While Sang Kee Peking Duck House does not fit into the mold of old-school Cantonese restaurants that I posted on recently, they are one of the oldest surviving restaurants in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. They were also one of the first that didn’t fit that mold. Sang Kee’s reputation was built on its Kong-style barbecued meats and noodle soups, although they offer much more than that.
I’ve eaten there many times over the years. It was a big favorite of my wife and mine during the eight years we lived in Chinatown. I also ordered takeout from their stand in the Reading Terminal Market frequently for lunch when I was still working near there. So when I made arrangements to meet two friends and former colleagues for lunch earlier this week, it seemed like a natural choice for what would also be my first meal in Chinatown since before the pandemic hit.
While Sang Kee has a wide array of noodle soups on their menu, one of my friends selected an old-school favorite; wonton soup for a first course. My other dining companion suggested we share an order of steamed dumplings, as she and I used to do periodically for lunch when we sat adjacent to each other at the office.
Then it was time for Sang Kee’s vaunted barbecued meats, which I’ve both eaten and ogled in their window many times over the years. One of my partners ordered a mixed plate of roast duck and pork with greens and rice, while I went with honey-coated BBQ roast pork. This dish is a huge favorite of mine. I used to order it by the pound and would keep it in our refrigerator to snack on when we lived in the neighborhood.
If I were to list my ten favorite foods, Sang Kee’s BBQ roast pork would have to get serious consideration.
But there was still more to come.
An order of Singapore Noodles, which are flavored with curry and come with shrimp, chicken and pork – although we requested it without pork this time – was next up. This is another dish I’ve eaten many times, both at Sang Kee and elsewhere. But it was served in a manner I’ve never seen before. There was a big scrambled egg sitting right on top of the pile of thin noodles. It’s a brilliant idea, and I hope that won’t be the last time I see it presented that way.
While Sang Kee may not fit into the mold of the restaurants I ate at often in Chinatown during the 1970s, they happen to make a fantastic rendition of one of my favorite old-school Cantonese dishes – Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. I ordered it and was as impressed as ever. The sauce had a nice, yellow tint from the eggs it contained and was full of minced pork and peas, which took me back to those meals from my youth. Most of the restaurants from which I order Shrimp with Lobster Sauce nowadays skip the minced pork, which detracts from the dish for me in terms of texture, flavor and nostalgia. Eating it at Sang Kee was like going back on a personal time machine. I loved it and was happy to have some left over to take home and enjoy the following evening for dinner.
I’m still eager to find a truly good Cantonese restaurant in my area. There is David’s Mai Lai Wah – also in Chinatown. But they aren’t open for lunch. In the next month or so, I intend to try a place in the northern Philly suburbs that has a classic-looking menu and will report on it when I do.