Gut Instinct: Wait of the World

Pigs! Fight!

When most folks travel, they return bearing snow globes or perhaps a T-shirt. I buy beer.The last couple months I’ve hopscotched from Beijing to Portland, Maine, to the North Carolina coast, securing sixers of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, Duck-Rabbit Amber Ale and Tsingtao Stout. Like a money-hoarding miser, I stockpiled these liquid pleasures in my fridge. I filled the bottom shelf, crowding out the milk and the seltzer bottles, then started on the top shelf, elbowing out the Thai peppers and ketchup. Screw condiments, Daddy’s keeping his double IPA cold! A couple times a day I’d crack the refrigerator and ogle my bounty. It was a beautiful sight. It bordered on Collyer-brothers craziness.

“You need to drink them,” my girlfriend told me. “There’s no space for food.”

“Beer is food.” “I need space for my yogurt.” How could I stand between my lady and her cultured dairy product? That night, I enlisted a dozen friends in a fridge-emptying orgy of piney IPAs and chewy stouts, of funky saisons and amped-up amber ales. “The refrigerator looks great!” my girlfriend beamed the next morn. “Mahhhhhhhhh,” I moaned beneath the covers. My stomach grumbled, best translated to:You’re in a world of shit. It’s time to feed the hunger.

The hunger is familiar to anyone awakening with a pounding skull and a belly as turbulent as the nor’easter-thrashed Atlantic. More than water, more than painkillers, you crave sustenance as greasy as a Jersey Shore cast member.The longings are as unhealthy as they are idiosyncratic, from bacon-egg-cheese sandwiches to cheddar-topped burgers to brisket-studded pho. Salt, fat and carbs form a raft to guide you across the sea to sobriety.

After pulling on some jeans with the fewest splotchy green stains—did I somehow fall into an algae pond?—I rode a lumbering B train to Grand Street, in Chinatown.Typically, I’ll patronize Prosperity Dumpling (46 Eldridge St. betw. Canal & Hester Sts., 212-343-0683) for five crisp pork pot stickers (still a buck!) or perhaps Xi’an Famous Foods (88 East Broadway at Forsyth St., no phone) for a tangle of slippery, incendiary liang pi noodles. But these bites are hardly medicine for a booze-ravaged body. No, the hunger demanded I dine at Wah Fung No. 1 Fast Food (77 Chrystie St. betw. Hester & Grand Sts., no phone).

With steamed and smudged windows, roasted ducks suspended from hooks and a dirt-caked floor,Wah Fung looks like a super-virus breeding ground. Nonetheless, from morning to afternoon customers queue up 10 or 15 people deep, patiently waiting for what I consider the city’s cheapest and most succulent swine. At Wah Fung, $2.50 buys a palm-size container weighted with steaming rice and sautéed cabbage, then crowned with a glistening mountain of fatty, caramelized roast pork. It’s a feast for two— or a hangover cure for one.

I slid into line at 11:15 a.m. with only two people ahead of me: happy days! Since the counterman operates at a sloth’s pace, each patron equals a minimum wait time of two minutes—often longer, since multiple orders are the norm.Thankfully, the first man requested a single portion. I inched forward.

My stomach rumbled in anticipation of my greasy cure.Then the stout Chinese matron in front of me opened a palm and extended an index finger. Six orders. Screw that.

If I were back in the well-mannered Midwest, I would’ve gritted my molars and zipped my yap. But in our impatient metropolis, where I shove lollygagging Midtown tourists aside and repeatedly press elevator buttons, I possess the social graces of a wolf reared feral child. “Just my goddamn luck,” I sighed loudly, pointedly.The lady swiveled around, her perm like a frizzy loofah. My neck hairs bristled, ready for another round of New York’s favorite game. Confrontation, confrontation, thinking of… punching you.

We stood sneaker to sneaker, my hazel eyes meeting her brown peepers.Would this be the day a woman socked me? “I’m sorry,” she said, disarming me. “I always hate ordering so much because he’s slow.” She gestured to the counterman laboriously butchering pork into pinkie-size pieces. “I tell him to hurry up, but he never listens.”We both laughed, tension deflating like a balloon, then slid into conversation about scallion-ginger sauces and the health benefits of peanut oil. Ten minutes rapidly dissolved, and soon I received my meaty medicine. If I felt clever, I’d say the wait was lifted from my shoulders.

What food do you crave when feeling crappy? Tell me at jbernstein@nypress.com.

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