too sugary, and they come in a wide variety of textures and flavors. Chinatown has tons of bakeries. So, where do I go to get my favorite Asian treat? Hing Shing Pastry.
Head’s up, there is no seating at Hing Shing, so be ready to take your sweets to go. And, not every item is labeled. But no worries, just ask for one of the below (or all of them, like I do – don’t judge me)
Meg’s pastry recommendations:
- Almond cookie - Crisp and sandy, these are lacquered with egg yolk to give them their distinctive yellow shine. Their lovely nutty flavor pairs well with afternoon tea or coffee.
- Sponge cake - Because they’re wrapped in parchment, these cakes are the perfect on-the-go treat. With a mild flavor and airy, angel food cake consistency, they’re a great introduction to Asian pastries.
- Coconut snowball - If you like mochi and chewing on the granulated sugar at the bottom of a cold beverage, you’ll LOVE a coconut snowball. Be warned, you will get coconut all over yourself (sorry) but the center will reward you with a delicious peanut/coconut/sesame/granulated sugar mixture.
- Sesame ball - This is deep fried goodness as its finest. Filled with delicious red bean paste, the chewy exterior of this perfectly sweet ball is made using glutinous rice flour... that’s deep fried and then dipped in sesame seeds. Never had red bean paste before? It’s used in a lot of Asian sweets – I love it in ice cream and donuts, too.
- Melon cake - Due to few possible legendary origin stories, these are also known as sweetheart or wife cakes. They contain a chewy paste made from winter melon, ground almonds and sesame, wrapped in a flaky pastry. They are unique because not very many pastry recipes contain melon. Seriously, think about it. When was the last time you had a melon-flavored dessert?
Want to learn more about Asian pastries? I’ll be writing more posts in the future, but in the meantime, check out Serious Eats’ great guide.
A killer cup of coffee, a ton of tiny Chinese brunch delights, and loads of Asian pastries. I’d say that’s a delicious way to start the day in Boston’s Chinatown. Thanks for joining me on my first adventure for Boston Morning, Noon and Night.
Have a suggestion on how to spend a few hours in Boston’s best neighborhoods or dishes Stay Alfred guests must try? Send them my way with a comment or two!
About the author
Hi! My name is Megan, and I am the spouse of Stay Alfred’s Senior Art Director, Chad. We live in Somerville, Massachusetts with our two cats, a car named “The Blueberry,” and a soft serve ice cream machine.
I am the fourth generation of my family to reside in the Boston area – my mother’s people lived in Brookline and my dad’s in Hyde Park. My childhood mainly consisted of being bored to death in New Hampshire during the week and then, on weekends, hanging out with my sisters and dad in Cambridge and Boston. I have a passion for all things restaurant, beer, wine and food. I am also an aspiring cook and take inspiration from the places I visit when I travel. On the weekend, you can find me in an art museum, tide pool, graveyard or at the farmers market. Alternatively, parked on the couch watching RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Through this blog I’ll be sharing some of the local places I recommend to friends, family and visitors, plus maybe some new adventures and discoveries.