City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

The best thing I ate on vacation



My family and I are just back from a week in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts — home to several world-class summer arts festivals and more than a few mediocre restaurants. Suffice it way this wasn’t an eating vacation.

But we did tack on a couple of days in New York at the end of the trip to visit family, walk around the city, shop and….hey, kids, let’s go to Ssam Bar!

I wasn’t quite sure how my daughters would like this pork-happy, offal-intensive, Asian-sorta-kinda-but-not-really link in the small chain of Momofuku restaurants in the East Village. (SSam refers to a Korean dishes that are wrapped; the house signature is a barbecued pork shoulder with lettuce wraps.)

My kids wouldn’t have much to relate to at this restaurant. But, as it turned out, they loved it all — everything from the cured trout with watermelon and roe, to sugar snaps tossed in an intense to XO sauce with minced egg mimosa, to the crispy pig’s head patties served with Indian lime pickle.

But the dish that made all of us melt was this pork bun served with hoisin sauce, cucumbers, scallions and a little squirt bottle of Sriracha on the side. Seriously, my youngest daughter went so limp with rapture I thought she had misplaced her skeleton.

Of course. The pork bun is one of chef David Chang’s signatures, which he developed at his original restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and saw attain an immediate cult status. I was happy to see that it had migrated to the menu at Ssam Bar.

What makes it so great? For starters, the pork looks like a sturdy slab on the plate but sort of collapses like a marionette at repose as soon as you begin to chew. (I believe it is cooked sous vide.) As your mouth begins to adjust to the surprise, that smear of sweet flavor from the sauce sneaks up. Then the pickley crunch of the cuke kicks in with a funny little echo.

After we had finished eating, my brother called to say he was in the neighborhood. We ordered him a set of pork buns and stared at them after they arrived before he did.

“Are you close???” I texted.

“Just around the corner,” he responded.

We ate the buns anyhow. The true meaning of irresistible.

(Thanks to Zach at Midtown Lunch for the great photo!)

10 comments Add your comment

tami Hardeman

August 13th, 2009
2:03 pm

i agree that they are incredible…but when i was in nyc a couple years ago, i had this dish at the fatty crab and – insert gasp of horror – preferred that version!

Kathleen Purvis

August 13th, 2009
4:22 pm

Ah, and Fatty Crab also has the very best thing I’ve eaten all year, the pork belly and watermelon salad, which even threatens the steamed bun for supremacy. But since Momofuku is Eastside and Fatty Crab is Westside, that means you can be surrounded by opportunities for extreme happiness.


August 13th, 2009
7:36 pm

I could’ve eaten 10 of these when I was @ the noodle bar, so good.


August 14th, 2009
3:42 pm

I didn’t really like that pork bun at the ssam bar, thought it was too greasy.


August 16th, 2009
9:32 pm

Sounds so delicious to hear you describe it… But, what I’m most impressed by is the idea that your girls eat things like cured trout with watermelon and roe and crispy pig’s head patties! My girls are good and even adventurous eaters, but wow. :)


August 17th, 2009
9:38 am

A restaurant in Wilmington called Bridgetender served the tastiest fried green tomato napoleon. It’s been almost three years but I still think about that dish all the time.


August 17th, 2009
1:31 pm

Can’t wait for Chang’s cookbook to come out so I can try to duplicate as closely as possible. I’ve heard you can buy this style of bun frozen, but haven’t come across it at Super H or BHFM. Have you seen them anywhere?


August 19th, 2009
8:47 am

Everything I ate in Buffalo from the wings at Duffs to the beef on weck at Schwabl’s, Super Might at the Mighty Taco,Pizza at Bocci’s and and a Ted’s footlong. Can’t beat that city for great food

John Kessler

August 19th, 2009
2:23 pm

Colly – I don’t think my kids would have gone anywhere near crispy pig’s head in a lesser restaurant, but all the food was so good that we couldn’t turn down the waiter’s recommendation. I was actually a little more squeamish than my 11-year-old!


August 26th, 2009
9:49 am

Cafe Rel in the mountains, Franklin, NC. A hidden “gem”.(It’s located in a gas station!) Got to go several times, the food is very tasty and well prepared. While the atmosphere may be a bit grandiose and pretentious(the owner drives a expensive Porche!), the food is why I love this place. And the cakes are to die for.