Marvelous Momofuku

Worshipping pork buns

You think you’ve had pork buns before.

But I assure you that you’ve never had pork buns like these. Chinese steamed scallop-shaped buns all pillowy soft. Stuffed with Japanese cucumbers, scallions, hoisin sauce, and the juiciest, most meltingly tender pork belly slices you’ve ever sunk your teeth into. It will have you at one bite.

These are one of the most famous creations by Chef David Chang. At his Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar, it’s a given that practically every table will order them. Trust me: They live up to the hype and then some. During our recent trip to New York, my husband and I chowed down on these babies three times in four days.

We would have gladly made a meal of a dozen of them, but that would have set us back a hefty $54. Yes, an order of two buns is $9. My late-father’s jaw would have probably dropped to the floor at the sound of that. But even he would have appreciated how spectacular these are.

A paper bag with Momofuku's insignia.

David Chang and his crew, whom he self-effacingly refers to along with himself as “a bunch of punks,” turn out Korean street food with stellar ingredients and creative, contemporary flair. They’ve built a mini Momofuku (“lucky peach” in Japanese) empire. And Chang’s been richly rewarded for his efforts, winning James Beard awards for “Rising Star Chef of the Year,” and “Best New Restaurant of the Year”  (for Momofuku Ko).

Hamachi with pea leaves, horseradish, and edamame

On our first day in the city, we snagged seats at the counter at Ssam Bar, where we enjoyed tiny “BBQ Rib” pork sandwiches stuffed with red onion slaw ($12); charred squid salad with the spicy flavors of kimchee ($14); hamachi strewn with edamame, horseradish, and pea leaves ($16); and of course, those pork buns.

Pork rib sandwiches

The next night, we squeezed into Noodle Bar. On a drizzly, chilly evening, we dug into bowls of “Momofuku Ramen” (with a mix of pork, and a poached egg; $16); and hand-cut noodles topped with fried garlic and a glistening slab of pork belly, ($15).

Momofuku ramen

Hand-cut noodles with pork belly

To start, we shared a dish of silky cured trout with pickled ramps and dabs of goat cheese. Oh, and did I mention, pork buns, too?

Sea trout with pickled ramps and goat cheese.

Two days later, we stopped in for a snack at Momofuku Bakery/Milk Bar. The cookies ($1.75 each) are outrageously good — big, chewy, and with some intriguing flavors. We happily nibbled on three: corn, banana, and “Compost” (a motley mix of chocolate, coffee grounds, potato chips, pretzels, and graham cracker crumbs, among other ingredients).

(Top to bottom) Corn, Banana, and "Compost" cookies.

We also bought a loaf of green curry banana bread. My hubby thought it a bit odd. But I liked the subtle savory-spiciness to it. Just for good measure, we ordered two pork buns, too.

Green curry banana bread

After all, I’m not sure when we’ll get back to New York again. But when we do, I don’t have to tell you what we’ll be ordering first. Oh, that’s a given.

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  • Wow! Those pork buns look amazing (as does the rest of the food you ate). I’ll be in New York in a few weeks, I’ve just added Momofuku to my itinerary. Thank you for the great review (and my stomach thanks you too!).

  • those pork buns! I love the fluffy, chewy exterior dough. I think they’ll be embedded in my dreams for quite some time! I think I’ll have to make a trip up to NY too…the pork buns and the pork sandwiches are calling my name!

  • All your shots of the food look fantastic! I’m heading to NYC late summer, any tips on getting a seat at any of his restaurants? Did you go during a certain time/day? Who did you bribe? 😉

  • I’m pretty bummed that I didn’t make it to the Milk Bar last month when I went down to NY, but I’m sure I’ll be spending plenty of time there once I start school (begging for a job, perhaps?)

  • All I can only ‘oooh!’ and ‘ahhhh!’ as I read this post. Beautiful pictures of incredible food! I can see why you returned so often – in fact, I would have to be pried from my seat once I scored a spot!

  • See how wowed I was by all of this? My first sentence above is nonsense . . . !

  • I am seriously drooling. DROOLING. I love pork buns and those sound amazing. Now I have to book a weekend trip to New York over the summer… if only for these fabulous pork buns

  • Ahhh, the pork belly buns look astounding. Like seriously! That’s too much goodness in each bite. And there goes the mention of ramps again. We never heard of them until last week, and now they’re everywhere!

  • Brings back good memories – I wandered into the Noodle Bar as a single diner on my last trip and was almost too full from the 2 pork buns to eat my bowl of noodles. Almost, but I persevered 🙂

  • I think this is where the phrase a picture says a 1000 words, but holy cow! Your description of the food makes me want to jump on a plane and I’d always considered myself fortunate to live in SF and enjoy Chinese food, now I wonder what I am missing?

  • Single Guy: Well, the one David Chang restaurant we didn’t even try to get into was the 12-seat Momofuku Ko, where you sit at the counter and the cooks behind it make the dishes and serve them to you. With so few seats, it’s one of the hardest tickets in town.

    But as for Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar, we just walked in. It does help if you go on off hours, and remember that New Yorkers like to eat late. So if you can do a late lunch or an early dinner (5:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.), you can probably get in easily or just have to wait a few minutes for a table to open up. It’s tight quarters at both places, so there’s basically just counter seating OR table-seating, but you share the table with other diners. Just make sure none of them steal your pork buns. (Just teasing!)

  • i’ve never had a pork bun before, but i need to try one asap! after the beard awards, i read a few ny times articles about the chef. it sounds like he’s doing some amazing and innovative things in his restaurants. can’t wait til i can taste the food!

  • The pork buns looks absolutely amazing along with everything else!

  • Wow, those are fabulous foods! The pork buns look heavenly and I also would love to try that trout!

  • The pork buns are to die for!

  • Everything looks so good! Especially the green tea curry bread?! Crazy! Your life must be delicious!

  • wow Carolyn, everything looks great! but my fav are the pork buns!! I must visit! thanks for the tip!

  • Bessie Yap-Sarmiento

    I like it! I want it! I long for it! New York here I come!!! 😉

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