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Friday, April 8, 2011

No. 29: Lap Cheong from Mow Lee and Co.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 1:33 PM

Mow Lee's lap cheong: pork (left), duck liver (right). - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Mow Lee's lap cheong: pork (left), duck liver (right).

SFoodie's countdown of our 92 favorite things to eat and drink in San Francisco, 2011 edition.

click to enlarge sf_92.jpg

In 1856 ― before the Civil War, before California became a state, before the signing of the Chinese Exclusion Act, before the advent of refrigeration ― Mow Lee began making Cantonese-style preserved meats in Chinatown. Six generations later, its 臘腸, or lap cheong, is still the best in the city.

If the thought of walking into a 145-year-old artisanal sausage-maker's shop fills the foodista with wonder, the reality is a bit more grim. The last generation of Lees to put any work into decorating the store may have witnessed the 1906 earthquake ― the Commercial Alley store is dim and cluttered, and merchandising consists of laying out big pans of waxed duck gizzards and lengths of Chinese bacon to sort through. The sausages, though, are more photogenic: The owners still sell lap cheong in pairs tied together with loops of twine, the kind of thing Underground Market vendors might do more self-consciously to emphasize their old-school cred. A string of lap cheong looks great hanging from a cabinet door, waiting to be sliced up for dinner, SFoodie confesses, and we'd consider hanging a ristra from the refrigerator if our partner allowed us to decorate in meat.

Mow Lee's purplish-pink lap cheong are unsmoked, simply seasoned, and cured for 24 hours. Waxy and mottled with white fat, the pork variety smells of rice wine, much like the ubiquitous Kam Yen Jang brand, but as the handmade sausages steam, their complexity emerges ― it's the difference between an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and an $8 bottle of Yellow Tail. The sweet fat goes translucent and melts out (one sausage is enough to perfume a pot of rice), the true pork flavor comes out, tempered and shaded by fermentaion. Mow Lee's duck-liver variety is dark and intense; unlike other duck-liver lap cheong, though, its offally funk drops underneath the flavor of the rice or vegetables the sausage cooks with. The flavor is more earthy than feral, more savory than sweet, and definitely old school.

Mow Lee & Co.: 774 Commercial (at Grant), 982-5767.

Dishes in our series so far:

92: Goat tacos from El Norteño
91: Faux shark's fin soup at Benu
90: Esperpento's alcachofas a la plancha
89: Poco Dolce's olive oil chocolate bar
88: Decantr's chicken-liver mousseline
87: Outerlands' levain bread
86: Fraîche's frozen yogurt
85: Gyro King's spinach pie
84: Tandoori fish from Lahore Karahi
83: Braised oxtail and daikon from Namu
82: Golden Gate Bakery's custard tarts
81: Commonwealth's cured foie gras with umeboshi purée
80: Star Stream's Liège-style waffle
79: Mexican hot chocolate from La Oaxaqueña
78: Meatball sandwich from Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe
77: Cheesecake from Zanze's
76: Chicken pepian at San Miguel
75: Macau iced coffee at Vega/Special Xtra
74: Comstock Saloon's Pisco Punch
73: Hai Ky Mi Gia's duck leg noodle soup
72: Sauerbraten at Walzwerk
71: Boudin noir at Cafe Bastille
70: Blackstrap molasses gingerbread at Lotta's Bakery
69: Plow's crispy potatoes
68: Prospect's Catcher in the Rye
67: Pork banh mi from Little Vietnam Cafe
66: Nakaochi at Ippuku
65: Sidekick's chocolate spritzer
64: Farmhouse Culture's horseradish-leek sauerkraut
63: Destination Baking Co.'s challah
62: Cotogna's roasted carrots
61: Hard Knox Cafe's chicken and waffles
60: The Rebel Within from Tell Tale Preserve Co.
59: The Slanted Door's Whiskey Cocktail
58: Carnitas burrito from Taqueria San Francisco
57: Sakura mochi from Benkyodo
56: Birria at Gallardos
55: BBQ pork skewers at Fil-Am Cuisine
54: JapaCurry's katsu curry
53: Vegan flan at Gracias Madre
52: Cinderella Bakery's pelmeni
51: Locavore's maple andouille sausage
50: Lumpia from Hapa SF
49: Moonlight Brewing's Reality Czeck
48: Filetti pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana
47: Pupusas revueltas at La Santaneca
46: Khoresht ghaymeh at Maykadeh
45: Los Muertos at Gitane
44: Sandwich cookies from Sweet Constructions
43: Nicasio Valley Cheese Company's square
42: Nopalito's quesadilla roja
41: Croissant from Sandbox Bakery
40: Cultured's burdock kasu-zuke pickles
39: Sticky chewy chocolate ice cream at Swensen's
38: Maverick's warm Brussels sprouts with slow-cooked egg
37: Roast chicken from Limón Rotisserie
36: Seven Hills' raviolo uovo
35: Morning bun from Pinkie's Bakery
34: Kaw soi dok at Mandalay
33: Fatted Calf's meatloaf sandwich
32: Duck larb at Thai House Express
31: Lark Creek Steak's burger
30: Barbacco's chicken thighs with olives and almonds

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Follow me at @JonKauffman.
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