Hello Kitty & Stingray in NY’s Chinatown

Posted on January 22, 2011


“A Lesson In: Don’t Judge a Book by…” (Photo courtesy of: Scouting NY)

by AnneLise Sorensen

Amid the Hello Kitty backpacks, I Heart NY onesies, and urban grit of Chinatown lies the elbow-shaped Doyers Street. It has a rogue past – Doyers was once dubbed “the bloody angle” because of its Asian gang clashes – but also culinary finds like the subterranean Southeast Asian Sanur. An unassuming doorway opens on to narrow, claustrophopic stairs, which lead to a windowless and wanly lit dining room. Charming, eh? But give it some time, and you’ll come around: There’s a certain utilitarian gumption to the place. Batik tablecloths are topped with battered tubs of plastic chopsticks, and Balinese shadow puppets are thumbtacked over the peeling wainscoting. The Chinatown-local waiters sit on high stools in the corner talking loudly to each other and occasionally chewing noisily on something very indigenous – is that sugar cane? – but the moment you look up, they hop off and run over. Start with the crisp rujak salad: Hunks of pineapple, mango, and jicama receive a jolt from the sea – an aromatic, deep-brown fish sauce.

Despite its reputation in the water, stingray on the plate is exceedingly mild, its milky white meat separating easily from the flat, wide bone. You can order it a variety of ways, but the mellow fish pairs especially well with a steaming bowl of coconut milk curry bobbing with okra and eggplant. Malaysia’s nod to India emerges in the roti canai, which arrives as a tee-pee of paper-thin fried dough. Tear at it with your hands and dunk it into the curry sauce, which is milder than its Indian siblings, having been tweaked for the Malay palate. Filling Indonesian fried noodles are tossed with crunchy bean sprouts and fat little shrimp, and garnished with deep-fried, shrimp-scented krupuk curls, the ubiquitous Indonesian street snack. Once satiated, Sanur is hardly a place to linger, but for that there’s the cheap foot rubs around the corner.

Sanur: In New York’s Chinatown – 18 Doyers St., 212.267.0088

Travel Transforms: This is a non-sequitur, but such is the essence of travel: Have you seen a Chinatown rat? We did, as we were leaving Sanur. It was dark brown, the size of small car, and ambling proprietarily down the sidewalk, with a tail twice its length. Terrifying. But, on the positive side, it made the mice at home (er, at the home of a friend of mine) look like mere mites.

Read my review of Sanur in New York Magazine.