Milan Chinatown: Satisfying cravings for taro balls... and soul food?
A few years ago, I had read about a soul food restaurant in Milan (NY Times article here), and it had been on my list of places to visit. I'd never managed to make it, because it was a bit off the path of the main design districts.
Turns out that it was located right in Milan's Chinatown, which in turn turned out to be quite a cute neighborhood: well-lit and a cobblestone path running down the main drag Via Paolo Sarpi.
Corey's Soul Chicken (Via Paolo Sarpi 53)
In a delightfully absurd manifestation of global culture, the friendly South Asian cashier offered me a menu in Chinese, for this restaurant hailing from the American South, located in Italy!
Walking around Via Paolo Sarpi, I spied some really interesting eateries, so instead of filling my whole stomach capacity on just one meal, I decided on just a single order of 4 chicken strips for 4€, with a side of hot sauce. I got 4 strips plus a few extra smaller pieces on my plate, which was nice. The chicken strips were delightfully light and crisp on the outside, with no hint of greasiness. My only complaint would be that the meat itself was a bit underflavored, but that could have been my fault for ordering the (white meat) strips instead of wings or a leg.
25 (Via Paolo Sarpi 25)
Before entering Corey's Soul Chicken, I did a stroll around the neighborhood, and had come across this incredibly long line of Italians waiting at this storefront. It's labeled with just "25," and it's really a takeout window looking into a kitchen.
Here, they offered some kind of spring roll, what looked like a baozi made from whole wheat, and rou jia mo 肉夹馍. This is what I went for, for a decent price of 4€. This version of rou jia mo was made with pork, stewed and chopped up as orders came in. The flatbread was also freshly toasted in what looked like an industrial griddle machine.
This was absolutely delicious! The meat was savory, moist but not enough to make the bread soggy, and tender, with a mysterious and aromatic blend of spices which I had never noticed before in other rou jia mo. The bread was nicely toasted, and all in all it was a satisfying meal.
Next I went a couple doors down to Via Paolo Sarpi 27, which seemed to be a cousin restaurant, or at least they share the exact same format of a takeout window looking onto an open kitchen, and the menus shared the same typography. Unfortunately, the cashier informed the party a couple places ahead of me that they ran out of dumplings, and recommended we go to 25 for food. Thankfully I had just come from there, and was pretty full already.
Foodie 吃货 (Via Paolo Sarpi 4)
Still, I wasn't SO full that I couldn't fit something else in my stomach!
Now, the backstory is that just a few days prior, I had emailed my family about a chain of Taiwanese desserts that was opening up in San Diego. This triggered a HUGE craving for the chewy taro and sweet potato balls (and soft tofu, and boba, and many other things). As I was walking along Via Paolo Sarpi, I caught an intriguing menu hanging in a store window out of the corner of my eye. I found my taro and sweet potato balls!
This place made an eclectic range of other snacks like takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls), jian bing 煎饼 (savory crepes), and puffle waffles.
I had to go with their "special" - taro and sweet potato balls, boba, grass jelly, and sweet red beans on a bed of shaved ice, and topped with evaporated milk and black sugar syrup. I hurried back to my hotel room to be able to savor it slowly, out of the cramped store space (hence the ice melted for this picture). Boy did this hit the spot!
I guess it shouldn't surprise me that Italy, a land of such wonderful food from gelato to snacks to sit-down meals, would also attract the best of other countries who must rise to the level of sophisticated Italian palates.
The next day, I went back to Chinatown, for those dumplings that I had missed. Seeing that lollipop seller on the left really brought me back to China!
La Ravioleria Sarpi (Via Paolo Sarpi 27)
There wasn't much of a line at the dumpling place, so I was able to order and get my order pretty quickly. There's a choice of beef, pork, and vegetable dumplings, and I went with the beef to try something different, and the description on the menu seemed a bit more elaborate. The price was 4 for 3€, which I find a bit elevated, but I guess they use some special flour which they display proudly.
Well, these were disappointing. The wrappers were fine, but the beef filling was incredibly tasteless, as if they opened up in the boiling water and let all of the flavor out. The spicy oil didn't improve matters much.
Still, I was glad that I returned to see what the fuss was about, and I'm glad that I explored a new neighborhood of Milan. This city has just too many delicious temptations to choose from!