For all the whining that we do about gentrification and losing the places we love, sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and love the gems that we still have, like the North End and Chinatown. Because while those two locales in particular have certainly been hit with big development and an influx of interlopers who care as much about history as they do about Boston Public Schools, the neighborhoods also still have relatively hidden spots with secrets around corners and tastes that are sometimes available only at the whim of a chef, manager, or server.
I am fortunate to have a friend who knows the owners at Ga Ga on Tyler Street. Not that anybody needs an usher—the place is small and up a flight of stairs but still inviting, with five tables up front and enough space for about 50 more heads in a room tucked around the back. Nevertheless, it helped to have my pal, I’ll call him G, to translate. He knows his way around the menu and a few things that you won’t find on it, and while I doubt that he’ll be around to assist your pickings by the time you follow our lead to this ideal quaint find for authentic Chinese dishes you won’t see on average takeout menus, he did help us so that we can guide you.
As we discovered on our first outing with G a couple months ago, it’s best to just go with the flow and to investigate the unfamiliar alongside basic staples such as pan-fried noodles. Ours came with thin, marinated tender beef shavings, along with a side of soy sauce subtly sweet enough to sip. For the center of our plates, G special-ordered us a cordillera of spicy pork chops. Fried harder than a mozzarella stick yet smoother than a panko-crusted chicken cutlet, the tangy golden-red medallions and their wayside scraps were devoured by one and all despite the heat from an array of peppers.
While Ga Ga calls itself a seafood restaurant in name and is one by all means—from the fish and shrimp in tanks to greet you upon walking in, to options like eel with black bean sauce and clams with sponge squash on the menu—we traveled the meat route this time, even sampling the stewed goat, which was every bit as savory as the best oxtail I’ve ever eaten, and also as gelatinously jarring to the unaccustomed eye.
At the centerpiece of this outstanding smorgasbord, G arranged ahead of time for the kitchen to prepare us a clay pot rice dish (the long grains have to be soaked for hours, then cooked over a flame while the rice crisps up on the bottom and sides). While there are other clay pot spots in Chinatown, some of which advertise the unique style outright, the Ga Ga guys have serious clay game and really wowed in this department as each spoonful upon spoonful scraped up edging as perfectly crunchy as a Waffle House hash brown.
The icing on the clay pot cake came underneath an inch-wide layer of minced meat that provides the salty and fulfilling flavor in the dish. We sampled the ground, greasy slab and then moved it aside for the real treat—a cascade of quarter-inch sliced Chinese sausage, every bite sweeter and smokier than the last. Blood-red and downright delicious, it’s often called “meat candy,” which tastes a whole lot better than it sounds.
You have to try it for yourself. Whether you bring G along to order for you or not.