He Nan Flavor Emerges From Coma as Spicy Village
It was in early June that a group of friends and I staged a wake for He Nan Flavor, a modest noodle-centric restaurant on the Lower East side that provided Manhattan's only glimpse of food from Henan - a landlocked region wedged between Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Shandong to the northwest of Shanghai, placing it on northern China's south side.
Well it wasn't really a wake, because the patient was still alive. Yet there it was, a scrawled sign on the wall in Chinese and English foretelling the imminent demise of the restaurant.
We dug in like bandits that night, demolishing among five of us the legendary "big tray of chicken," calling for serving after serving of the broad hand-pulled noodles made right on the premises ("hui mei") to sop in the sauce. The appeal of that "tray" (really a wok) lay not just in the chile-oil-laced excesses of the sauce, but in the mega quantities of roly-poly Sichuan peppercorns. My friends and I took turns munching on heaps dredged up from the bottom of the wok, quickly taking drinks of water to accentuate the effect. It tasted like we were drinking mercury.