Every week, I document another dish that impressed and satiated me during my food adventures around New York City

ZHÁ PAN ASIAN, Hester Street Fair, Lower East Side

My friend Steven Luw told me a while ago about a brilliant concept he had. Steve is a fellow food blogger and food truck enthusiast and wanted to open up a truck with this groundbreaking dish. That was well over a year ago now.

Well, fast forward through a lot of hard work, quitting his corporate job, a weekly pop-up at Zucker Bakery, and Steve is in business with his friend Heezy Lee. It’s taken me a while to actually get a chance to try their food at Hester Street Fair, but I can now say wholeheartedly that Steve was right. His idea was brilliant.

At Zhá (meaning “fried”), Steve and Heezy are making Asian rice balls. Playing off the classic Italian arancini, which are usually stuffed with meat or cheese, the two guys are inserting Asian flavors for a new concept called Asiancini.

Their food earned them a Vendy Award nomination this year for Market Vendor of the Year. And if you ask me, they’re the ones to beat.

Asiancini at ZHÁ PAN ASIAN

While there’s a fear that this mash-up could be gimmicky, it’s a seamless fusion. I sampled three of their many rice balls and they were all incredible. From the sweet and spicy bulgogi beef which had a kick from gochujang to the smoky and rich char siu pork to even the meatless yellow curry tofu which had a nice spice level cooled down by some ginger scallion mayo.

The fried balls have that same crisp exterior you’d expect from stellar arancini, but inside the flavors are more complex and potent than anything the Italians use for stuffing. This combination makes perfect sense and just like Steve says, it’s amazing nobody has come up with it before.

ZHÁ
Saturdays: Hester Street Fair (corner of Essex and Hester Street),
Lower East Side
zha-ny.com
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About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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