I love the way that food connects people. The way that it connects us to our pasts and to each other, and how sharing a dish with someone can make you feel like you know a person better. Last week my friends Billy, Ty and I had dinner at their favorite Chinese restaurant, Ho Mei Barbecue, a place they’re known to visit several times a week. Before we walked inside Billy warned me that eating here was like meeting his family and that these dishes were the ones he grew up eating. I felt like he was sharing a bit of his childhood with me.
Ho Mei Barbecue is one of the many Chinese establishments in South Salt Lake’s new Chinatown on 3390 S. State Street, a shopping mall of several restaurants, a soon-to-open grocery store and a kung fu club, among other shops. Try not to let the cheesiness of the Chinese arch at its entrance distract you from the authenticity of what is offered beyond it, because Ho Mei Barbecue is genuine Chinese food.
The menu was a bit intimating, not only because it covered so much ground for my inexperienced Chinese palate, but also because almost no descriptions are provided. Luckily Billy ordered for us, but the servers are happy to answer any questions and explain any dishes. We started with Chinese doughnuts ($1.50/each), a delicate dough lightly fried, then covered in a gooey, rice noodle. It was a play on textures; the soft, slimy top contrasted with the pastry-like bottom while tastes of salty sweetness rounded the whole thing out. Strangely delightful!
All the dishes are served family style, with portions large enough to share among several people. We ordered the Three Delicacy Barbecue Combination ($10.95), picking barbecued pork, roasted pork and roasted duck. The roasted pork (siu youk) was cut so that all of the best parts of the pork were in one bite :: crunchy skin, fatty belly and savory loin. Each layer provided a different taste and texture. Billy said this would be his choice for his last meal on earth and I don’t blame him. The barbecued pork (char siu) was amazingly tender and the duck was unlike I’ve ever had before :: crunchy skin and intensely flavorful, juicy meat.
On the side we had Salted Fish and Chicken Fried Rice ($8.95) with cabbage and egg. This is not your typical fried rice, this is a fried rice bursting with salty, briny fish flavor, chunks of chicken and an overall flavor unlike I’ve ever had. This is not for those weary of fishy flavor, but I loved it.
Our other side dish was the Beef Chow Fun ($9.25), flat noodles with beef, cabbage, bean sprouts and scallions. It had a delicious smokey flavor, which our server explained was thanks to being cooked in a wok. I loved the crunchy bits of carrots and bean sprouts and bites of barbecued beef. As we sat there, full in our food comas, Billy explained that in Hong Kong this type of food is considered late night food, what people eat after the bar. It would be perfect for late night food and, luckily, Ho Mei stays open late on weekends just for that.
I left Ho Mei totally overwhelmed by my meal, both because of the incredible food and by all the things I learned about the culture surrounding it. I loved that Billy shared so much with me about what we were eating. It was yet another reminder of the wonderful connections made through food.
Go to Ho Mei Barbecue for :: a casual, delicious meal full of flavor and texture that’s surprisingly inexpensive. Notes :: Open Tuesday – Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – midnight and Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (closed Monday). Friend Ho Mei on Facebook for updates.