Sometimes you stumble upon places and things that remind you that this city is not dead--yet. Not entirely. And it gives you a flutter of hope. After many years of walking all over town, there still remain entire blocks, even in Manhattan, that are unknown to you. So it was when I stepped into Malaysia Beef Jerky at 95A Elizabeth Street in Chinatown.
Under an awning bearing the silhouettes of a pig, chicken, and cow, the place is a scruffy little hole in the wall, filled with Buddhist altars and the sweet, spicy fragrance of jerky.
The three people behind the counter are businesslike and abrupt. As it should be. An unsmiling woman stands at a sizzling grill in the window, turning thin-sliced squares of pink meat with a pair of tongs.
The meat is then stacked in a glass case, under warming light bulbs, behind signs with their simple, no-nonsense names: Beef Jerky, Chicken Jerky, Pork Jerky, spiced or not spiced.
Five bucks will get you a quarter pound, warm and greasy, stashed in a paper bag. Just the right amount to eat with your hands while you're walking around, looking for more of the hidden city.
(How long before some asshole opens an "artisanal" jerky shop a block away, offering flavors like truffle oil, tarragon, cardamom, and of course the uber-hip sriracha, and then this place will be turned into a macaron shop? In other words, go -- now -- and get some real artisanal jerky. Because, while Chinatown's been slow to gentrify, you never know.)