Growing up as a Chinese American, I never once enjoyed the Chinese food my mom meticulously prepared for my family every night for dinner. She would never repeat the same main courses in one week, but the bok choy, tomato egg drop soup, steamed broccoli, and mapo tofu would be recycled and show up on our table in various forms. None of these dishes ever really appealed to me. I always begged my mom to make some “American food,” which never happened. I begged to order a Big N’ Tasty meal at McDonald’s after a dissatisfying Chinese meal. Even on holidays, when my family and I would eat out, it was at... a Chinese restaurant.

Claire Wang

Fast forward to now: I'm a sophomore in college with a meal plan. Every day after my morning class, I pass by a Sichuan spot on Mercer Street called Peppercorn Kitchen. I had never seen this eatery last year, but the interior is extremely inviting and it is almost always filled with people. So, I decided I just had to try it out, even if it was a Chinese restaurant. Here's what I found:

Sichuan Silken Tofu

Claire Wang

I’m one of those people who will never admit to loving tofu, but will eat it if it’s right in front of me. I do, however, like Peppercorn's tofu. The tofu itself was indeed silky, but what made it so delicious was the bean curd and chili oil served alongside it. It was like the spicier version of my mom’s homemade mapo tofu that I gradually began to enjoy as I grew up.

Dumplings in Chili Oil

Claire Wang

Although my mom makes pretty good dumplings at home, my family and I usually eat dumplings at dim sum restaurants. These were better than, or at the very least on par with, the ones I’ve had before. What really makes the Peppercorn Kitchen dumplings unique was the sweet soy sauce that the dumplings were drenched in, instead of the standard savory soy sauce I would normally get on the side. 

Spicy Crinkle-Cut Potatoes

The spicy and addicting Chinese-style, french-fry-like potatoes were the least authentic item on their menu. Just don’t shove too many in your mouth at once because there’s a chance you might end up in the ER due to the extreme spice. That shouldn’t deter anyone from trying the fries, however, because Peppercorn has insurance for emergency situations such as ER visits. Hey, at least they've got your back.

Vegetable Mala Tang

Claire Wang

If there’s anything you need to order from Peppercorn Kitchen, it's this bowl of soup with glass noodles (粉絲) and too many types of cooked vegetables to count. There are three levels of spiciness: Mild, Spicy, and Extra Spicy. If you can’t handle heat, I would suggest getting the mild, which is still pretty spicy. I got the Spicy Vegetable Mala Tang with sliced lamb, and I was utterly amazed.

As I got near the end of eating my noodle soup, I tasted almost every vegetable that my mother used to make for us: stir-fried bok choy, lotus root, and steamed wood ear mushrooms.

Claire Wang

When my parents immigrated to America, they must have missed parts of living in China. It makes sense for them to hold onto parts of their past, and the easiest thing that they could bring to America with them was Chinese cuisine. Food is not just about taste for my parents; it's about holding onto the past and the culture that they miss and are still very much a part of. 

I really started to understand this more and more when I moved away to college. I miss my family sometimes, and when that happens, I start to remember the good times we used to have: gathering around our dining room table and eating Chinese food.

As a little girl, I used to despise the distinct taste of certain Chinese dishes. I've now not only only adapted to them, but also have a sense of nostalgia and comfort when holding a warm bowl of Peppercorn Kitchen’s Mala Tang bowl on a chilly New York day. 

Bonus: Peppercorn Kitchen is currently offering 10% off to anyone who follows their Instagram account, peppercorn_kitchen. Don't miss out!