My "Treat Yo' Self" Chinatown Meal: Yaya's Tokyo Fried Chicken & Teado's Ginger Milk Tea
If the phrase "treat yo' self" doesn't mean anything to you, watch this:
(And if you're not familiar with Parks and Recreation, you should watch that, too. You've only got five seasons to catch up on. Piece of cake.)
"Treat yo' self" may be a once-a-year thing in the world of Parks and Recreation, but in my world it's "any time I'm in the Serious Eats office during off-hours by my lonesome, which is many of the times." And my favorite way to treat myself on the cheap without straying far from the office is to walk five minutes to Yaya Tea Garden and plop down $5 in return for one of these babies:
Chicken pile, come to me.
Tokyo Fried Chicken. It's a simple thing—chicken katsu topped with katsu sauce on top of too little cooked chopped cabbage and too much white rice—but I love it to the point that I've eaten it twice in the last week. The generous two-cutlet amount of chicken is mostly moist, except around the edges where it's most crisp; the rice is well cooked so that each fat, sticky grain is well defined and not too soft and I can easily shove satisfyingly big clumps of it in my mouth; the cabbage provides some vegetable content, allowing me to pretend I'm not totally destroying my health; and it only costs $4.95. That's a good happiness-to-dollar ratio right there.
Since I have trouble eating all the chicken without feeling disgustingly full (and I ignore the sensible option of not eating everything), I've gotten in the habit of asking for more cabbage and less chicken. The last time I asked this (which was, um, last night), the cashier told me, "People usually ask for it the other way around."
Yaya, outside and in.
Sometimes I also pick up an Asian snack, not so much because I want one, but because it's there. Yaya has a good rotating selection of packaged savory and sweet snacks—chips, puffs, the latest Pocky flavor, and the like.
THE YAYA KEEPS ON GOING.
Yaya also has a large menu of onigiri (my favorite so far is the shrimp tempura), and as their name implies, tea drinks are their specialty. (Or is that special...tea? Yeah, I went there. It's 4:30 a.m., I CAN DO WHAT I WANT.) But I skip their drinks in favor of grabbing something around the corner at Teado.
Mm, milk tea.
I usually just get milk tea ($3.25)—you can choose between Earl Grey, jasmine green, osmanthus oolong, or jasmine oolong. For something more treat-like, I'll throw in the extra quarter to get it ginger-flavored ($3.50). Teado's ginger milk tea is strong, spicy stuff that stings your throat a little and has a glorious, sort of earthy smell.
Other reasons I go to Teado, aside from liking their tea: it's run by a young, friendly Taiwanese couple; I've been told their boba is especially good (which doesn't apply to me since I personally don't like boba in my drinks, but it's nice to know); they have one of those coin banks where a cat pops out of a box to take your coins (aka the best way to get me to hand over all my loose change), just one of many quirky decorative flourishes; and I'm somewhat miffed that after two years of Teado being the only bubble tea shop on the block, a Kung Fu Tea shop opened down the street in 2011, probably taking business away from Teado. I know it's not weird in Chinatown to have two bubble tea shops on the same block, but Kung Fu Tea is a growing chain and Teado is a small, independent shop, and blah blah blah bluh blah bluh. Know what I mean? And from what I recall, Kung Fu tea doesn't make ginger milk tea. So whatever.
[...crosses arms, signalling that I have run out of things to say]
Yaya Tea Garden
51 Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002 (map)