I’ve been working on the west side of town for over a year now and I’ve eaten at Asia Express over in that mall on High Point Road on several occasions. A couple runs it and they are both super-friendly. The wife works out front while the husband does most of the cooking. I am greeted when I walk in and the cook always waves to me from the kitchen when he sees me leaving. I’ve been in there enough that they both know I like spicy food and I am always asked if I want my meal made with extra heat. During the week it seems that most of their lunch time customers are cube farmers like myself and their menu is pretty typical Americanized Chinese food. The food comes in large portions, is generally above average in flavor, and you get great service to boot. You can read what Eating in Madison A to Z has to say about the joint here
. (Too many onions? Not possible.)
I took lunch there earlier this week and noticed the menus on the tables which advertised a new and exclusive Saturday menu and the "Crispy Pig Bung" caught my eye. As I was leaving, I struck up a conversation with the woman behind the counter and she talked with me about the new Saturday offerings as well as the changes being made to their weekday menu and which items were more authentically Chinese. I brought up dim sum and she said that they've had many requests but don't want to buy the frozen stuff. The only option would be to make everything by hand but they don't have the time and personnel to make it all. But the Saturday menu looked tasty. There was beef noodle soup, Vietnamese lemongrass chicken and pork, et al
. Unable to resist, I asked about the Crispy Pig Bung – was it fried pig intestine? Yes it was. She offered a sample but I was too stuffed to eat any more. However, like MacArthur, I vowed to return and eat pig intestine.
And so I did. Yesterday. With The Dulcinea and M in tow, I drove 17 miles to try out the Saturday menu. We arrived around 12:30 or so and the place was packed. Madison's Asian community was out in force to sample food less Americanized. There were whole families there in addition to groups of younger folk who might have been grad students at the UW. We were the only non-Asian folks there and I the lone white person as The D and M both have African-American heritage. "Now you know what I feel like most of the time," The D quipped to me afterwards. And as we were preparing to leave, two African-American women came in. It was a pan-ethnic scene all-too infrequent here in Madison.
M got the sweet & sour shrimp while The D ordered the lemongrass pork which they had run out of so it was lemongrass chicken for her. While sweet & sour sauce is, in my opinion, essentially junk food, the stuff as Asia Express is better than most. Sure, it's syrupy sweet but it's not so bad as to instantly give you diabetes. The lemongrass chicken came with a heaping pile of fried onion to which I was graciously given access. They were tasty as was the chicken which was tender and lightly seasoned. Now, here's my order:
I didn't notice but the soup was on two-for-one special and so we ended up with two bowls. It was simple and delicious and I wish they made it during the week as it's a perfect winter meal in a bowl. The pig bung? It was fantastic. Imagine if cracklin were made like M&Ms. You've got the crispy shell of pig goodness on the outside and tender, creamy pig goodness on the inside. It tastes great but I can imagine that the slimy mouthfeel and knowledge that one is eating intestine turns off most modern American palates. If you like pork and can overcome our bias against organ meat, do try this stuff because your taste buds with thank you for it. The dish comes with what appeared to be pickled cabbage with an option for edomome which I gladly took advantage of.
Our order slip asked for comments and I left some. I am fairly certain that this was the first time the new Saturday menu was given a run. Regardless, it's still new and is, no doubt, a work in progress. So far, so good. I take it as a positive sign that the restaurant was bereft of the normal mall denizens.