Pork Chop Price Discrimination

by James Boo on April 12, 2011 · 10 comments

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Taiwanese Fried Chicken - Bian Dang - Food Gallery 32 - New York, NY
Is $8.00 too much for this meal?

The answer might depend on whether you’re the type of person to fork over $6 for bánh mì. After walking away from Bian Dang‘s stall at the still fresh Food Gallery 32, I proclaimed that their chicken leg dish was a tasty boatload of food for eight bucks. Nick, a serious Taiwanese eater who had called out Bian Dang on his blog for selling pork gravy and suan tsai (pickled greens) over rice for $4.00, rebutted by reminding me that the best deals don’t reside in white paneled, three-story food courts in K-Town.

I’m willing to live with the price as fair if not just. Bian Dang’s chicken leg and its accompanying mound of white rice, ground pork gravy and pickled greens are served in generous portions. My leg was zealously deep fried, developing a crisp skin that crackled in its most pleasurable moments but dried out when no one was looking.

The flavor of the leg definitely lagged behind its texture, but that shortcoming ironically compelled me to come back for the $4 rice bowl, which ended up being distinctly tastier than the hunk of meat it was meant to support. For now, I still see that forty-cent bowl of food as a treat – and that’s the reality of price discrimination. As long as there isn’t a Taiwanese grandma (or grad student) around to beat some sense into me, I’m sure this transaction will end up happening at some point in my future.

Taiwanese Fried Pork Chop - Bian Dang - Food Gallery 32 - New York, NY
That point, however, won’t be reached until I’m done with Bian Dang’s $8 pork chop over rice. Large portions (two sizable pork chops) are even more prevalent in this dish, but what really makes it worthwhile is Bian Dang’s pitch-perfect fry job. Each chop is flanked by a rim of pork fat, rendered crisp by its oil bath and melting into creamy bits of flavor in each bite. While I don’t have time to research relative purchasing power, consumer price indices, business costs and produce a baller ass chart that breaks down exactly where my $8 might go, I’m more than happy to come back to this one the next time I’m in the neighborhood.

I’m even happier, though, to catch the train to Chinatown to eat more pork chops for less money – and thanks to recommendations from Danny and Nick, I was able to put my money where their mouths are. If that’s not an assist for lewd comments about porking, I don’t know what is.

Taiwanese Fried Chicken Leg Over Rice - Excellent Pork Chop House - Chinatown - New York, NY
Excellent Pork Chop House has built its chops up something serious, but one lunch stop there hasn’t convinced me that it’s the obvious winner in a bian dang (“lunch box”) face-off. That’s not to say it doesn’t serve a fantastic meal; the house’s chicken leg, while significantly smaller than the one at Bian Dang, was moist and flavorful in ways that Bian Dang’s was certainly not. Having tried the two virtually back-to-back, it seemed like both price points were sensible.

Taiwanese Fried Pork Chop Over Rice - Excellent Pork Chop House - Chinatown - New York, NY
I got the same impression from Excellent Pork Chop House’s excellent pork chop. Seasoned liberally, the pork chop over rice here had a more clearly defined five spice flavor and was definitively moist. I found the house’s greens too sweet for my liking, but when mixed with pork gravy and rice they gave me no real reason to complain.

Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food - Chinatown - New York, NY
I’m glad my bian dang spin didn’t end there, because if one house in New York could convince me to renounce ever paying more than $5 for an excellent pork chop, it’s Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food.

Parked in a hole in the wall on Allen St., Hua Ji presents itself as “fast food” to the New Yorkers waiting on Chinatown buses along its stretch sidewalk. Its name, however, is actually “Hua Ji Pork Chop King.” Does this split in nomenclature say something about how Americans engage in price discrimination differently when it comes to food? Or is it just another wonderful sign that some parts of Chinatown are still perfectly content to flip a linguistic bird to anyone who thinks that fast food can’t be a king’s feast?

Taiwanese Fried Pork Chop Over Rice - Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food - Chinatown - New York, NY
Hua Ji’s pork chop, a scissor-sliced beaut, could serve as evidence for the latter. Walked two steps from counter to table and accompanied by a takeaway bowl of thin sipping broth, this is what I can only imagine bian dang is like in Taipei.

The chop’s lightly dredged exterior comes out of the deep fryer a superb golden brown, adding a delicate crisp to every bite. The meat is as moist and flavorful as any of its competitors, and the runny mixture of pan gravy, cabbage and suan tsai beneath is totally satisfying in its minimalism. Bian Dang’s truck might be on the streets of Midtown, but Hua Ji’s own lunch box registers much more viscerally as street food to my taste buds.

In a fitting cap to my meditation on internal price tags, a bus rider from the sidewalk began to haggle with one of the pork chop kings behind the counter as I savored the last bites of my lunch at Hua Ji.

“$7 for chicken and fried rice?” he jabbed in a voice that was half chuckle, half bellow. “No, that ain’t right… This is Chinatown! What is this, the best food in all the world?”

Bian Dang (Food Gallery 32)
11 W 32nd St.
New York, NY 10001
Excellent Pork Chop House
(closed Tuesdays)
3 Doyers St.
New York, NY 10013
212.791.7007
Hua Ji Pork Chop Fast Food
(closed Sundays)
7 Allen St.
New York, NY 10002
212.219.9876
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Comments

Chris H April 13, 2011 at 7:30 am

ha! I love this post. I’ve not had the Chinatown variants on pork chops, but i’ll def keep them in mind the next time I get the urge to pork something.

I also agree about Bian Dang’s prices being too high… Nick’s got a point on this one.

TT April 13, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I was impressed with the portion size at Food Gallery, much better value than the truck. Especially with free soup!

Since I work a block from Food Gallery, the $3 difference is less than subway fare, so no big deal.

Nice comparisons!

Danny April 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

yes! this place is nice. have you gone to the place on hester? i gotta find some time to go back to this thing. and yes, hurray for planet money!

James Boo April 14, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I haven’t been to the place on Hester, but I’ll eat my hat if it’s better than Hua Ji!

Kenny April 14, 2011 at 8:38 pm

It’s like you read my mind. I was just thinking about pork chop rice.

James Boo April 14, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Kenny – technically, your mind read my stomach.

Nicholas April 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Uh… James, you might want to wear a small hat that day… as I recall, Wah Mei is pretty good. Probably not better than Hua Ji, but it can hold its own.

James Boo April 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Nick, I’ll wear a yarmulke. Even better, I’ll wear a YUMulke (how is there no footage of that Conan skit on youtube?!)

Derrick April 18, 2011 at 11:50 am

The price is a bit high, but that’s expected anywhere north of Houston and especially in K-town. Still, though I keep giving Bian Dang a try, I find their pork sauce pretty off from where it should be. (I know the discussion is more about the pork chop itself, but the accompanying rice needs to be right too in my book.) The taste is a bit off and worse off, it’s really too watery. So far for me, Excellent Pork Chop House wins out for a more authentic and better sauce.

HungryHungryHippo April 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm

You’ve officially convinced me that I need to eat there. I thank you for this.

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