After the farmer’s market last Saturday, I found I’d strolled a little too far down the mall on a nice warm summer’s day, so I detoured down 5th St. SE where I was greeted with red Chinese lanterns I had never seen before and a sign boasting ‘Homestyle Chinese Cooking’. The snickering red devil on my left shoulder said, ‘Are you KIDDING ME? It’s home-style Chinese food time!’. The serene white angel on my right shoulder considered for a hot second and shrugged, ‘There’s no General Tso here, don’t say I didn’t warn you.’
Song Song’s Zhou and Bing is simple and straightforward. Song Song is the fiercely positive and gentle owner, and she makes zhou (grain porridge – rice or multi-grain) and bing (juicy and dense fillings wrapped in wheat dough and cooked until crisp) with her kind husband. They also serve remarkably spiced Chinese salads (5-spice peanut and celery, and Chinese woodear mushrooms) and refreshing drinks (Chrysanthemum tea, cold mung bean tea).
My selection was a pork and leek bing, a sweet red bean bing, 10-grain sweet zhou, 5-spice peanut and celery salad, and cold mung bean tea. It is remarkable how the flavors all meld together so well, and each piece serves a very different purpose in the meal. The cold mung bean tea was refreshing and very slightly sweet, like a de-sweetened mochi bean paste. The bean chunks in the tea are unusual for a western palate, but add to the refreshing nature of the tea. Even if it tastes curious on its own, it brings together the full meal to a sum greater than its parts.
The bing are like potsticker pancakes, rich flavors from simple ingredients with remarkable crispiness on both sides. Pork and leek bing are served with a side sauce, some kind of fermented soy vinegar (home-made soy sauce?). While the filling is juicy and has oil, it is not greasy and ultimately filling and satisfying. Red bean bing has the same beans as the tea, but more sweetened – this really is like a huge, flat and well-browned mochi, and I want about 200 more.
The 5-spice flavor is nothing at all like what you’d get pre-packaged at Kroger, it actually tastes good and well-balanced. Mixed with the remarkably heavy crunch of the celery pieces and boiled peanuts, it’s a very memorable dish which may induce cravings.
The 10-grain zhou would make a great breakfast dish with some fruit. Very much like oatmeal, it is a bean overtone similar to the tea and red bean bing, but in a pleasurable way. This kind of repeated ingredient use could easily strike the eater as a lesser cheap method of varying products in a pure business venture, much like the incredibly disappointing tourist trap Italian restaurants in Manhattan that just fry stuff then slather it in tomato sauce, mozzarella and pasta and pass it off for food. That is not at all the feeling I get from Song Song’s foods – quite the opposite. The recurring tastes of bean and heartiness come across as creative incarnations of curious ingredients which could just as easily come from the home kitchen of someone who has been making such dishes their entire life. I can’t wait to visit again and bring more friends.
Jed says: “Chinese comfort food, a great alternative lunch on the downtown mall, and healthy, if you can restrain yourself from ordering more than one bing. The 5-spice peanut and celery dish is the big winner for me, however. I buy 5 at a time and keep them in my office fridge. An excellent snack any time of day.”
Rating: Kip: Jed:
Pros: Honest, simple and delicious home-style cooking with love in a comfortable setting, very inexpensive, outstanding service.
Cons: Bing somewhat heavy and few choices.
Price: $2.50 / bing, $2 / zhou, $2-$2.50 salads, $1.50-$2.50 tea.
Parking: Downtown mall – parking garage, meters, or get lucky north of the mall.
Hours: Mon-Thurs 11am-3pm, Fri-Sat 11am-8:30pm