I’ve been coming to Kelley & Ping’s, a stylish Shanghai noodle bar for fifteen years.
I discovered it the summer I graduated from from college while visiting my college girl friend who had, at the time, dedicated her life to urban forestry in NYC. Quite a noble mission for a rural born Oregonian. New York was much different then. And in someways the same. But, no, much different. It was dirty. You hung on to your purse tightly on the train.
But it was fun, the same way it is now, with energy, excitement, and diversity that no city in the world can match. It’s just I’m notas worried about getting mugged as I was back then. Catkin landed an internship for a company called the Green Gorillas and with her major in Environmental Studies, New York seemed the perfect battle ground for a must-change-the-world-now type of gal.
I was on my way back to London to make it as an actor, but thought I’d stop in New York to help her out for a few months. After all, we became friends in an Environmental Studies class and best friends during a hellish Biology class at Mills College. Later we became roommates. But after receiving a ‘C’ in Organic Chemistry I gave up on becoming a Botanist and traveling to the Amazon rain forest to discover cancer curing plants and decided to focus more on Theater, Communications, and Middle English.
Don’t ask. She stuck with Environmental studies and added on a French major just to cover the bases. And she also completed a minor in ballet. No one can say we weren’t well rounded in our education if not totally bipolar. How could I turn down being a green gorilla for few months?
We planted gardens along Houston Street in Soho, handed out information about “getting green”, and traveled into Harlem to replant people’s personal gardens (incuding the late Langston Hugh’s backyard), greenify parks, and spread the gospel about the dangers of lead paint. These were the days before the word “green” was PC. I think we were seen as annoying, funky, crunchy granola, West Coast hippies. Probably how most people view those college kids who canvas for Green Peace. I mean come on, the company was called Green Gorillas afterall.
New York really didn’t care about getting ‘green’ in 1995. Global warming was a concept that was mostly uninteresting to people if not proposterous. And radical. And totally unproved. Cows were blamed by the media for part of the problem because of the methane gas they create. As if getting rid of cows would end the insignificant annoyance called: Global Warming. Harlem was in transition too. We got off the train one day with our pamphlets and shovels and quickly were told by a group of young men that were hanging out around the station that we “didn’t belong here”, “it could be dangerous for us”, “best get on the train back to where we came.” Catkin and I just laughed and asked directions.
The guys shook their heads in disbelief but headed us on our way all the while shouting out how crazy we were. We really didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Still don’t. However we did look ridiculous in our Green Gorilla uniforms that were really nothing more than cut off shorts, bandanas to hold our hair back and keep the sun from melting our brains, and our college T-shirts that boasted slogans like: “Strong women, proud women, Mills Women” or “Remember who you are and what you represent”. Regardless of the warnings we had a great time in Harlem. And people fed us constantly. We inhaled the hospitality.
Summer never tasted so good. Our apartment was in Brooklyn. Alice Walker’s daughter had just purchased a cafe just down the street and Spike Lee opened a shop on the corner boasting his own clothing line. A lively performing art’s school chorused with talent from morning through the afternoon right across from us. I haven’t been back to Brooklyn since that time, so I can’t exactly remember where the neighborhood was sadly enough. And I wonder if that special area has maintained it’s vibrant artist community.
Brownstones were just beginning to become hot commodities then and I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to afford an apartment there today. In the morning we would catch the train into Manhattan were the headquarters of the Green Gorillas was lodged just North of Houston in a neighborhood that is now called Noho. It was defintely not called Noho then. It was simiply: North of Houston or North of Soho.
One hot sticky muggy summer’s day after planting a garden that is now in shambles near Houston and Broadway, we ventured into the trendy Soho district for lunch, broke and starving after a hard day’s work in the sun. And we were not attractive: the two of us covered in dirt wearing our cut off shorts and our dirty bandanas that barely hid our sweaty, dusty, greasy hair. We were not Soho material. We were not Sex In The City girls by any means.
Walking down the little streets West of Broadway we came upon a restaurant called Kelley and Ping’s and decided to take a risk. I had never seen a noodle bar and certainly not a stylish self serve Shanghai canteen that boasted affordable prices and huge bowls of soup steaming with noodles and vegetables.
We were not disappointed. Although hot food was not exactly what the doctor ordered on a New York muggy summer’s day steamed vegetables, nourishing broth, with tender pork dumplings hit the spot. The restaurant captured summer effortlessly with an overhead gentle breeze from slowly moving fans and sunlight streaming through its partial glass ceiling.
Kelley and Ping is exactly the same today. Except they have a liquor license. Which I think is an added bonus. Especially considering that now I am more than old enough to legally drink. The prices are still cheap. (I hate the word ‘reasonable’, it always sounds like a compromise.) You can order any number of soups from Pho Bac, a frangrant Vietnamese soup with beef and basil to Wonton soup with duck, chicken, or pork broth and any noodles of choice.
There are lots of Asian curries and stir frys too. I always order a side of the steamed market vegetables that comes with a carrot ginger dipping sauce and fresh tofu.
My friend has long since left the Green Gorillas in order to pursue a career in Chinese Medicine and acupuncture and I have returned to study botany in the form of cooking at the Veg station (Entremet) here in a fancy New York restaurant. We both still enjoy Kelley and Pings. She never left New York. I keep coming back for more…
Kelley and Ping is located in downtown Soho 127 Greene Street (between Prince and Houston New York, NY 10012 Phone: 212. 228. 1212