Part of the fun of being a food and lifestyle writer is the opportunity to learn and being open to new ideas, cultures and, of course, foods. When we heard that large crowds of young, Chinese nationals relocated to greater Boston to work or study were flocking to a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant just a short drive away, we were intrigued. So, we decided to visit Wow Barbecue in Malden.
We'd seen their food truck, quite popular in Chinatown, which serves authentic Chinese street food, basically food on a stick. Street food is hugely popular in China. It's cheap, good, plentiful and is central to the social experience whenever friends get together. In Chinese culture people tend to eat much smaller amounts of food but more often. So, a quick, small bite is almost always part of getting together with friends. The vendors are everywhere. People stop for a little bowl of fresh noodles like we stop for coffee. This is not anything like the Americanized versions of Chinese takeout.
We decided to visit on a warm, summer Sunday afternoon, exactly the time and place in our area when most people are not around, busily heading north or south to the beaches and clam shacks. The place is funky and cool with bright colors and fun murals. It appeals to the child within. After a few moments of our arrival a posse of young Asian guys fill the table next to ours. Laughing and animated, they immediately order up a storm of platters, drinks and skewers which they are all happily sharing. Our server smiles at us and says: "They're regulars." And there are a lot of regulars. When we begin to chat we discover that this place is a taste of home for them, a comfort spot that features the foods they just can't get anywhere else in Boston. And popular it is, filled to capacity with a young crowd every weekend night right up until closing at 1:00 am.
We order up skewers of lamb. It's succulent and flavorful and certainly the kind of quick, casual treat one would enjoy when out on the streets of the city. Next was mushrooms, grilled and sprinkled with finely diced peppers, smoky, simple, clean.
The Spicy Pot is filled with stir-fried veggies and shrimp. It doesn't sear the palate, as I expected, but fills the mouth with crunchy, healthy tastes and a bit of heat. In fact, this place is a veggie-lovers dream.
We try a bowl of noodles in a salty/sweet broth thicker than we've experienced. We see a guy with this can of Chinese tea and ask what it is, smitten by the bright lettering. He asks us if we want to try some of his. It's not like a restaurant. It's like a group of new friends just hanging out, watching a soccer game but not really keeping track of the score, enjoying laughs and having some great food.
We've been in a lot of restaurants. The fine dining, the great service, the artistic presentation is all part of the experience but rarely have we been to a place where everyone seems so genuinely happy to be there. Perhaps it is the experience of displaced people finding the foods that remind them of home but, still, it's infectious. And fun. Really fun.
Malden, MA 02148