Comedian Ronny Chieng Cares About His Food’s Feelings
You know Ronny Chieng from his work making you laugh. For the past three years, he’s been a correspondent on The Daily Show, worked as a stand-up, and starred in Crazy Rich Asians. He has also taped a Netflix special, Asian Comedian Destroys America!, which premieres December 17. But he also wants you to know him as a guy who knows where the good food is, so much so that he’s devoted a section of his website to restaurant recommendations and is currently turning it into a proper, annotated map. The list began with his time in Melbourne, where Chieng was a go-to guy for other hungry comedians. “I knew kind of all the spots and would send a list to visiting comics,” he says. And during his time in New York, he’s developed strong opinions on where to find foods like xiao long bao, Peking duck, and fish tacos — all of which he ate this week. Read all about it in this week’s Grub Street Diet.
Thursday, December 5 I woke up screaming as usual. Not really, but I thought that would be a great way to draw people into this food diary. I don’t usually eat breakfast because I have no appetite in the mornings and also I was rushing to do some press to promote my new Netflix comedy special, releasing worldwide on December 17 — which is exactly what this diary is for, except Grub Street somehow tricked me into creating content for them for free and now I feel like I have an essay assignment due.
Anyway, I had a car waiting to take me to do some video content for the New York Times’ T magazine, where I tastefully told a joke to an empty room. We filmed this in the Netflix offices in New York, which has an awesome snack selection in the kitchen, so the first thing I ate was a peanut-butter RXBar. I can’t believe these things are just made of peanuts, dates, and egg whites??? How??? We need the MythBusters to come in and test these RXBar ingredients.
I didn’t really have time to eat lunch because I had to rush to The Daily Show for my day job as correspondent. But when I left work, I headed to Excellent Dumpling House because it’s near where I was doing a stand-up comedy spot and also I heard it’s a legit dumpling spot that moved from Chinatown to Chelsea so they could charge white-people prices for the same delicious food they sold in Chinatown. I ordered the xiao long bao and fried pork dumplings. For soup dumplings, I think that place is really good, and then Dim Sum Palace is really good. They have a few branches. They’re probably the best in Manhattan, in my opinion.
Friday, December 6 I woke up screaming. My wife made paleo banana pancakes, which are just bananas and eggs smashed together and fried in a pan. You could call it a banana omelet, BUT WHERE’S THE FUN IN THAT?? They are healthy and delicious.
I ran off to do Brazilian jujitsu class, which involves sweating and wrestling people for an hour. It burns a lot of calories. I started doing jujitsu last November. I’ve always done martial arts and thought it was something I could get into. Then I got addicted to it. I was looking for some decent exercise to do, to keep fit, and it’s great exercise and you can do it in any city on the planet and I’m always on tour.
Afterward, I went for fish tacos at Los Mariscos at Chelsea Market. I love fish tacos, and Los Mariscos is one of the best in the city. Down to earth and delicious. I feel less guilt with eating fish because I think they have no emotions and it’s healthier.
For dinner, my wife made bánh cuôn from scratch, which involves pan-steaming the rice-flour wrap and then wrapping it around mincemeat, topped with fresh herbs and homemade fish sauce. She’s been making it about two years now, maybe three. (Since she moved to America, she started making more Vietnamese food. We just started missing all the stuff that we can’t get here.) It can be a little finicky to make, but it’s one of my favorite things to eat. It tastes delicious, fresh, and not heavy, just like most Vietnamese food. She could open a restaurant selling these things.
Saturday, December 7 I woke up screaming. My wife made homemade laksa from a paste. I can’t remember where she got the paste; I think it was Singapore. That’s more of a Malaysian thing. I didn’t teach her; she figured she’d try to make some of the stuff I grew up with.
The laksa had roast chicken, hardboiled egg, bok choy, fish tofu, and non-traditional noodles for laksa. In fact, I’m sure most of this dish was made non-traditionally. But sometimes those are the best versions of a dish — the home variants. Shout out to all the people making well-known dishes with their own flairs and making them delicious!
I went for a walk around Central Park and ended up having a snack at Radiance Tea House. I think I’ve been going there for over three years now. But not super-often. I ordered some chrysanthemum tea (they sell really good tea), wellness soup, wontons in chile, steamed dumplings, and chicken in sticky rice.
It’s basically a yum cha or dim sum session at what I think is an extremely underrated dim sum restaurant. It never comes up in conversation. It’s in a weird place that you don’t normally associate with good Chinese food, so it wouldn’t normally come to mind when you think of yum cha, dim sum place. But, for some reason, the food there is really good. Radiance Tea House is a quiet, warm, and welcoming place that provides a nice oasis from the usual midtown craziness.
After this, I went to go watch the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Before I even got to my seat, I ordered some chicken tenders and way too many arancini balls from Arancini Bros. My wife couldn’t believe how much I was eating, but I proved her wrong by eating everything. I won, even though the Knicks lost.
I’m more of a Nets fan because they hook me up. Also, I think their team is run better. The Nets respect the fans more than the Knicks. The Knicks do not give a fuck about their fans. They know that only dumbasses will keep paying them money to go to their games, even though they’ve sucked for 20 years — and they do. Whereas the Nets have had to prove themselves, and they have. Look at the results.
Sunday, December 8 I woke up screaming. I ran to attend Brazilian jujitsu class again to sweat heavily on other people while they sweated on me. It’s great exercise. I worked up an appetite and went to meet my wife and her friends. They were waiting two hours to get into Ruby’s Cafe. I grabbed a paleo bagel with cashew cream cheese from Tulo Housenext door, which tasted surprisingly great. How did they make cheese from cashew nuts??? Nothing makes sense anymore.
I ran to do a costume fitting for a short film I’m in and then made it back in time to join my wife at Ruby’s Cafe, one of several iconic Australian cafés that have opened in New York over the last few years. Australians really know how to do coffee and brunch. I had the delicious corn fritters, with avocado, cherry tomatoes, bacon, greens, and sweet-corn mascarpone.
For a quick snack, I got some egg tarts from Lung Moon Bakery in Chinatown. I love the old-school authentic feel of this bakery and the stuff they make. I recently discovered it. I’ve gotten my introduction into kind of OG Chinatown because I’ve been doing a short film in Chinatown, and so this is one of the places that was recommended to me. Egg tarts are one of my go-tos. It’s just familiar to me, I grew up eating it, it’s very smooth, very sweet; it makes me think of home.
For dinner, my wife and I went to Hutong New York, a place that looks like it’ll be snobbish but is actually a very accessible place to eat. Their Peking duck is amazing and affordable.
We also ordered the dan dan noodles, and the snow-pea shoots.
The other thing we got was a very inventive “peach tear” dessert. I don’t know what that was. I give them points for being inventive.
Monday, December 11 I woke up screaming and vomiting blood and then I rushed to do a photo shoot for Grub Street at Jeju Noodle Bar, which has their own delicious, Michelin-awarded Korean spin on ramen. I also got an order of their squid. I usually hate squid, but they make it so well here that I actually love it. The Jeju staff also came in early so that we could do this photo shoot, so thanks, Jeju.
I’ve been there twice, and it’s fast becoming one of my favorite spots in New York. At the moment, it’s in my top three. It’s very affordable, very high standard, it won a Michelin star, for whatever that’s worth, but it’s a very down-to-earth place. The menu is very high quality, and I thankfully love ramen — I’m already a ramen guy.
For dinner, my wife made homemade tomato pasta with melted anchovies, but with zoodles, made from zucchini, instead of actual pasta. I prefer it that way because the zoodles are lighter and I felt better about myself afterward.